Paul McCabe: eye-grabbing headlines are an art form

Paul McCabe
Paul McCabe

I’M not one for the OK! and Hello world of Z-list celebrity tittle-tattle but I must confess to checking out three such stories reently, due to the brilliantly bizarre nature of each.

Firstly there was former Brookside actress Jennifer Ellison kicking herself in the head with an ice skate live on TV – not an easy thing to do I’d imagine but somehow she managed it. And she’s completely fine now so it’s OK to snigger, them’s the rules.

Then there was this little beauty; ‘Shakira gets attacked by a sea lion because it thought her Blackberry was a fish’. Marvellous.

Like something from The Daily Mash. But both of those had nothing on the best story of all – ‘Jamie Oliver digs up gold, guns, and lost Joy Division and New Order master tapes’. Now who saw that coming? It turns out that the big-tongued mockney irritant was renovating the basement of a new Manchester restaurant when the stuff was found.

‘Super Caley ...’

And that precisely is what a good headline is supposed to do – get you to read something you might normally pass over (though you would have to go some to a write dull headline for any of those stories).

Some headlines of course, have passed into legend such as The Sun’s ‘Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster’.

Naturally, it was completely untrue, but that’s never stopped The Sun and to be fair it has thrown up a few classics over the years – ‘Hawk Kestrel Manoeuvres In The Park’, ‘Tara Raw Bum Display’ and the very brilliant ‘Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious’.

Sadly, there’s the more sinister and unfortunate side, such as the same paper’s sickening ‘Gotcha!’ headline during the Falklands war, or the borderline-racist ‘Hop Off You Frogs’.

Perhaps the more sly and subtle headlines are best of all. A BBC cameraman was once accused of being a peeping tom as he filmed rare bees near a nudist beach. The headline? A punningly brilliant ‘Beeb Bee Sees Nudes’. Four words, five puns. Genius.

Puns are the cleverest best ones, always. It’s an art form within itself. ‘Slam-Dunk Millionaire’, ‘Man Who Snatched Wig Will Have Toupee’ and ‘Glastonbury Finally Faces Its Portaloo’ are particularly excellent examples. And of course, we try our very best here at the FFP too. There was the recent ‘Rat Kills Virgin In Kirkcaldy’ and a 2-1 victory for Rovers back in the day with goals by the Dair brothers threw up ‘Two Dairs Wins’.

Eye-catching headlines

But in recent years there has been a change in the way that headlines are written as news copy has become available online.

Papers or other news websites try to get those who only read news on the web to come to theirs and will write headlines accordingly. Therefore a headline on the latest thrilling development in Victoria Beckham’s oh-so-interesting life would need a direct reference to the monumentally miserable multimillionaire. Type ‘posh’ into Google and you’ll see what I mean (she’s tired at the moment because she’s a “working” Mum apparently. Diddums).

This has been a huge change in the media world with some claiming that the days of the classic headline are no more. I disagree, in fact it means that headlines have to become more eye-catching to draw the casual internet browser with a never-ending amount of choice to a specific site. A quick internet search threw up ‘Man dies after eating 431 coins, 196 pellets and 17 small bolts’, ‘Marmite Closes M1’, ‘Brighton Girl’s Face Blew Up Like ‘The Elephant Man’’ and ‘Dead Body Mistaken By Neighbours As Halloween Display’. I’d happily read any of those stories.

I’ll leave you with one recent headline that proves that bizarre and intriguing (if not terribly well written) headlines are alive and well - ‘Gordon Ramsay’s Dwarf Porn Star Look Alike Found Dead In Badger Den Half Eaten’. Beat that.