The library mysterystery

12 Mar

There but for the grace of God, of course. And I’m sure I won’t get to the end of my own career without perpetrating a few more howlers. But this – from the Peterborough Standard in 1979, via Private Eye and ultimately via the Brave New Malden blog  – is … wow.


It was passed round the newsroom for amusement, but actually provoked something closer to awe. The unexpected appearance of the perfectly subbed match report halfway through is joyous. And, as the Tribune’s chief revise sub observed, not the least remarkable of many remarkable things is the fact that it fits.

Which only leaves the question: how? It’s almost impossible to believe that this could have happened in hot metal, or even photosetting. But 1979 is pioneeringly early for any kind of electronic pre-press system. Can anyone shed any light? Was anyone out in the field in  the late Seventies and working on a system that could have produced a result like this?

3 Responses to “The library mysterystery”

  1. Picky March 13, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    I’m certainly no expert, but I don’t think this is hot metal. I suppose you could merge two stories if you pied a galley of type and didn’t bother to sort it out, but I don’t think it would look like this, and it wouldn’t include the charming poetry of the first half.

    This is, I’m pretty sure, photo set, galley output, pasted up. You can tell it’s paste-up because the two legs aren’t aligned at the foot, which is unfortunately common with paste-up but rare with hot metal; and the paragraphs are pasted on all wonky – unfortunately also common.

    The type has been fed in from the back, which is good practice with this kind of layout, but in avoiding a widow atop the second leg the comp has left himself (he will have been a him, I think) with a lot of leading to insert. The first reaction of a hot metal comp would have been to insert 2pt leads between all the paragraphs in the first leg, and kept padding that space until the leg was filled. Here the comp has done a rather botched job of spacing, which was a more fiddly affair in paste-up.

    Unfortunately it was frequently the case that a comp who was deftness itself in hot metal was embarrassingly gauche when in charge of bromide paper, wax, and a scalpel.

    As to how this all happened, I can’t say: subs were kept well away from the kit in those days. But remember computers were even more apt to output gibberish then, and the links in the system were horribly physical: punched paper tape either from the keyboard or between the computerised H&J machine and the phototypesetter. I suggest a mechanical cock-up at paper-tape writer or reader. Perhaps whoever was stone-subbing was told to check heads and intros only. That sort of instruction was sometimes given to avoid delays to the page after comps were finished with it. A sort of instruction which it was wise to ignore when possible.

    But whatever the cause, praise be for it. A delicious piece.

    • edlatham March 13, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

      I knew you might be able to offer clues! You’re right – when you look at it closely now you can see the wonkiness. I wonder if the punched-tape feeder stuck and the reader took the same codes over and over, and then it got pulled out and fed in again?

      • Picky March 13, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

        Something of that sort would be my guess. Accidental art.

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