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Thursday 6 August 2015

Writer Tries to Abandon Typewriter (And Fails): Desktop Publish and Be Damned! by Keith Waterhouse

I came across a wonderful story by the English novelist and columnist Keith Waterhouse in a 1998 Folio Society edition of The Pick of Punch, selected by Miles Kington. Waterhouse was a regular contributor to the delightful pages of the late, lamented Punch, or The London Charivari, a British weekly magazine of humour and satire which in the mid-19th century helped to coin the term "cartoon" in its modern sense, as a humorous illustration. Punch's trademark equivalent of The New Yorker's dandy, Rea Irvin's Eustace Tilley, was Punch, of Punch and Judy fame (seen above at his typewriter from the back cover of The Pick of Punch).
Keith Waterhouse at his faithful, if topless, Adler Gabriele 35,
as described in his Punch story.
Unfortunately, Kington did not include in his collection the dates on which the articles he selected were published. But I am guessing from Waterhouse's story that it was written some time in the mid-1980s, during that fraught period when newspaper and magazine journalists and columnists were gamely trying to "get with it" - that is, to successfully move with the times, kicking and screaming into the age of modern technology, and convert from manual to electronic typewriters and on to word processors (often incorrectly referred to back then as "computers"). 
I was one of them and can identify closely with the woes Waterhouse encountered and so caustically described in his Punch story. Like Waterhouse, I skipped the electronic typewriter stage - in his case, he quickly abandoned the effort, in my case I just never went near the machines we now so dismissively label "wedges" (at that time; I went straight from the manual typewriter to the word processor).
Keith Waterhouse in July 1957
Waterhouse, in writing this story, is outlining the course of events which follow instruction from his then Punch editor, Alan Coren, to take the three steps from using a typewriter to creating computer documents, so that his contributions could be transmitted straight to the magazine's offices and digitally typeset. This is his first attempt to comply and make the change, and it turns out to be a series of predictable mishaps. Up to that time, Waterhouse had written his first drafts in pencil, then typed them on his Adler Gabriele 35 semi-portable typewriter and had his typescripts re-typed by a professional typist, a "temp" from a local London employment agency. The transition was for him, as with many of us, a major struggle.
Punch and The Pick of Punch were incapable of publishing Waterhouse's story the way he had intended - that is, so it accurately illustrated the first part had been written on a manual typewriter (in a manual typewriter font), that the middle part had been digitally typeset, and that the final part showed all of these means of writing (including his pencil, the Adler typewriter and a word processor) had failed, so he had had to resort to a ballpoint pen. Here, for the first time, is Waterhouse's "Desktop Publish and Be Damned!" as the author had meant it to appear:
1. Temps agency - where one hired temporarily employed workers with various skills to be performed in offices or at home, such as typing.
2. House & Hound - a British equestrian weekly magazine published by IPC Media (Inspire) (formerly Country & Leisure Media, now Time Inc UK).
3. Pharmacies offered for public use, at a small cost, photocopying machines.
4. Ryman's - Ryman is a British stationery retail company with more than 230 outlets nationwide. The stores provide a wide range of stationery and office supplies for homes and businesses. Henry J. Ryman, founder of Ryman, opened his first store in London in 1893 on Great Portland Street, a store that is still there today. Jack Ryman succeeded Henry in 1931 until 1951 when he passed it on to his own sons, Desmond and Nicholas.
5. Smith Mi - if two brothers were attending a public school, such as Eton, at the same time, they would be referred to as Smith Ma (major) and Smith Mi (minor); that is, older and younger. Lower Third is a class at the secondary education starting point.

6. No 27 - a bus route.
Keith Spencer Waterhouse was born in Hunslet, West Yorkshire, on February 6, 1929. His journalism career began at the Yorkshire Evening Post and he wrote regularly for Punch, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail. He was voted Britain's most admired contemporary columnist by the British Journalism Review in 2004. His extended style book for the Daily Mirror, Waterhouse On Newspaper Style, is regarded as a classic textbook for modern journalism. This was followed by a pocket book on English usage intended for a wider audience, English Our English (And How To Sing It)Waterhouse's 1959 novel Billy Liar was filmed by John Schlesinger with Tom Courtenay in the part of William Terrence "Billy" Fisher and the highly delectable Julia Christie as Liz. 
Waterhouse's first screenplay was the film Whistle Down the Wind (1961). Without receiving screen credit, Waterhouse and Willis Hall extensively rewrote the original script for Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain (1966). Waterhouse wrote the play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell (1989), based on the life of journalist Jeffrey Bernard. He fought long crusades to highlight what he perceived to be a decline in the standards of modern English; for example, he founded the Association for the Abolition of the Aberrant Apostrophe, whose members attempt to stem the tide of such solecisms as "pound's of apple's and orange's" in greengrocers' shops.
Waterhouse died in London on September 4, 2009, aged 80.
Some Punch typewriter illustrations:


Anonymous said...

Priceless! Enjoyed that! :)

Richard P said...

That Ronald Searle cartoon is a delightful twist on the old boss/typist dynamic.