As a former advertising copywriter, I like informative headlines. In that capacity I really had no other option: research showed that 80 per cent of even those who look at an ad never read the body copy.
Hence an ad’s story, even if it’s only a headline, must stop and inform the reader quickly or not at all. Nobody leafs through a magazine looking for an ad to read and, if an effort is required, nobody will as much as look at it.
Newspapers are different. Since people actually want to read them, they have the luxury of long headlines, sometimes those telling the whole story in several bold lines.
The headline of the lead article in today’s issue of The Daily Mail is one such. But before I run it a disclaimer is in order: The Mail is commonly believed to be our most conservative newspaper.
In popular perception it’s so conservative that it sometimes merits other adjectives as well, such as ‘reactionary’, ‘populist’ or even ‘fascist’. Guardian readers may describe it as being to the right of Attila the Hun’s head of security.
With that in mind, here goes: Mother, 35, with 13 children dies of Covid with her wife paying tribute to ‘backbone of our family’ as relatives of UK’s coronavirus victims accuse Boris Johnson of ‘ignoring’ them and demand public inquiry into his response to crisis.
There it is, the whole story right there. The rest of the long article simply fleshes it out with details, making the point that the government’s response to Covid is both negligent and incompetent. This is the current leitmotif of most of our newspapers, right, left or centre, and to this reader at least the story has lost its novelty appeal and much of its poignancy – even though it’s probably true.
Yet I found something in the headline considerably more eye-catching than Boris Johnson’s incompetence.
Namely, that a long article in a supposedly conservative paper mentions matter-of-factly and without comment that the deceased Sonia Partridge had a wife and that the bereaved spouse, Kerry Ann, is understandably despondent, having been left without “my life for the last 11 years”.
The article is illustrated by numerous photographs of the happy couple and their brood, adding up to a football side with two substitutes. The surviving Mrs Partridge says that the deceased Mrs Partridge had “an underlying condition”, and one can guess what that was by looking at the photos.
These show both spouses as being morbidly obese, with a combined weight approaching that of a small family car. What little can be seen of their enormous bodies is densely covered with tattoos, and the deceased also sported a nostril stud.
Each spouse brought pre-existing children into the matrimony: one Mrs Partridge had five, the other three. The remaining five were produced “via a sperm donor”. The article doesn’t specify whether the spermatozoa were administered in vitro or in vivo.
Now, I took the trouble to specify the spouses’ appearance not out of snobbery, but because they didn’t look as if they had the means to feed, clothe and house 13 children, with some discretionary income left over for tattoos and facial metal.
Taking a stab in the dark, I’d guess that the happy family was supported, partly or wholly, by the Exchequer. That means by the taxpayers, including, well, me. Now that, I’d suggest, deserved at least a short paragraph in a long article published by our most conservative newspaper.
After all, homomarriage was only legalised in England and Wales seven years ago, during the tenure of that soi-disant Tory, Cameron. Prior to that, the idea that people of the same sex could marry had been regarded as dystopically barmy during the entire history of Britain.
And yet it took but an historical blink of an eye for the notion to be taken for granted even in the conservative press. One wonders how our ‘liberal’ press would cover the story, and how different their take would be from The Mail’s.
Not very, I’d guess. Perhaps The Guardian would blame the government not only for its handling of Covid, but also for its handling of the Partridges.
If only they had received even greater handouts, Mrs Partridge could have afforded a better diet, thereby avoiding the “underlying condition” and untimely death. Such institutional parsimony might be ascribed to institutional homophobia. Other than that, the coverage would be identical.
I’m not gloating about Mrs Partridge’s demise. If John Donne is to be believed, her death diminishes us all, including me.
However, while I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing either Mrs Partridge, I do know our civilisation. And its accelerating demise diminishes me immeasurably more — with due apologies to Mr Donne.