Thursday, 21 August 2008

‘Then, with an anguished cry, Caesar (see page 5, col. 3)’

If you’ve ever been annoyed by an article on a news website whose column is interrupted by an advertisement or puff for another article—made worse if the ad is slow to load—then your frustration is not new, as this article from 1923 shows:

‘[Newspapers] put all their heads on the front page—but as for their tails— The newspaper game of hunt-the-slipper demands much skill, and more patience, on the part of anyone who attempts to join it—at least, so I am told by the few “strong perseverin’” persons who pretend (although I hardly believe them that they have tried it).’

The writer discusses serious news stories interrupted by puffs for more popular features and badly judged turns to the continuation of a story (see my headline). Then, with a surprising example, he goes on to discuss the interruptions to the book reader from the arbitrary juxtapositions caused by printing text and illustrations on separate pages or in separate sections:

‘To my great discontent, I find the hunt-the-slipper dodge adopted, for no apparent reason, in Some Account of the Oxford University Press, 1468–1921. Thus: ‘The privilege of printing the Bible was not exercised at this date [1632]; but in 1636 Oxford University Arms’ (two p ages of them, dropped in on “anywhere-will-do” principles). Personally, I don’t see why the letterpress should ever be interrupted and the interest of the illustrations scattered in this irrational fashion. I like far better the orderly and systematic fashion of putting all the illustrations together at the end of the book, so that they shall not corrupt and obscure the text they are supposed to elucidate. This decorous arrangement is often observed in good books.

‘Reading on, I come to more “hunt-the-slipper” make-up. Thus: “The total quantity of type in the Press is estimated at FELL 3-line Pica John Fell, 1689, Christ Church.” Slightly incoherent, because four pages of specimens of type have been dumped into the midst of the text. After another page of text we get four pages of illustrations; very interesting they are, no doubt; but the more interesting the more distracting and exasperating. So we stagger on to the end of the book—a page of two of letterpress, then some illustrations. Why do people do that sort of thing? Surely the Oxford University Press ought to set a better example of congruity and good manners.

‘Such a jazz performance might be condoned, though deplored, in a penny picture paper; but from Oxford one expects better “form”, more polite manners than those suggested by an untidy mixture of text and illustration. In substance, the book is intensely interesting to printers. Type, paper, machining are all that could be desired by the most fastidious book-fancier; but the arrangement is, as we have hinted, hardly satisfactory. Why will not the modern book-producer content himself with being simple and straightforward? Who wants to see him doing “clever stunts”? Plain aviation is far more likely to “get there”.’

‘Rough impressions’ by Spero (CXLII—On ‘doing stunts’), The London Typographical Journal, vol. xviii, no. 207 (March 1923), pp. 5–6.

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