The tabloids and the headlines that say it all

If we remember Freddie Starr, it's because of the hamster. Some front pages outlive the stories they tell

In a nation apparently obsessed by lists, it had to happen. On the heels of such television schedule fillers as The 100 Greatest Albums and The 100 Greatest Movie Stars comes a countdown show designed to unveil The Greatest Tabloid Headlines ever written. The words "barrel", "bottom of" and "scrape" spring to mind. But wait ...

Those who consider that a vastly superior form of newspaper journalism is achieved by what until recently could be described as the broadsheet world might argue that coming up with tabloid headlines is no big trick. They are wrong. Writing a headline that remains seared in the reader's memory long after the story it sat on has become history is a very big trick indeed. How many "broadsheet" headlines are of the long-life variety?

In sorting out the 30 tabloid classics from which the journalistic "experts" on the show could choose, the makers of The Greatest Tabloid Headlines admit that they were spoilt for choice, as they trawled through the most eye-catching pages of the past 35 years or so. (I think they should have gone back further. The Sunday Pictorial's "Oma? Coma? Aroma!" - on its report of Bruce Woodcock's dodgy "knock- out" of Lee Oma in 1948 - could have been a contender.)

In the event, it is more familiar examples that have been rounded up for luminaries such as Piers Morgan (naturally), Roy Greenslade, Andrew Neil, John Sergeant, Ann Leslie, Max Clifford and politicians such as Roy Hattersley and Ann Widdecombe to pontificate on and then nominate as their favourites. Noticeable by his absence is Kelvin MacKenzie, possibly the most accomplished - if that's the word - and certainly the most controversial headline-writer ever to scrawl a memorable phrase on a layout pad. Contractual difficulties apparently ruled him out of the judging, although certainly not out of the running.

Of the 30 original nominations, 19 were from The Sun, many produced during Kelvin's rumbustious editorship. Of the remainder, nine were from the Daily Mirror, one from the Daily Express and one from the Sunday Sport, whose editor-in-chief, Tony Livesey, was also on the judging panel (one of my favourites, Sunday Sport's 1990 effort - I FOUND FACE OF JESUS ON MY FISH FINGER - did not make the cut).

Gross bad taste did not debar a headline from being included. Hence the infamous GOTCHA! - The Sun's celebration of the attack on the General Belgrano with considerable loss of life during the Falklands war - makes the top 30, as does UP YOURS DELORS, from the same paper. So, too, the Daily Mirror's offensive ACHTUNG SURRENDER!, for which, since he wrote it, Piers Morgan may well have voted.

Objective Productions quite sensibly won't tell me which headline came out top, but the smart money would be on FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER (The Sun, via a poker-faced Max Clifford). This headline is truly great, in that it will almost certainly perpetuate the name of a comedian whose claim to lasting fame otherwise is no greater than that of ... well, of Piers Morgan, I suppose.

MacKenzie's 1992 IF KINNOCK WINS TODAY, WILL THE LAST PERSON TO LEAVE BRITAIN PLEASE TURN OUT THE LIGHTS has its admirers, although they do not include Neil Kinnock, and The Sun's front page on the singer George Michael's famous Los Angeles indiscretion, ZIP ME UP BEFORE YOU GO-GO, is brilliant lavatory humour. (The Daily Star originally ran with the same heading, the programme associate producer John Richland reminds me, but changed it to WHAM BAM FLASH IN THE PAN - which is almost as arresting.)

Richland says he had great fun making the show. "The people we've interviewed have been quite intelligent," he says, "which makes a change from things like 100 Greatest TV Moments, where everybody says the same thing or has nothing to say." Quite intelligent, eh? That should please Andrew Neil.

Bearing in mind that some of the cleverest headlines are obnoxious (HOP OFF YOU FROGS - The Sun), or patently rubbish (WORLD WAR 2 BOMBER FOUND ON MOON - Sunday Sport), is television behaving responsibly in celebrating them? I think so: how else will critics of the press learn that among the dross can be found intelligent thinking, as in ALL CHANGE (the Daily Mirror's front page on the day decimal currency was introduced) and even prominent apologia: SORRY ... WE WERE HOAXED, which followed Morgan's departure from the Mirror for publishing the apparently fake Iraqi prisoner pictures.

Anyway, it should raise a smile, even if the most wonderful headline ever written appeared not in a tabloid, but in a Private Eye parody of The Sun. KILL AN ARGIE AND WIN A METRO! Wish I'd written that.

'The Greatest Tabloid Headlines' will be shown on Channel 4 in September. Bill Hagerty is editor of the 'British Journalism Review'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Guru Careers: Senior Account Manager / SAM

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: A Senior Account Manager / SAM is needed to join the ...

Guru Careers: Management Accountant

£27 - 35k + Bonus + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Management Accountant is needed ...

Guru Careers: Recruitment Resourcer / Recruitment Account Manager

£20 - 25k + Bonus: Guru Careers: Are you a Recruitment Consultant looking to m...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'