But everything changes, even Aunt Sallys, though I didn't know this when I was a lad. When I was a lad, you could have predicted that British rail sandwiches would be laughed at for ever. "As limp as a British Rail sandwich." "Is he dead, Inspector?" "As dead as a British Rail ham sandwich, Sergeant." Phrases like this were thought to be funny enough never to die, and the men who made them could not have predicted that one day two amazing things would happen: one, that the sandwiches on railway trains would become very good, and two, that British Rail would cease to exist.
This, in itself, is not enough to stop the British treating British Rail sandwiches as an Aunt Sally. The British love their Aunt Sallys so much that reality has very little impact on them. We still think that French lavatories are primitive, despite the fact that the superloos which represent the cream of our sanitary sanctums are a French import. We still think that Scunthorpe is a byword for dullness, despite Private Eye's valiant effort to replace it with Neasden, and despite the fact that none of us has ever been to Scunthorpe. In the teeth of all the evidence, we still think that mothers-in-law are tyrants, and that Scotsmen are mean, and that trains are stopped by leaves on the line, that phones are plagued by crossed lines, that The Guardian is full of misprints.
That was an interesting Aunt Sally, the idea that The Guardian led the world in misprints, because it was a quite modern Aunt Sally, and quite localised, limited to middle-class media folk - not the sort of joke you'd hear made much outside London. But the perception that the paper was full of misprints was very widespread in the media milieu, partly because it was funny and because for a while it was true. I can remember a startling example of it in real life. Philip Hope-Wallace, a Guardian columnist, had a plaque unveiled to him in El Vino's wine bar in Fleet Street, above the chair where so often sat. He was flattered but objected mildly to the management that they had spelt his name wrong on the plaque - Phillip instead of Philip.
"Impossible!" said the management. "Why, we even checked the spelling with The Guardian!"
The myth was so widespread that The Guardian became wittily known as the "Grauniad". Whether because of this reputation or not, I do not know, but the paper is now pretty free from misprints and as well proof-read as any paper I know. This may be all right for The Guardian, but it is unfair on those of us who need an Aunt Sally for misprints, a paper to which we can refer jocularly as a byword for spelling mistakes.
In the absence of any other candidate I would like to nominate the Radio Times.
The immediate reason for this is personal, in that the RT recently spelt my name as Miles Kingston.
But this is not an isolated case. Stung by my own misfortune, I have started keeping a sharp eye on the Radio Times and have noticed some very odd errors in this once fine organ. Not so long ago they printed the name Harry Carpenter when they clearly meant Humphrey Carpenter. They referred to Reggie Nadelson as "he" when "he" is actually a woman. They brought us a film starring a man called Kevin Kilne, though I think they actually meant Kevin Kline. And last week they told us that one of the guests on Radio 4's The News Quiz would be Francis Whelan. In fact, it turned out to be Francis Wheen. Wheen was on the programme again this week. But in the Radio Times he was listed as Francis Whelan yet again. The old "Grauniad" in its heyday would have been proud of getting the same name wrong two weeks running.
Even BBC announcers are being misled by the Radio Times. The other night there was an edition of Jazz Notes on Radio 3 at the usual barbarous time of 0030, which I listened to because I happened to be up late that night, and because it promised a review of recent records by the interesting musician Deirdre Cartwright.
"In a few minutes we'll be getting Deirdre Cartwright's round-up of new records," said the announcer, before playing a short Satie piece to fill the gap.
"Well," said presenter Digby Fairweather a few minutes later, "the Radio Times billing promised you a visit from Deirdre Cartwright, but we have had to postpone that because we are bringing you a concert from Birmingham."
So the Radio Times got it wrong. Fair enough. The Radio Times gets things wrong. What was amazing was that the Radio 3 announcer also got it wrong only two minutes before the programme and had no idea what was coming next.
He must have been reading the Radio Times.
A great error.
If you spot any misprints in the "Radio Times", they will find a good home in this column.Reuse content