CRAIG BROWN: Dolly has gone bananas in her pyjamas! 

Above a picture of Dolly Parton in The New York Times came the headline: Dolly Parton Likes To Read By The Fire In Her Pajamas.

When I first read this, I took it to mean that Dolly Parton sets fire to her pyjamas — or ‘pajamas’, as the Americans spell them — and then reads by the light from their blaze.

It’s hard to compress any story into a few words, but with hindsight the writer might have re-phrased the headline: In Her Pajamas, Dolly Parton Likes To Read By The Fire, or Dolly Parton Likes To Read In Her Pajamas By The Fire.

Above a picture of Dolly Parton in The New York Times came the headline: Dolly Parton Likes To Read By The Fire In Her Pajamas, writes Craig Brown

Above a picture of Dolly Parton in The New York Times came the headline: Dolly Parton Likes To Read By The Fire In Her Pajamas, writes Craig Brown

The New York Times has always specialised in rather solemn, po-faced headlines, longer and wordier than those in British newspapers. This sometimes gives them an unintended deadpan humour. Lemonade His Undoing ran one of their headlines, back in 1903. It came with the lengthy sub-heading, Chicago Man, Chased By Police, Distanced Them, Stopped To Drink And Was Caught.

Two decades later, the following headline appeared: Pancake-Loving Turtle, A Family Heirloom, Kidnapped From Home He’s Visited For Years. And in 1932, a quietly humorous New York Times headline writer came up with this: Goat Is Still Goat Despite Magic Rite: Psychic Investigators Fail To Change It Into Young Man On Misty German Peak.

Of course, the humour in many headlines is unintentional. Man Found Dead In Cemetery, read a headline in the Bath Evening Chronicle. Dark humour also emerges from Homicide Victims Rarely Talk To Police, and Students Cook And Serve Grandparents, both in American newspapers.

Other headline writers clearly know what they are doing: Headless Body In Topless Bar, ran the famous headline in the New York Post.

In 1995, my favourite Onion headline read, The Spice Girls: Can Scantily Clad Young Women Make It In The Entertainment Industry?

In 1995, my favourite Onion headline read, The Spice Girls: Can Scantily Clad Young Women Make It In The Entertainment Industry?

The over-hasty headline writer can instantly change the solemn into the silly. We Hate Math, Say 4 in 10 — A Majority Of Americans, read one headline. I also enjoyed, Missippi’s Literacy Program Shows Improvement and its companion, Illiteracy An Obstable, Study Finds.

Of course, some news days are slower than others. British headline writers try to spice up the dullest news stories, while their American counterparts prefer to stick to the straight and narrow: Federal Agents Raid Gunshop, Find Weapons; Rooms With Broken Air Conditioners Are Hot; Breathing Oxygen Linked To Staying Alive.

Newspapers often report on academic studies which, more often than not, state what everyone already knows. Bridges Help People Cross Rivers ran a headline in one local American paper. Bugs Flying Around with Wings Are Flying Bugs read another.

Sometimes, the meaning comes out all wrong, turning what might have been interesting into something rather more banal: a Canadian newspaper ran the headline, Yellow Object Spotted In Sky. Other statements of the obvious include, Woman Missing Since She Got Lost; World Bank Says Poor Need More Money; Study Shows Frequent Sex Enhances Pregnancy Chances; Statistics Show That Teen Pregnancy Drops Off Significantly After Age 25, and my favourite, China May Be Using Sea To Hide Its Submarines.

All the previous headlines are authentic, which makes the job of satirising them all the harder. For the past 30 years, the American satirical magazine The Onion has specialised in spoof headlines that capture the idiocy of the world at large. New President Feels Nation’s Pain, Breasts ran their headline when Bill Clinton was first elected President.

Let’s hope they provide a source of comfort to Dolly Parton, as she snuggles up with her book, and sets fire to her pyjamas, writes Craig Brown

Let’s hope they provide a source of comfort to Dolly Parton, as she snuggles up with her book, and sets fire to her pyjamas, writes Craig Brown

In 1995, my favourite Onion headline read, The Spice Girls: Can Scantily Clad Young Women Make It In The Entertainment Industry?

Others have a timeless poetry about them: World Death Rate Holding Steady at 100 Percent; Drugs Win Drugs War; Winner Didn’t Even Know It Was A Pie-Eating Contest; Kitten Thinks Of Nothing But Murder All Day; Dolphin Spends Amazing Vacation Swimming With Stockbroker.

British spoof headlines have been more surreal. Shower Of Creme De Menthe Falls On Croydon, read one by the great humorist J.B. Morton. The next day, his newspaper was inundated by letters from Croydon readers furiously stating that they had witnessed no such thing.

On the brilliant TV news spoof The Day Today, Chris Morris came up with similarly fantastic headlines: Leicester Man Wins Right To Eat Sister; Headmaster Suspended For Using Big Faced Child As Satellite Dish; And Where Now For Man Raised by Puffins? Let’s hope they provide a source of comfort to Dolly Parton, as she snuggles up with her book, and sets fire to her pyjamas.

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