‘From a standing fart’: readers on their favourite Grauniad mistakes
The necessary speed of the production of the paper is part of the reason for Guardian misprints (Typo negative: the best and worst of Grauniad mistakes over 200 years, 12 May), but that does not fully explain why the Grauniad got its name as a happy hunting ground for misprint seekers.
I was told when I joined the paper in 1965 that the Manchester negotiators had blundered when they encountered wily National Graphical Association negotiators to agree a deal before they moved from Manchester to London.
The NGA represented the typesetters, who were paid by the lines of lead they achieved rather than a wage for a shift, and crucially were paid again to reset a line in which they had made a mistake. Combined with an inadequate proofreading department, this meant that mischievous “mistakes” proliferated, and they often appeared in the paper, especially the first editions.
The news subeditors organised their own Christmas quiz, in which one question in the late 60s was: “The production of a daily paper has often been described as a nightly miracle. How would you describe production of the Guardian?”
• Your page of “Grauniad errors” allows me to write about a beauty. It was the first preview at the Cottesloe’s production of Mike Leigh’s Two Thousand Years. Critics are not invited until the official first night, but the Guardian sent a young man to get a feel for the atmosphere of the preview.
I was chatting to Mike Leigh at the interval when a somewhat bemused Nicholas Hytner, the then artistic director of the National Theatre, joined us and said he had been asked by a Guardian reporter what he thought of the play so far. Realising he had not been recognised, Hytner said he thought it was the best play about Jewish life he had ever seen. Asked his name, he thought quickly and said “Nigel Shaps”. The next day, the report quoting “Shaps” appeared, coinciding with the first edition of the Guardian’s new Berliner format. A case of starting the way you mean to carry on?
• Your very funny roundup of Guardian typos omitted perhaps the most uproarious of them all. Former Guardian tyro Matthew Engel’s enthralling Extracts from the Red Notebooks gives the year 1972 for the following reports:
“At Oxford C.B. Fry’s party trick was to leap backwards from carpet to mantelpiece from a standing fart” (first edition).
“At Oxford C.B. Fry’s party trick was to leap backwards from carpet to mantelpiece from a standing tart” (second edition).
“At Oxford C.B. Fry’s party trick was to leap backwards from carpet to mantelpiece from a standing start” (third edition).
• My all-time favourite Guardian error was in a column by Hugo Young in which the then cabinet minister Michael Portillo was described as “a conman of a different order of seriousness”; the subsequent correction read “in command of a different order of seriousness”. Readers will form their own opinion.
• My all-time favourite, from an article about the actor Ian Richardson, mentioned him appearing in “The Burning of Rat” instead of at the Birmingham Rep.
• Elisabeth Ribbans’ review of the Guardian’s errors and misprints over the years gave this reader his biggest laugh of the lockdown. It should be required reading for anyone who accuses the paper of taking itself too seriously or not having a sense of humour. Brilliant.
• The power of the daily corrections and clarifications column to amuse your readers cannot be underestimated.
• How could your article overlook the front-page splash headline on the 1980 US election: “A landside makes it President Reagan”.
Road Town, British Virgin Islands
• The Guardian never actually announced itself as the Grauniad in the hot-lead era. However, it is worth remembering the day in the 1960s when, at the top of one of the inside pages it was “THE GARDIAN”.
Portland, Oregon, USA
• It was a long time ago, but didn’t Private Eye gleefully point out the transposition of two letters when the Guardian intended to refer to the Soviet Trade Union newspaper Trud?
Collingwood, Victoria, Australia
• Your feature on historic Grauniad typos recalls how the president of the European Central Bank, Wim Duisenberg, became Dim Wuisenberg. This is possibly related to the way that your banjo-toting Weekend columnist Tim Dowling will be for ever known as Dim Towling in this household, following a historic spoonerism by my partner Karen.
Ian A Anderson
• I enjoyed the litany of errors admitted to by the Guardian, but it brought to mind my own personal discomfort from a slip between copy and print.
Many years ago, as a young would-be actor, I played Sally Bowles in a community theatre production of the musical, Cabaret.
Imagine my dismay on reading the local newspaper critic’s eagerly awaited review, which opined that I had “failed totally to convince as Sally”.
Later in the day, a knock at my front door revealed said critic, clutching his hand-typed review and apologising profusely. He had in fact not been quite as damning as first appeared, actually writing, “failed to totally convince”. Still not great, but it gave me something to work with.
Getting ready in the dressing room that evening, the (very good) actor playing the MC popped his head round the door and, in vicious character, announced: “Anuzzer total failure tonight zen, Sally!”
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