Michael Williams: Readers' editor

A southern slant? No, just sloppy spelling

Saturday 17 September 2011 12:59

Do you live north of Watford? Then I expect you take the view that we coddled metropolitan journos, snug in our Canary Wharf offices, have little understanding of the North, and worse, probably couldn't care less about it. Certainly, it's one of the most frequent reader gripes in my mailbox. That somehow we southern softies caricature northern England as a kind of desolate rain-sodden wasteland of sink estates populated by gun-toting neanderthals, hard-bitten women straight out of 'Shameless' and sad fat blokes with pints, eating mushy peas and chuckling at Peter Kay's jokes.

Unfortunately, 'The IoS' didn't do much last week to dispel that view. We had a headline that managed to misspell the name of one of Yorkshire's most famous towns – revered as the place where the Brontë sisters were brought up and one of the North's greatest literary shrines ("Brontë moor and Inca Mountain. More similar than you think, says Howarth's [sic] twinning group").

"Don't you know or don't you care?" fumes John Metcalfe from Baildon. "It's Haworth, not Howarth. Typical southern ignorance. You probably come from the same school that misspells Middlesbrough 'Middlesborough' and pronounces Newcastle 'Newc-arse-sell". "What's so exciting," snarls Stuart Binns from Northallerton, "about Haworth being twinned with some trendy travel destination like Machu Picchu? I'd rather spend my hols in the Pennines any day."

Sensible choice, Mr Binns. But this was merely a slip – unforgivable, admittedly – for which we apologise. No slight intended. And as for "southern softies", it's worth pointing out that the editor-in-chief of 'The Independent' is Manchester born and bred, and that the editor of this newspaper is a proud Scot.

Even so, those who detect a metropolitan bias in the media are not always wrong. In his book 'Pies and Prejudice', the DJ Stuart Maconie rightly asks why newspapers and TV stations have northern correspondents but not southern ones. The typical "northern corr", according to Maconie, is "a stocky man in his early fifties with jowls, a florid complexion and bullishly hetero moustache. He looks tough but defeated, maybe an old rugby league pro with a messy divorce behind him and the beginnings of a drink problem (and maybe a quarter bottle of Bells in the pocket of the anorak)." Our own svelte man in the North would probably sue. But you see the kind of prejudice Maconie is getting at.

As for me, I spend half my working week in the hard-nosed Lancashire city of Preston – the "Coketown" of Dickens's great novel 'Hard Times'. Not too much in the way of "hard times" here these days, unless you count the fact that the local Marks & Spencer shuts at 6pm. And, shock, it even has a Michelin-starred restaurant. But thank God there is somewhere in Britain where no one gives a hoot about Ken or Boris.


Message Board: How do we recruit more foster parents?

Our story about the challenges of fostering a child and the shortage of people willing to take on the role was a popular topic:


10,000 foster parents needed is an enormous figure. Personally, I can't ever imagine fostering, but how do you cut down on the number of children in care? That has to be a cultural sea-change kind of thing.


I agree that it seems a very high figure – what are the numbers for other countries? Surely we're taking too many into care?


72,000 children is an enormous figure. Do all of them need to be in care? Social services are far too quick to remove children from their homes. Maybe they should give practical help to the parents first.

Keith Martin

I fostered in England for many years. The system costs tax-payers around £100,000 per kid per year to run, and 50 per cent of those who have been in foster care end up in jail. Adopted kids, however, do OK.


There are about 14 million children in the UK, so 70,000 makes up less than 1 per cent of the under-18 population – not really such an enormous figure!


Your article shows that fostering is a skilled job and should be paid at a decent rate. This would solve the problem of the shortage, and prove cheaper and more effective than putting children in homes.


Foster parents should be applauded for doing such a difficult job. Our society fails adequately to value the labour of anyone involved in caring, with its concern for turning a profit.

D Hayward

It might seem we have a greater concern with the welfare of animals than we do with the plight of children in this country. It is shocking so many children are left at the mercy of social services.

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