I just can’t bear the puns

The fiction: Paddington, released 2014. Director: Paul King. Props master: David “Springer” Horrill.

The newspaper: London Evening Standard.

Hailing from deepest darkest Peru, a lovable young bear makes his way to London. That’s the plot of Paddington, one of the finest family films of recent years, and amid its message of affection for immigrants it’s also a love-letter to the capital city of the United Kingdom. Our ursine hero Paddington comes across the Underground, black cab drivers and plenty of rain — so it’s no wonder he also attracts the interest of Fleet Street and the great British press.

In one of the film’s wilder (and wildly funny) sequences, Paddington chases Super Hans a wallet thief through the streets. In an improbable series of events, Paddington ends up wearing a fancy dress costume police helmet while flying through the air behind an iconic red bus by way of a dog lead.

british bearways

This is, by anyone’s standard, a news story. And that goes double for the London Evening Standard, seeing as it happened on their (very large) patch.

In the business, some news articles are known as “picture stories”: you put a big, entertaining picture on your page and maybe a hundred words or so around it. You get them for celebrities opening up their local pub, naked bike rides or flower shows — weak stories, essentially, unless you’ve got the nice picture. And while the visual of Paddington doing his best Mary Poppins is stunning, this is a pretty strong story even without it.

Sure enough, the daughter in Paddington’s adopted family — Judy Brown — finds it in the paper soon afterwards, and it’s the leading story on the page.

paddington paper

You might be wondering why a young girl in the 21st century is getting her news from the paper rather than a Snapchat feed or some even trendier app I’ve not heard of. I personally think the thrill of seeing yourself/somebody you know in print is greater than online, and it’s possible a friend tipped off Judy. (Or a diligent journalist contacted the Browns, so they’re on the lookout for it.)

Or it’s equally plausible that she’s a frequent reader of the paper, especially since its 2009 decision to become free of charge and readily available at train and Tube stations.

And the Evening Standards’ subs are not one to miss a trick, turning Paddington’s (accidental) crime-fighting into a golden pun opportunity.

paddington fur cop (1)

“It’s a Fur Cop!” is a brilliant headline. It disobeys a few unwritten rules about headlines — too many capital letters in the style of an American paper (compare with the other stories on the page), it’s far too short, some editors dislike the Americanism of “cop” to mean “police officer” and there’s a dog’s dick — but it’s funny and it succinctly describes the story of a furry creature who was dressed as a policeman while fighting crime. You don’t need to be too obvious with the headline, either, because there’s a good picture underneath.

(In case, like my housemate Irish Jo, you don’t understand why it’s funny: “it’s a fair cop” is a phrase used to admit you’ve been caught doing something wrong.)

The subhead is not quite as good, but does manage a cracking rhyme: “Peruvian growler catches Portobello prowler”. On its own, it’s all a bit meaningless — “growler” carries a risk of innuendo but at least with the picture you can probably tell it refers to a bear, while “prowler” is hardly the most illuminating way to talk about a thief. But I’ll happily give it a pass, because I’ve always to produce a newspaper entirely with rhyming headlines. (The Rhymes Times would be its title, obviously. In the entertainment section, a review of American Hustle by David O Russell.)

In general, the page as a whole looks pretty similar to the Evening Standard of our world, which doesn’t write about talking bears quite so often.

paddington standard comparison
This is the Standard from June 15, 2017. Note the other reason for a picture story: an attractive woman.

Several stories on the page largely kept in a modular design, as you might expect. And with the downpage story’s headline (“Here’s a yarn for you… pensioners teach craft skills to young hipsters”) it is evident that the Standard will take any opportunity to pun on a lighthearted story.

The font used in the headlines is slightly different — it’s most evident when you look at the apostrophes — but the Standard may have had some slight design tweaks over the years since Paddington was filmed, so there’s no reason to read much into this.

paddington apostrophes

More incongruously, however, is the Paddington paper’s habit of bolding up its introductory paragraphs. I’ve known papers who make their type a point or two larger in the first paragraph of their lead stories — the Daily Mail definitely does it on front page stories — but few turn the text bold, although it is not uncommon in magazines, Private Eye being my default example. The Evening Standard certainly doesn’t seem to, although it does put the first word or two in all caps, which can also be seen in Paddington:

paddington intros

The three non-bear stories on the page are about the Bank of England switching to smaller, plastic banknotes, a planning proposal for penthouses in Southwark and rising milk prices, all pretty ordinary fare for the Standard’s fifth page. The first story would peg this around September 2013, although the top of the page doesn’t list a date as you would normally expect:

This does avoid the problem of a newspaper postdating the actual events of the film, as seen in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

As for the story we’re all actually interested in, this is what the story has to say — with some omissions and educated guesswork. It carries the byline of Choi Ho Man who, by sheer coincidence, is also the name of Paddington’s art director. (Probably working on an InDesign template passed along by the Evening Standard staff, which — according to my spies in the paper’s office — is the usual practice for dealing with production companies on, among other things, EastEnders and James Bond.)

A NOTORIOUS local pick-pocket was stopped in his tracks today by a bear. Portobello school children looked on in astonishment as a brown furry bear from Peru crash landed in their playground on top of the runaway thief.

A wallet had allegedly been snatched from the coat pocket of local customer, 64 year old Peter Wood, in Gruber’s antique shop on Portobello Road, but when the pick-pocket attempt to le[ave] the shop the beady eyes of a [Peru]vian bear known as P[addington] spotted the act and …

The thief dash[ed] … [Porto]bello market …

…on a borrowed skateboard. Passing a fancy dress stall Paddington donned a policeman’s outfit and blew a whistle in frantic attempts to alert passers by. While shoppers were too surprised to help he d[id] manage to catch the attentio[n of a] near-by police patrol ve[hicle] … radioed colleagues … and joined the ch[ase.]

Meanwhile …

I am not privy to the London Evening Standard’s style guide, but as a hardened copy editor who lives to read such documents, there’s a few things that leap out from this article that I would be rushing to correct.

Most of this is over two words that should be one (“school children”), hyphenated words that should be one (“pick-pocket”) or separated words that should have hyphens (“64 year old”). There’s also the fact that the first paragraph should be split into two.

However, the story as at least dated “today”. Being nominally an evening newspaper, the Standard does get printed during the day — during the time of Paddington, at about 11am — and so a frantic chase in the morning could just about make it to print, if everybody rushed to get it into the paper. In that mad rush, it’s not unknown for a few errant style points to go out of the window while trying to make sure everything is accurate.

More worrying, in that case, is that while the second paragraph has the legal nous to say the wallet had “allegedly been snatched”, the first paragraph takes no such pains and happily calls the man a “notorious local pick-pocket” and a “runaway thief” — which both risks of contempt of court and throws in the much-hated “local”. (Everything is local to somewhere! I covered this mostly in my Hot Fuzz post.)

This is unlikely to bring the full force of the Metropolitan Police down on the Evening Standard’s office. In fact, it would probably be dealt with largely by the legal team, without a police officer in sight. But supposing it wasn’t? Suppose, instead, that the Standard had decided to cross a legal barrier to try and tempt a certain police officer into visiting the office. And maybe while he visited, they could interview him. But who could they have in mind…?

paddington helmet


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