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.

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Vague headlines give no spoilers

The fiction: Red Road, released 2006. Director: Andrea Arnold. Props master: Douglas Ferguson.

The newspapers: Daily Record, Evening Times

Although it involves staring endlessly at screens (and doubtless ruining your eyesight in the process), there’s a sort of voyeuristic allure to the job of monitoring CCTV footage. You get to spy on everyday comings and goings for a legitimate reason… or maybe it’s just me who sees the appeal. Anyway, it doesn’t seem like an especially happy life for Jackie, the central character of Andrea Arnold’s debut film Red Road. But at least she keeps up with the news on a daily basis, thanks to the signs outside every newsagent.

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Hero or Menace? Exclusive Daily Bugle Photos!

The fiction: Spider-Man, released 2002. Director: Sam Raimi. Property master: Robin L Miller.

The newspaper: Daily Bugle

One thing I never considered when I started editing newspaper copy is that almost nobody knows how to write “Spider-Man”. That’s capital S, capital M and a hyphen in between. Reporters get it wrong all the time (usually it’s in the context of a rented superhero costume at a charity fundraiser). If you ran a newspaper that regularly covered the wall-crawler himself, you’d need to keep a tight leash on this point of style. In fact, you would need somebody fearsome, hard-edged and always demanding the best out of his team. And they don’t come any better than J Jonah Jameson.

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Making a Prophet

The fiction: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, released 2001. Director: Chris Columbus. Props master: Barry Wilkinson.

The newspaper: Daily Prophet

Journalism doesn’t really start to be important to the Harry Potter series until around the fourth book — not coincidentally, this is after JK Rowling became famous and the newspapers started writing about her. But Rita Skeeter, bugging and Rowling’s testimony to the Leveson Inquiry are some way off, because the Daily Prophet was still around in the Potterverse from the start. So, how do you make a newspaper stand out in a world where pictures can already move?

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Bourne and read

The fiction: The Bourne Ultimatum, released 2007. Director: Paul Greengrass. Props (London second unit): Alex Boswell, Matthew Broderick*, John Moore

*Almost certainly not that one, but this is what the credits say.

The newspaper: The Guardian

It would be easy to scoff at the reputation of the Bourne franchise of spy thrillers. The cameras shake like they’re on board the Enterprise and it’s gritty in the sense that The Bourne Identity came out in the same year as Die Another Day. There are episodes of Barney that look gritty compared to Die Another Day’s invisible car, melting glacier kite-surfing and diamond-faced henchman. But there is a dedication to reality and verisimilitude in the Bourne films, and you only need to watch the start of the third film to see why.

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Sex, spies, salacious front pages

The fiction: London Spy, 2015 television drama. Director: Jakob Verbruggen. Props master: Jim Grindley/Ewan Robertson.

The newspapers: Daily Express, The Independent Times

Where once a conspiracy thriller’s hero would be a tenacious reporter, or an ordinary man who would approach a reporter to blow the lid off the grand deception, anybody with a USB stick and a laptop can get onto WikiLeaks. So what role is left for newspapers in the BBC’s latest such thriller, London Spy? Well, to menace the hero in a way that would make Lord Leveson tremble.

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“Hey Doc, this date… wait, this is tomorrow’s newspaper!”

An update and addendum to “A Chronological History of the Hill Valley Telegraph”, examining newspapers in the Back to the Future trilogy.

When Marty McFly travelled to 2015 in Back to the Future Part II he did not find an issue of the Hill Valley Telegraph, a local newspaper whose legacy stretches back far. So where was it? It had been swallowed by a huge corporation, in the form of USA Today.

“Is there a review of Jaws 19 in here?”

The depiction of October 21, 2015 in the film was — as we know, it now being firmly The Past — largely inaccurate. But USA Today’s capitalistic zeal to squeeze every penny out of its audience was right on the money. And, for once, it’s hard to ignore. Because USA Today published a wraparound cover for their October 22, 2015 paper, and it looks like this:

CR822JPWEAAXPl_

It’s a pretty neat trick, and as a devoted fan of Back to the Future I find it incredibly cool. (And if you want it yourself, USA Today is selling them at $4.95 a go.)

But it’s not an exact replica for a few reasons. Firstly, Back to the Future Part II leaves proceedings with the front page changed to “GANG JAILED” about Griff and his cohorts get themselves arrested. Still, I’m sure it won’t be half as recognisable to have Thomas F Wilson on your celebratory cover wrap than Michael J Fox. (Sorry, Mr Wilson, but it’s true.)

The text of the main story matches up with the original prop, delightfully, and is now far more readable than it ever was on screen.

And while almost everything else on the page matches up with what we see in the film, there’s a notable exception in “Queen Diana”. Having died in a car accident in 1997, and with Elizabeth II still on the throne, it’s deemed a bit tasteless to have a gag about Diana being the British monarch on a very light-hearted PR exercise.

In the Newsline column it’s simply omitted, with the “KELP PRICE INCREASE” moved up to accommodate. In the top-right corner, under the yellow banner for Hill Valley, “Washington prepares for Queen Diana’s visit” has been replaced by “3D billboards: Free speech or traffic hazards?”

It’s a nice little joke, certainly one less likely to date badly, and like much of the rest of this souvenir edition’s inventions — because there were parts of the page we didn’t see on screen — it references some other bits of the future as seen in the movie: a review of Jaws 19, self-adjusting jackets, rehydrated pizza slices, Cafe ’80s, and so on. It’s an impressive cobbling together of Back to the Future jokes that shows how affectionate people feel towards Robert Zemeckis’s greatest accomplishment.

And in celebrating the trilogy, guess what turned out to be most important all over again? Newspapers.

There's even an ad for Jaws 19...
There’s even an ad for Jaws 19…
...and the USA Today drone makes a reappearance!
…and the USA Today drone makes a reappearance!

(Both pictures from @alexgriendling.)