Friday, 9 December 2011

Frank Peters 1 John Pifer 0

I'm indebted to Peter Sands for this glorious example of an acrostic and the first one I remember hearing about. Up until now I'd never actually seen the page and I was beginning to think that the story was apocryphal. I'm really pleased to find it isn't.

The events took place at the Darlington-based Northern Echo and they centre around Frank Peters, the night editor responsible for the arrangement of the text on the front page of the paper. I've taken the following details from Sands's blog.

In 1982 a brash Canadian called John Pifer was employed as executive editor by the Echo owners with a brief from head office to 'sort out that nest of vipers'. He managed to upset or sack just about all of the old school. His prized head though was that of night-editor Frank Peters, a martinet who ruled the subs room. Peters sported a handlebar moustache, occasionally wore a kilt, and was a stickler for accuracy and style.

Eventually even the formidable Peters was ground down by Pifer and decided to quit for a position at The Times with his old editor Harold Evans. On his last day in charge, Peters ran a leg of shorts on the front of the broadsheet as usual. But this time the first letter of each headline, when read vertically, spelled out...well, you can see for yourself.


Peters rode off on his moped for the last time, leaving instructions that whatever was changed on Page 1, the shorts had to stay. This alerted the composing room overseer to the fact that something was amiss. He spotted the offending headlines and asked the subs to change them. In support of Peters, they refused.

The fallout was amazing. Letters were sent to The Times advising that Peters was an undesirable. His official leaving party, after working for the Echo man and boy, was cancelled. Those subs who refused to change the shorts were said to have undermined the paper's editorial judgement and were forever tarnished.

Apparently advertisers had been upset and threatened to boycott the paper (although in reality it became a collector's item) and for years later the group's executives would only discuss the whole affair in hushed tones.

Frank Peters died in 2004. I can't find any reference to John Pifer.

Maybe Frank's message had the desired effect.

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