THE rather odd tale of the “canoe” man who faked his own death brought to my mind the even stranger tale of the late John Stonehouse, the Labour MP and minister (privy counsellor, no less) who faked his own death in 1974, inspiring the creation of the comedy character Reginald Perrin.
It also brought to my mind a rather cruel prank in which I was peripherally involved as a student journalist working on a local Scottish newspaper in the summer of 1985. Our rival newspaper, located in the same town, had fewer staff and less time to re-write, or in some cases, even read, news releases submitted to it. So my news editor invented a fake local charity (with the acronym of AIDS; he wasn’t a very PC kind of guy) whose treasurer was one Bob Maxwell (prescient, given that this was six years before Capn Bob’s demise) and its chair, John Stonehouse. We used to send in weekly spoof releases, which were almost always reprinted verbatim by our gullible rivals.
One day, the news editor thought he had gone too far. He had invented a charity swim event to raise money for AIDS. The sponsored swim, to be undertake by the chairman, Mr Stonehouse, would start at a local well-known seaside location. But the gimmick for the event was that Mr Stonehouse wasn’t revealing what his final destination would be!
The day of publication duly arrived, but there was no sign of the story within. Had our rivals finally clocked what had been going on? Then we thought: swimming… sport… sports pages! And there it was on the back page, almost word for word as it had appeared on the original release so lovingly crafted in our own office.
Incidentally, you might be interested in knowing that, following his disgrace and release from jail, Stonehouse joined the SDP. Not sure what that tells us.