There's fun in puns, but not for some

TO PUN or not to pun ... that is the question. North End Road reader Derek Coltman writes to me, berating our headline writers for going puntastic, highlighting recent examples such as nursery school parents being driven around the bend , residents gett

TO PUN or not to pun ... that is the question. North End Road reader Derek Coltman writes to me, berating our headline writers for going puntastic, highlighting recent examples such as nursery school parents being 'driven around the bend', residents 'getting the hump' and (my personal favourite) a 'cutting hedge row' breaking out in Highgate.

The general rule for a good pun is that it shouldn't cause undue offence, and, like all of these examples, provide a reasonable clue as to what the story is about.

Recent H&H classics have included 'Ode to a night of ale' concerning a Keats night in Hampstead (you get a better class of pun in the Ham&High) and 'Buffet the grandpa slayer', this about a mayor who sportingly blamed his heart attack on sampling too many buffets during his year of office.

Mr Coltman, though, doesn't appear impressed by all this jocularity, which he feels is misplaced. ''It's good that your journalists' seemingly uncontrollable urge to have a pun in each piece prevents us from being sad and taking the plight of the various individuals too seriously. Perhaps the stories are made up to fit the pun!'' he scoffs.

This indeed has been known to happen in publications of more dubious reputation but true life is often so bizarre that no invention is needed, not in Hampstead anyway. Newspapers thrive on this kind of thing.

The best humour in newspapers is usually unintentional. Headlines like 'British Left waffles on Falkland Islands', 'Dealers will Hear Car Talk at Noon' and 'Kicking Baby Considered To Be Healthy' have passed into newspaper folklore, along with inadvertent advertising clangers like: 'Cleaner required, must be contentious' and 'It takes many ingredients to make our burgers great but the secret ingredient is our people.'

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I'm reminded of an occasion when dreary court proceedings were enlivened by unintentional humour. Stifled laughter was heard around a rural court when an 80-year-old man on a speeding charge told magistrates he was ''hurrying home for sex''.

Excited headline writers had their pens poised and only the most persistent probing from one of the incredulous magistrates revealed that the defendant was a potato grower, hurrying back to his farm to replenish his supply of 'sacks', which had diminished rapidly due to a bumper harvest.

And could you honestly avoid smiling at a sign outside a drug rehab centre that innocently urged you to 'keep off the grass'.

Still, like good wine, puns are best in moderation, whether in newspapers or any other media.

Are you with Mr Coltman? Is it time to declare war on puns? As always, it is your view that counts.

Geoff Martin, Editor, Ham&High

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