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Ah, that silly summer when Simon Bates invaded France.

Byline: DAVID BANKS

AN the news get any worse? CWe've had hacks turned into hackers, hoodies burning and looting city centres and policemen taking bribes from one lot and bricks and petrol bombs from the other. And they call THIS the Silly Season!

They obviously don't make Silly Seasons like they used to: those months from June to September when an MP parked his mistress in a Mayfair flat and went home to the family, when school holidays were timed to coincide with airport baggage handlers' strikes and at least a brace of budget airlines went bust turning Heathrow into the Dossers' Hilton.

And those were just the GOOD days. Sometimes news got awfully thin on the ground.

"Princess Pushy Loses her Pussy" - Fleet Street's hunt for a lost cat owned by Princess Michael of Kent - came out of the same rather thin True Stories file that gave the world "Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster!" And when even so-called news disappeared desperation became the mother of invention.

The Sun's favourite stunt was to mount an invasion: after French farmers blocked a truckload of imported English lamb the red-top tabloid retaliated by recruiting st-st-stuttering Carry On star Jack Douglas, two Page Three girls and the Town Crier of Dover under the command of Radio One DJ Simon Bates to board a ferry to France with orders to "reclaim Calais for the Crown".

Don't sneer: the news editor was a former deputy editor of The Journal, the chief reporter had once been The Journal's business editor and the Tee-Hee Day landings resulted in a spell of custody in Calais for the paper's reporter, now award-winning radio and TV presenter Nick Ferrari. Correct costume was held to be vital to the success of such photogenic occasions: the reporter sent to find Princess Pushy's kitten was instructed to equip himself in jungle khaki complete with pith helmet and butterfly net; Simon Bates was ordered to wear tricorn hat and redcoat uniform for the Calais invasion; and when a "wild bull" escaped from Cirencester market and ran amok the reporter went a-hunting dressed as the back end of a pantomime cow (the photographer, as ever, was at the sharp end).

Most spectacular, however, was the column of secondhand armoured cars commanded by Page Three queen Samantha "Desert" Fox that rumbled through the Low Countries after some long-forgotten EU spat with Germany.

The Silly Season, as it turned out, was a newspaper ritual universally observed: the armoured column was met at the German frontier by a Panzer Korps of reporters from Der Bild tabloid who bombarded the invaders with schnitzel, chips and beer.

Ah, crazy harmless days! It wasn't exactly news but it wasn't hacking or rioting, either.

WARNING: carefully check the contents of the books and DVDs donated to the church charity book stall at your village fete.

Two years ago the vicar cheerfully helped the ladies of Etal parish set out their stall without noticing among the assorted goodies volumes and videos that were obviously the work of the devil.

Red faces all round! We didn't make the same mistake this year; as a result, the community fete raised a cracking pounds 3,000 for local good causes.

EXTRAORDINARY, you might think, how brains and beauty seem to go hand in hand.

Certainly that's the impression you might get from photos of excited teenagers celebrating their A-stars and Oxbridge acceptances, as a lucky few did yesterday.

But news of dark doings reaches me: no less an authority than the Financial Times claimed recently that pushy private schools supply newspapers with cheesy photos of brainy blondes in boob tubes in advance of results day. Unscrupulous heads have even taken to inviting journalists to sports days ahead of the third Thursday in August to "check out the talent".

Of course, it's the Press that will take the blame.

david_banks@hotmail.com

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 19, 2011
Words:653
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