In all seriousness, what’s in a headline?

A BOOK that will have padded out many a pile of presents this Christmas is called Whitstable Mum in Custard Shortage.

It sounds like the title of a long lost episode of The Goon Show, but it is in fact an anthology of headlines and stories from Britain’s local newspapers.

The story that inspired the book appeared – under the headline above – in the Whitstable Times a couple of years ago and indeed reported on the plight of a local woman who urgently needed some custard to top off her apple and blackcurrant crumble.

But could she find any in the shops of the Whitstable area? No she blooming well couldn’t, hence the story and the headline.

Having encountered this episode and its coverage, the compilers of the anthology decided to cull similar apparently inconsequential stories from other local papers and the result was a book that includes such headlines as “Dead man found in graveyard”, “Burger man’s spooky light bulb find”, “I’ll fight council over sausage roll”, “No one injured in accident”, “Police called to pull up drunk’s knickers” and “Lord Mayor’s trousers fall down at children’s event”.

Amusing as some of this material might be, those of us who have worked in local journalism are bound to feel rather ambivalent.

The compilers of the anthology claim that the book was a “labour of love” and “a homage to the craft of journalism and to the unique qualities of Britain’s local press”.

Hmm. They might just be sincere, but the fact is that anybody who works in local newspapers quickly develops antennae that twitch when they detect they are being patronised and the mickey-taking tone of Whitstable Mum in Custard Shortage is such that our collective antennae will have gone into hyper-twitch.

But since you ask, yes the Courier does figure in Whitstable Mum in Custard Shortage, for a 1998 story headlined “Cow attacks school cook”.

But no, don’t chortle. It was rather a serious episode, which resulted in the woman, from Rishworth, needing surgery. And as a matter of fact our 1998 story prefigured what became a significant cause for concern a couple of years ago, when it turned out that cows could be dangerous, even lethal in certain circumstances.

And that’s the point. Even when a local newspaper story seems trivial to the sophisticated, metropolitan mind, it can often have far more relevance to the day-by-day concerns of people than the Westminster and celebrity-driven agenda that the national media subsists on.

Anyway, I will remove the chip from my shoulder for a moment and predict a Halifax Courier headline from only this week that will probably figure in the next edition of the anthology. It might even furnish its title… FIRE CALL AFTER PRUNES LEFT COOKING.