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Friday, 6 July, 2001, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
Silly season is off and running

"Silly season" 2001 is off and running
It has become as much a part of the UK summer as Wimbledon, overnight stays in airport lounges and short hot spells of weather followed by torrential downpours. And, writes BBC News Online's Chris Horrie, the silly season's back.

The annual newspaper "silly season" has got off to a flying start with a spate of stories about animal mishaps and, above all, the saga of the cross-bred Cumbrian zebra-pony and what to call it.

Desperate Measures

Media industry-watchers attribute the annual deluge of daft stories to the dearth of "proper" news which happens when Parliament begins to wind down and newsmakers begin to disappear for their annual holidays.

otter
Phew worra scorcher
Last year's crop included prize specimens such as the state of Victoria Beckham's bunions, the supposed TV "comeback" of '70s glove puppet superstar Basil Brush, the trend for women to store their underwear in the fridge on warm days and the steps taken by the Teletubbies to prove they are not gay.

And if the early signs are anything to go by, this year too could see a bumper harvest.

One source of "silly stories" for the national press is the UK's thriving local newspaper press - where desperate measures are sometimes needed to fill up the pages at the best of times.

Pun Power

Golden Eagle crop
Big attraction - Golden Eagle
Keith Sutton, editor of the Carlisle News & Star, claims he was the first editor in the country to get wind of the zebra-pony story after the creature was born at a wildlife park on his beat.

Sutton, a director of local newspaper industry's Society of Editors and well-known in parts of the industry for his groan-inducing puns, ran the tale under the headline WHAT KIND OF FOAL AM I?

The paper has since been bombarded with letters debating what the creature should be called. The latest favourite is "Zebloid".

Silly Season Regulars to watch out for
Nessie: First spotted one dark night in 1933

Beast of Bodmin: Dozens of sightings since 1983

Crop circles: First reported in Stirlingshire 1678 - 300 years later, pranksters began flattening crops in Wiltshire

UFO sightings: Commonly spotted in mid-Wales and Wiltshire

Swarms of "Killer Bees" and other insects predicted

Sutton says that it's tough whistling up enough news during the summer. But, he adds, "it never gets to the stage where you think 'there's absolutely nothing going on, what the hell are we going to write about'."

Summertime Blues

The News & Star is reckoned to be one of the best local papers in the country and is a contender for paper of the year at this week's local newspaper awards.

Instead of bringing on the summertime blues, Sutton says, for editors everywhere the weather provides a no-fail source of seasonal news stories.

This week, for example, he sent a photographer to measure the temperature inside a newly-built local hospital during a hot spell.

The hospital - a showcase development for the Private Finance Initiative - has glass walls, a huge, showy atrium and has won a design award. When the sun shines it acts like a giant greenhouse. The photographer measured the temperature as 110F.

Too Cold

"There's never a day when nothing's happening," Sutton says. "We would never resort to the old summertime stand-by of breaking an egg on the pavement, watching it fry and then taking a picture of it."

Then, on reflection, he adds: "Actually we would if we could, only it's too cold up here for that to happen."

If all else fails, Sutton says, the News & Star can fall back on England's only Golden Eagle, conveniently nested in the paper's circulation area.

"We go up and see if it's laid and egg and, if so, if it's cracked or not. This sort of thing generates real excitement up here."

Sophisticates

Basil Brush
Very silly
"And now," he adds triumphantly, "we've got an Osprey too - up at Bassenthwaite lake. That's created tremendous interest. There are traffic jams caused by people trying to see it."

Two weeks the paper led the world with the news that the Antiques Roadshow team had failed to identify a 1920s bicycle clip which a local person had found in Carlisle town centre - not exactly earth shattering Sutton admits.

In any case, it was soon overshadowed by IT'S GETTING 'OTTER AND 'OTTER - the paper's headline linking hot weather to the sighting of an otter in the town centre.

Metropolitan media sophisticates may mock. But for local newspapers the silly season isn't silly at all.


BBC News Online's regular feature Planet Tabloid will be keeping a special eye on the silly season. If any tales catch your eye, nominate them by using the form below, or if you prefer to use your own e-mail program, send them to newsonline.features@bbc.co.uk

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26 Jun 01 | Sci/Tech
Zebra hybrid is cute surprise
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