The jubremony at the library

I love errors in newspapers. Not my own, obviously — not that I ever make any, in case my editor reads this  — but ones that appear in other newspapers. 

But the error has to be spectacular. It has to be one of those “how the hell did this make it into print?” cock-ups that have to leave even newspaper production people like myself baffled at to what exactly went wrong in a process that involves multiple people — writers, editors, copy-editors, designers, proofreaders* — that allowed a screaming error to make it all the way into print.

Typos don’t always count. This error by the BBC, for example, is mortifying but not exactly inexplicable:

It’s also easily corrected and unless someone has the foresight to screengrab it and stick it online, it’s possible to get away with only a few people seeing it. And by “a few” I mean “probably several thousand”. 

The best typos are those that result in the entire sense of the story being changed, which leads me to what is my favourite newspaper error ever.

Imagine reading the interview with Wolverhampton Wanderers chairman Sir Jack Hayward that was published in the Guardian on August 11, 2003. Wolves have just won promotion to the Premier League, so you might have been forgiven for having a “WTF?” moment when you read this quote from Sir Jack:

“Our team was the worst in the First Division and I’m sure it’ll be the worst in the Premier League.”

Not exactly the most positive of attitudes from the chairman, until you read the correction printed the following day:

In our interview with Sir Jack Hayward, the chairman of Wolverhampton Wanderers, page 20, Sport, yesterday, we mistakenly attributed to him the following comment: “Our team was the worst in the First Division and I’m sure it’ll be the worst in the Premier League.” Sir Jack had just declined the offer of a hot drink. What he actually said was “Our tea was the worst in the First Division and I’m sure it’ll be the worst in the Premier League.” Profuse apologies.**

It’s the “profuse apologies” bit at the end that I love the most. If you’re going to admit to a tremendous balls-up, at least have a sense of humour about it.

But typos are easy to make. We’ve all done them. My own personal (and almost career-ending) classic is when I typed MENINGITITS (read it slowly) in 96-point Franklin Gothic Bold across the top of the Rhondda Leader back in 1998 or so. That made it past the proofreader and editor and was only spotted by one of the guys in pre-press who saw it on the negative, called me to let me know, and basically saved my life. And in case you’re wondering how big 96pt type is, it’s this big:

96pt franklin gothic bold
Production errors are something else entirely. They happen not when the paper is being written, but when it’s being made. That’s my job. To make the paper, I mean, not make production errors. Which brings me (finally!) to the reason for this post and its odd headline, and credit goes to John Fleming for bringing it to my attention when he put it on Facebook a couple of days ago.

Briefly, this is a classic example of a production error:

How the hell this happened is beyond me. It’s also beyond me why the descenders on the “g” are over the body type, but that’s a mere piffling trifle when you realise that this made it past a designer, copy editor, proofreader, pre-press person and press worker.***

And then there’s this, from a 1979 edition of the now sadly defunct Peterborough Standard:

This is just magnificent. There really isn’t any other word for it, except possibly glorious (italics very much necessary). I cannot for the life of me understand not only how this happened but how it actually made it into an actual printed newspaper. All one can do when faced with something as marvelously sublime as this is sit back, don one’s sunglasses and bask in the sumptuous glow of fail.

In case you’re having problems reading the photo, here’s a transcript:

CROWLAND’S Silver Jubilee committee was finally wound up on Thursday evening with a presentation ceremony at the library.

The jubilee fund, described by chairman Frank Parnell as ‘one of the finest efforts in Lincolnshire’, fremony at the library.

The jubilee fund, described by chairman Frank Parnell as ‘one remony atremony aremony at the library.

The jubremony at the library.

Tremony at remony at the library.

Thrremony at tremony at the liremoay at the libraremony at the library.

Theremony at the library.

The jubilee fund, described by chairman Frank Premony rremony at the liremony aremony at the libremoay atremony at tremony at the library.

Tremorremony at the library.remony at the library.

The jubilee fund, described by chairman Frank Parnell as ‘one of the finest efforts in Lincolnshire’, fm he latched onto a through ball. Although he was hauled down by the ’keeper he still managed to stroke the ball home.

But for the second week running Durant had to leave the field injured, this time suffering eye trouble.

The winning goal was another 25-yard shot - again from Blackstones’ central defender - coming from their second chance of the game.

Gary Cooper, recently signed from Queens Old Boys, had a good debut.

And if you want to hear it in all its splendiferousness, here it is being read out loud:

 WTF I can’t even... wow.

From a purely technical point of view, the fact this mess fits the space is nothing short of miraculous, if you’re willing to ignore the masses of extra leading in the first column (I have no idea if this was the standard amount of leading for that paper, and for those who don’t care know, leading is the horizontal space between lines of type; it’s usually one point bigger than the type itself). But to increase the mystery a bit more, the typesetting in the second column — which for some inexplicable reason is the end of a well written and edited soccer match report — is set perfectly.

Technical stuff aside, whatever caused the repeating text, the screwed up copy and the general sense that someone at the Peterborough Standard was high/drunk/dying while making this page is an utter enigma. Not to mention the almost poetic segue into the football game report, something so unexpected that if the next page contained an in-depth critique of the Necronomicon it would be seen as a sensible feature for a local newspaper.

It’s impossible to replicate this on the software I use without i) doing it deliberately and ii) being summarily fired, quite possibly into the sun, the next day. I can’t think of how this happened, and I certainly can’t think of how it ended up being printed. Was everyone working on the press that night out for a cig break when this page went through?

What happened the next day? I mean, someone — more like several hundred someones — must have read this over their morning fry-up and cup of PG Tips. Did they show it to their wife/husband, have a laugh and then go to work? Did they call the paper to inquire if any staff members had suffered an embolism the previous night?

More to the point, what was it like in the Standard’s office? I’m imagining a ballistic editor, a pissed off reporter and a compositor grabbing his coat and heading for the local Job Centre. I’ve made minor errors that have resulted in bollockings that make Krakatoa look like a damp squib; if the guy who put this page together wasn’t made to eat his own body weight in lead type then the world is indeed a cruel and unfair place. 

*Or, if you work for a paper owned by a hedge fund, the guy writing for free and an online dictionary.

**The Guardian was known for years as “The Grauniad” because of its numerous spelling mistakes and other errors. According to UrbanDictionary, “The Grauniad is a nickname for the UK national newspaper the Guardian because of a now ill-founded reputation for typos. The name was given to it by the satirical magazine Private Eye. The Guardian newspaper earned its reputation for lots of misprints in the days of hot-metal printing when it was published in Manchester (it was originally called the Manchester Guardian), and the editions that appeared in London were very early editions brought down by train, before all the errors had been spotted.”

***Or, if you work for a paper owned by a hedge fund, the publisher’s nephew and some bloke in Mumbai. 


  1. Fabulous article. I first heard about ‘fremony at the library’ via a Hugo Rifkind column in The Times and have really, really enjoyed it (and associated chat like this work) since.

  2. The fremony is such a great sound poem


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