Sunday, 18 November 2012

Mr Jagger and Mr Richards on their 50th anniversary

The New York Times reports the Stones’ forthcoming concerts in London and New Jersey in November. The article is illustrated by a charming picture of the group in 1962 with Brian Jones leading from the front in a narrow tie and sharp suit. Making much of the contradictory nature of their previously espoused anarchy John Pareles finds them now ‘disciplined’ and ‘a symbol of stability’.

What is most noticeable to a London ear is what must be the New York Times’ house style. After the first mention of a person’s full name the writer or sub then edits the name to title then surname. Thus in his interview from Paris Keith Richards becomes Mr Richards and Mick Jagger is Mr Jagger who can ‘twitch and shimmy all over a stage’.

To English ears in 2012 this seems unusually formal - Mr Richards conjuring up a strict Welsh primary school teacher and Mr Jagger the chap who used to be responsible for keeping the school clean and tidy. Jon Pareles first introduces the band’s manager in the early 80’s - Andrew Loog Oldham - who apparently urged them to become the “anti-Beatles” the opposite of an “ingratiating, uniformed, clean cut pop-rock band”. However there is no further reference to the band’s early guru so we never find out whether he would be given the title of Mr Loog Oldham or simply Mr Oldham. Never first names it seems not “Andrew” or “Keith” or Mick”.

It is a surprising example of what seems to be American formality compared with British informality - British newspapers regularly calling the Prime Minister “Cameron” and the prospective Archbishop of Canterbury “Welby”.

If you plan to write for New York Times you may need “The Official Style Guide Used by the Writers and Editors of the World's Most Authoritative Newspaper – The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage” available from Amazon. Guidance can be found page 87 under the heading “courtesy titles”. If interviewing a woman be very, very careful.

No one seems to know whether it was Churchill or George Bernard Shaw who said “The United States and Britain are two countries divided by a common language” but when it comes to giving your interviewees courtesy New York journalists take the prize.

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