The best headlines are the ones you can sing, sang the late Tony Dumphy, my brilliant old chief sub at the Teesside Evening Gazette.
Dumph was right. Amusing headings based on famous songs are embedded in the reader’s mind all day.
When Ronaldinho helped Barcelona knock Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea out of the Champions League last year, we tentatively settled on the elaborate ‘Dhino knows the way to stun Jose’for The Sun’s Page One – but knew it had worked from the number of people whistling the Dionne Warwick classic the following morning.
There was a similar effect when ‘Chuck a Khan’appeared on the story about Hugh Grant parting company with Jemima earlier this year, and the classic ‘Zip me up before you go go’on George Michael’s lavatory brush with the law in 1998.
Deep in the mind of a Sun sub-editor lies an encyclopaedia of literature, film, TV and popular culture ready to be pillaged.
Hence: ‘The plodfather'(undercover US cop brings down Mob family); ‘War and pizza'(Arsenal pelt Manchester United with buffet); ‘Celebrity big blubber'(crowds watch whale swim up Thames); ‘Dances with Wills'(England striker Peter Crouch body-pops for Prince William); ‘How do you solve a problem like Korea?'(world outrage at Kim Jong-Il’s nuke tests).
While pun headlines can be strokes of genius (‘Kinky cop was internet stockings”), those of the ‘pointless clichÃ©’variety are frowned upon. Step forward ‘Wheely car-azy'(occasionally submitted on light stories involving cars, traffic wardens and wheely bins, or any combination thereof).
If no well-known phrase or saying comes to mind, a tabloid sub calls upon the cunning emergency plan – write a straight headline that tells the tale. After all, it seems to work for the heavies and is often the most powerful way to emphasise the surprise element of a news story.
‘Freddie Starr ate my hamster”, ‘I was Carlos the Jackal’s driving instructor’and ‘Nazi racoons invade Europe’did exactly what they said on the tin – even if you couldn’t sing them.