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We are waiting for you, Mr de Niro; TOON AND COUNTRY.


WRITING columns should carry a Government health warning: Caution, your scribble might provoke unexpected reactions.

Actually, I rather enjoy being recognised. "You that fellah that writes in The Journal?" I get asked. "Mmm," I nod. "How did you . . . ?" "From the photo they use," says my reader. "You're still wearing that tatty old fleece, then?"

And generally it's all downhill from there. It happened the other day: man boards the Newcastle bus at Wooler, marches down to the back seat where I stretch my long legs into the aisle and prods me in the chest.

"Don't remember me, do you?" I nod warmly and enthusiastically, although we both know I don't. "I told you my favourite headline," he says. "'White pots Black and Green', from the Sunday Sun sports page, you've not used it in your column yet."

I dimly remembered a University of the Third Age session in Wooler at which I spoke and the man who later regaled me with his favourite headlines: "You were an editor once, right? You'll appreciate this one."

Indeed I had. Nothing to do with snooker, White was a football referee who had red-carded (or "potted") Black of Wrexham and Green of Hartlepool United. Nice one, Sunday Sun.

He had also shared with me his father's advice on his wedding eve 50 or so years earlier: "Cultivate cloth ears and sauce bottle shoulders," he was told, something to do with only hearing what you want to hear and letting a wife's viperous criticism slide off your sloping shoulders leaving you unaffected.

But it was the headlines I liked most. I shared with him my favourite, from my days on the New York Post, written about a man who escaped from a criminal asylum, assaulted two washerwomen in a launderette and fled, allowing the Post's best headline writer to pen the memorable banner: 'Nut Screws Washers and Bolts!'

Coming from journalists, the humour was dark. None so black, however, as a colleague on the Daily Mirror who kept a thin notebook in his desk drawer in which he would inscribe (preferably pun-filled) headlines and wait months, sometimes years, for there to occur the story which best fitted them.

To my certain knowledge there is at least one such composition which has never seen light of day, nor is it likely to. Its premise is simple: that Oscar winner Robert de Niro agrees to star in a drama recording the diabolical doings of mass murderer Dr Harold Shipman.

His headline? The Old Dear Hunter . ..

AMAZING and encouraging is the news that a nation whose southern states operated - until as recently as 45 years ago - a 'Whites Only' colour bar has this week produced its first black president by a landslide.

Three years ago or more, when I first became aware of the junior senator from Illinois, I placed a friendly bet with a dear colleague - then a leading White House correspondent for a big New York newspaper - that Barack Obama's outstanding oratory made him a likely contender for the White House.

'Kennedy's Children' that we were, we argued the point late into the night. Black America's day must be coming, I insisted, but she argued 2008 was "way too early" for such a revolutionary outcome.

Tragically, Deborah died suddenly one year later, eulogised by President Bush and mourned by all who had known her. Now the new president-elect has suffered his own loss with the death of his proud grandmother 24 hours before the historic victory was revealed.

What joy both women would have felt had they lived to see this day.

And me? I would happily have surrendered the unwinnable wager - and thus Barack's fabulous victory - to see my friend Deborah, a wise and wonderful member of the White House press corps, proved right just one more time.

I rather enjoy being recognised. "You that fellah that writes in The Journal?" I get asked.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 7, 2008
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