The industry may be in, possibly terminal, ill health, as we all go online to get our news, often for free, but it can still raise a smile, as it has been since newspapers first became popular in 17th century Europe.
There’s a real skill to writing headlines, some have been controversial (The Sun’s “Gotcha” after the sinking of the General Belgrano during the Falklands War, for example), some capture moments in history wonderfully and may have the power to shape opinion.
But these are just crazy, though you can bet that the people writing them almost certainly had a smile on their face as they typed them in.
1 – Cheese rolling gran in police Double Gloucester ban
Gloucester Citizen, May 23, 2013
The strange sport/cultural habit of cheese rolling is bound to attract some odd coverage. One year, the local paper screamed “Cheese chaos!” from its front page after a particularly injury-heavy running of the roll.
This beauty if more recent and refers to Diana Smart, the cheese maker who supplies the Double Gloucester cheese at the heart of the ceremony. The police have tried to stop cheese rolling, concerned, they say, for public safety and traffic problems, but hardy locals continue a rebel cheese roll and were outraged that the cops should go so far as warning an 86-year-old purveyor of dairy produce not to go about her business to try to stop them.
2 – Wedding ceremony stalls when owl fails to deliver rings
Daily Telegraph, September 16, 2013.
Using trained birds – often falcons or other birds of prey – to deliver wedding rings is quite fashionable in the matrimonial world. Sadly, Darcey the owl decided to take a nap when it should have been doing its duty in a wedding in Wiltshire, UK. Thankfully, there were spare rings on hand and the owl produced this wonderful headline for us all to enjoy.
3 – Chaos warning as the sun explodes
This beauty if from the London free newspaper the Metro and is part of a large collection of crazy headlines put together by Brunel University’s Stephen Ward.
Pity the poor commuters trying to come to terms with what must surely be the end of life on Earth. It’s proved impossible to track down the original story, which is almost certainly to do with an upsurge in solar flare activity, which scientists warn could cause electrical disruption on our planet.
4 – Mr chicken with artificial legs dies a hero
Associated Press, via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 28, 1997.
Some headlines are crazy because of the way they’re written, some because the story they tell is a little crazy and a little mad to be reporting in a newspaper. So, this sad little story is just what it appears. A cockerel with artificial legs was killed, probably by a raccoon, while defending his coop.
5 – Massive b*** jobs for Belmullet
The Mayo Advertiser
I wonder what happened to the sub-editor who turned some bad employment news into a sexual bombshell for an entire town?
6 – Alton attorney accidentally sues himself
Maddison St Clair Record, March 11, 2005.
The story of lawyer, Emert Wyss, was soon picked up from the specialist legal paper that first published it and this fantastic headline must have helped. Wyss advised a client to complain about fees from a company he himself owned and set in trail a complicated and circular set of legal actions.
7 – Mayor Parris to homeless: Go home
It does make sense once you actually read the story (a small community near Los Angeles which feared its big neighbor was dumping homeless people on them), but this Antelope Valley Press headline from 2009 leaves us with the first impression that Mayor Parris has no idea what homeless means.
8 – Homicide victims rarely talk to police
The Express-Times 2009
Well, no, they wouldn’t would they, as the unifying factor in most if not all homicides is the death of the victim. Of course, the poor reporter saddled with this senseless headline was making a perfectly good point about homicide victims who do survive for a while – blame the editors on this one.
9 – Bridges help people cross rivers
Finally the word is out. Yes, until now bridge engineers and construction workers have been laboring away in ignorance – ‘why the hell are building this raised roadway across this stretch of water?’ they ask. Well, now you know.
10 – Utah Poison Control Center reminds everyone not to take poison
They’re doing important work at the Utah Poison Control Center and at last they’ve made it clear what they’re up to – poison is bad, don’t eat poison.
11 – Volunteers search for old civil war planes
The Jefferson Iowa News, April 2010
A history lesson for you: the American Civil War took place from 1861 to 1865. The first powered flight is generally credited to the Wright Brothers, who took to the air on December 17, 1903. Either the staff of the Jefferson Iowa News or the volunteers who are searching for something that can’t possibly exist need to learn these two facts.
12 – Meat head resigns
The great challenge for headline writers is to fit a lot of information into a constrained space. Here, the headline writers failed by reducing the title of a US federal agency that inspects and regulates the meat industry just a little too far. Bureaucrats and politicians aren’t particularly popular but this is just unkind though it may be H Russell Cross’s – the meat head in question – best shot at immortality.
13 – Police arrest everyone on February 22
It seems that Orwell’s nightmare of a police state did actually arrive in the small American community of Norton, where the local paper stuck this headline on the top of their police log round up. Whether everyone was charged we don’t know from existing evidence but Norton must now be proudly crime free.
14 – Federal agents raid gun shop, find weapons
There seems to be a certain love of stating the bleeding obvious in newspapers. This example from Tulsa just needed the word illegal to make sense.
15 – 37st man forced to pay for two seats on jet finds they are rows apart
Daily Telegraph, 14 October, 2013
Sometimes the headline is funny because of a mistake in the writing or editing process, sometimes it’s the story that contains the joke. We ought to feel a little sorry for Les Price, the man embarrassed by his airline. Les wanted to fly to Ireland, but the airline insists that anyone over 20 stone in weight has to pay for two seats. Les played it by the book, but sadly airline staff weren’t so sharp and gave Les two seats wherever they could find them.
16 – Man eats underwear to beat Breathalyzer
Well yes, of course he did. David Zurfluh of Stettler had the excuse that he was only 18 at the time. He reportedly ripped the crotch out of his boxers after being arrested when spotted driving erratically. His case caused such hilarity that a group of law students observing the great American justice system in action had to be escorted from the court when their laughter got out of hand. It should be noted that Mr Zurfluh was acquitted after passing the Breathalyzer test – so who’s the idiot now?
17 – Breathing oxygen linked to staying alive
The staff at the Mason County News have broken the big one! Sadly, no one picked up the story and millions of people still die from not breathing oxygen every day.
18 – 17 remain dead in morgue shooting spree
More medical news for some ill-informed reporters and headline writers: death is final, once one is dead one is dead, therefore remaining dead is just not very newsworthy. Abraham Lincoln has been dead since 1865 but not newspaper has been running updates on his state of lifelessness since the actual day itself.
19 – Rally against apathy draws small crowd
You can almost feel the headline writer’s delight as he chanced on this story from Oklahoma City. Hopefully the rally organizers weren’t too down hearted and were able to arrange further protests against the inability of people to get up and do something!
20 – Platform shoes claim another life
Sometimes there’s a genuine tragedy behind something funny, as is the case in this Reuters story from Tokyo. Platform shoes became an unlikely fashion hit with Japanese women. Unfortunately, one of the unintended consequences of this was drivers who were unable to hit the brakes of their cars in an emergency. Another woman fell from her stacked shoes and fractured her skull.