Tabloid in book shock!;Secondary;Reviews;Film and media studies;Features amp; Arts

12th November 1999 at 00:00
HOLD YE FRONT PAGE! By John Perry and Neil Roberts. Published by the Sun, pound;9.99 - ISBN 0-7230-1081-1.

Whether you loved it or loathed it, the Sun was one of the most distinctive voices of the Eighties. The right-wing populism of its noisy front pages was emblematic of the Thatcherite decade, and its mixture of aggression and burlesque became part of the languageof the era.

These robust attitudes have now been applied to a tongue-in-cheek "history" book to mark the Millennium, in which momentous events from the past have been given the Sun front-page treatment.

So the news of the arrival of the Romans in Britain in 43AD inspires the headline "Send 'em Rome: Brave Brit warriors ready to hammer lousy legions"; the Battle of Hastings becomes "Stormin' Normans: One in the eye for Harold at Hastings" and the Battle of Waterloo is recorded as "Napoleon Blown Apart".

King Henry VIII's latest wife writes to the paper's agony column, Deirdre's Photo Casebook, with a pressing concern - "I worry new hubby will cut off my head" - while the arrival of the potato is greeted by the headline "You're spuddy clever, Walter".

This knockabout account of the past 2,000 years reveals a procession of dodgy foreigners and plucky Brits, with each new historical era ushering in another opportunity for the same old prejudices to be rehearsed. It's all good tabloid fun, until you reach more modern times and Hitler becomes that "Nazi piece of work". After all the breezy xenophobia that has gone before, there is something uncomfortable about the juxtaposition of the jokey style and the subject of Nazism.

As well as this Carry On-style romp through the centuries, the book also includes a few examples of actual front pages. These are more likely to provoke discussion than the creaking parodies, with the inclusion of such notorious headlines as "Gotcha!", published in 1982 during the Falklands War, and the tabloid classic "Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster".

Students might also consider whether the tabloid front-page - and the art-form of the tabloid headline - is still making the impact that it achieved a decade ago, or whether newspapers like the Sun will have to re-invent themselves for the new century.

Sean Coughlan

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