"Miles Kington is away."
Those are the words which will appear under this column next week and the week after.
At least, they will if the sub-editors do their duty.
And it is very rarely indeed that sub-editors make a mistake. On the contrary, the sub-editors are constantly pulling writers back from making the most elementary mistakes themselves and thus saving these same writers from utter humiliation.
But do sub-editors get any thanks for this?
Do they rockery!
(I did actually write "Do they buggery!" but a kindly sub-editor changed it to "rockery" to save me from tastelessness. I am grateful to him.)
Shall I let you into a secret?
Yes, I think I will.
Whenever writers refer to sub-editors in print, they do so in terms of the most slavish admiration, in the knowledge that were they to refer slightingly to the subs, as these amiable souls are known, the subs would quietly and cruelly take their revenge, and quite right too.
The sub-editors, as I am sure you know, are the people who have to civilise the prose of the people who write. In it comes from the journalist, this awful shapeless grey material, this raw uncut stuff, out of which the sub-editor is expected to make a smart suit with pockets and lapels, faster than any Hong Kong tailor, and from which he must remove any flaws such as spots of libel, factual errors, misspelt names and any wrong dates.
This gives him a lot of pressure but it also gives him absolute power.
If a sub is in the mood for it, he can cut out all the journalist's jokes, his fine phrases and his cleverly worked in quotes, leaving a dull and laboured piece of work. The editor will read this piece in print and think: "Hmm, old so-and-so isn't on form these days. Perhaps I should start thinking of replacing him..."
At this point I inserted an absolutely brilliant comment by William Hazlitt on the hazards of a journalist's life, but it seems to have been removed without my knowledge. I have no idea how that happened.
I have just been reminded by a kindly sub that I did start this article with the shock announcement that I will shortly be away for two weeks, and that it might make sense if I returned to that subject before the end of the piece, if only to give the semblance of logic.
"Miles Kington is away".
That is the message that is already being set up in print to go in Monday's paper.
I know I often stare at a note under someone else's column, saying that they are away, and I go into reveries of speculation about their absence.
Are they suffering from some memorably modern malady?
Are they making a television programme?
Are they even making a television programme about their memorably modern malady?
Have they suddenly noticed that they are due two weeks holiday before the end of the year, just at the time when their partner points out that the kitchen really really needs repainting?
Are they changing sex?
Are they on trial for weird satanic rites, and hoping to get off with a small fine?
Are they collaborating with Lynne Truss on a new West End musical about grammar?
Are they ghost-writing Hunter Davies's autobiography while Hunter Davies gets on with ghost-writing Wayne Rooney's?
Are they changing sex back again?
It is only in my own case that I know what I am up to while I am away, and very interesting it is too.
A sub writes: Blimey, are you going to natter on like this for ever or are we going to get to the point some day?
Miles Kington writes: Yes. Tomorrow, as a matter of fact.Reuse content