Dylan Jones: Celebrity fixation was kick-started

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The Independent Online

You've only got to open a newspaper these days to be told that - why, yes, it's true! - the tabloids are on their way out. Shrinking, in fact, by 4-5 per cent a year, with dwindling advertising revenues, circulation figures shored up and the inevitable encroachment of the interweb (as it's known affectionately in our office).

And it's the interweb where there's the most activity, a cyberworld where celebrity currency is monitored on an hourly basis, a virtual stock market of fame. If you need to see a photograph of the latest Hollywood teen slut falling out of her dress, why wait 24 hours to see it in a tabloid? Just search one of the thousands of trashy celeb websites and you'll get a dozen paparazzi pictures of a gusset the poor celeb probably has never seen from that angle before. It's a revelation for all concerned!

But 20 years ago, this sort of celebrity fixation just didn't exist. It was kick-started by the British tabloids back in the days of Smash Hits and The Tube. Back in the Eighties, as pop became big business, and as the likes of Culture Club, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet fought for space at the top of the American charts, the British tabloids began encouraging readers to phone in with stories about celebrities. Had they seen one misbehaving?Had they grown up with one? Did they happen to remember if they'd spent last night taking cocaine and having sex with one? Consequently the features teams of the nationals became less averse to the telephonic ramblings of over-excited readers, picking up other people's phones in case there was a hot story on the end of it.

One night at the Daily Mirror, one of the phones on bring the newsdesk rang. The night editor picked it up, only to find a loony on the other end.

"Hello, is that the Daily Mirror? It is? Oh good. I just wanted to let you know that I've invented a time machine," said the loony.

"Aha, a time machine. I see???" said the night editor, with a heavy heart, plumes of B&H smoke curling around his furrowed brow.

"Yes, it's a rather good time machine as it goes forward in time, backwards in time, and sideways in time. It really is the most amazing thing you've ever seen."

"Well, that certainly does sound interesting," said the night editor. "What would you like us to do about it? Would you like us to send a photographer round to take a photo of it? Or how about you bring it in to show us here at the paper? How about that?"

Well, obviously the loony couldn't believe his luck, and stammered for a while before answering, in a typically breathless fashion, "Yes, absolutely. When would you like me to bring it in?"

Just a split second before he quietly replaced the receiver, the night editor said, "Oh, I don't know. How about yesterday?"

Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ