I am grateful to the blog, Catch the monkey while catching the monkey, for posting this little piece of history from my Northern Echo days. Back in 1982 a brash Canadian called John Pifer shipped up at the Echo as executive editor with a brief from head office to "sort out that nest of vipers." He managed to upset or sack just about all of the old school. His prized head though was that of night-editor Frank Peters, a martinet who ruled the subs room. Peters sported a handlebar moustache, occasionally wore a kilt, and was a stickler for accuracy and style.
Eventually even the formidable Peters was ground down by Pifer and decided to quit for a position at the Times with his old editor Harold Evans. On his last day in charge, Peters ran a leg of shorts on the front of the broadsheet as usual. But this time the first letter of each headline, when read vertically, spelled out FUCK PIFER.
Peters rode off on his moped for the last time, leaving instructions that whatever was changed on Page 1, the shorts had to stay. This alerted the composing room overseer to the fact something was amiss. He spotted the offending headlines and asked the subs to change them. When they refused he went over their heads. The fallout was amazing. Letters were sent to The Times advising that Peters was an undesirable. His official leaving party, after working for the Echo man and boy, was cancelled. Those subs who refused to change the shorts were said to have undermined the paper's editorial judgement and were forever tarnished. Apparently advertisers had been upset and threatened to boycott the paper (although in reality it became a collector's item) and for years later the group's executives would only discuss the whole affair in hushed tones. You can see why. If maverick subs used the paper to air their grievances every time they had a disagreement with management, then any credibility would disappear altogether. I'm pleased to say it did not start a wave of obscene messages hidden in newspapers but there have been other incidents. One of the most famous was ten years later when Express columnist Stephen Pollard, fed up with life under Richard Desmond, decided to leave for The Times. As a parting shot in his column, the first letter of each sentence spelled out FUCK YOU DESMOND. This time around The Times, who had welcomed Peters with open arms, took a very different view and decided not to proceed with Pollard's contract. The story is told in Media Guardian here. Remarkably, years later Pollard went back to write for Desmond's papers. Frank Peters died in 2004. His obituary in the Daily Telegraph is here.