SQUINTER’S not opposed per se to the concept of young women without many clothes on – out on the town in Belfast it wouldn’t take you to be, such is the state of undress in which so many young women venture out the door these days. But when you’re bombarded with such images on the home page of that once decorous organ the Belfast Telegraph, surely it’s time to cry stop.
Squinter grew up with the Belfast Telegraph, not because his was a unionist household, rather because his da liked a flutter on the gee-gees. Unhappily, it’s a trait he passed on to his sons. Philip Larkin put it best in This Be The Verse:
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
The Tele was an indispensable part of every punter’s toolkit in the 60s and 70s for the sole reason that it had the late racing results in blue ink down a single column. And late results they were, certainly well into late afternoon and approaching teatime. It’s one of the great paradoxes of our time that as technology has advanced in leaps and bounds, so the ability of daily newspapers to get in late news has receded alarmingly. These days you don’t get the result of the first race at Chepstow, never mind the 4.25.
Way back then, Squinter’s da would get home after a hard day behind the wheel of his artic, the Tele under his arm. Upstairs he’d go to the bathroom where he’d roll his sleeves up to reveal the pro driver’s suntan – right arm nut brown, left arm chalk white – and he’d wash and scrub his hands and forearms with the fussy deliberation of a surgeon preparing for theatre. Over his dinner he’d study those blue ink racing results with the silent absorption of a cleric reading scripture. Which is why there was always a Tele in the house – and if Squinter was too young to fully appreciate the import of the late news on the front page, he avidly followed the misadventures of a roly-poly misfit in the cartoon strip More Fun With Bunion.
You wouldn’t have found a woman without a hat in the Tele in those days, much less a woman without a dress, but how times have changed. To be fair to the Tele, in the print edition the social pix are tucked away inside, but online they scan their out-and-about photos for the most revealing costumes and then stick them on the home page next to the day’s big stories.
The Daily Mail is a good example of the dichotomy between what a conservative publication will put on the shop shelves and what it puts on the internet. The Mail front page remains carnally coy, a bitterly poignant paean to an England that never was, but its online edition is like a particularly racy edition of the ‘lad mags’ Nuts or Zoo. It’s a formula that succeeds beyond the dreams of avarice – it’s the second most-read online newspaper in the world, with only the New York Times attracting more views.
Perhaps the Tele hopes that a sprinkling of the Mail fairy dust will work wonders in the battle against falling circulation that’s being fought by newspapers the world over. Except the battle has moved from being a fight over the biggest circulation to a fight to see who can cram in the, ah, most hits.