John Walsh's article tells us that "The Complete Plain Words" was published in 1954, and has never been out of print. The whole thing started when Gowers was asked to give a talk to civil servants. Again, according to the Walsh article: "He discussed the government circulars that his audience received every week, poking fun at their grandiloquence and impenetrability, and called for a 'new style of official communication'." This talk had a profound effect on Gowers' audience. Okay, that's enough of the article. Now it's my turn.
Mind you we couldn't understand the contracts and just signed on the dotted line. Record contracts didn't come about every day.
Fast-forward, and a few years later I found myself working at the BBC in a local radio newsroom. This was a fantastic experience.
I actually saw a typewriter being hurled across the room at the news editor after an argument about a story. This was nearly an everyday event, but it was always provoked by a desire to tell a story in the best possible way. It was in this environment that I really started to learn how to write.
At Radio Stoke, at least, people still died from "the effects of smoke", and bad people were guilty of "burglaries".
And to my favourite of them all. A reporter who will remain nameless reported one Saturday morning: "The soldier died when a malfunctioning firearm discharged." I very nearly threw the radio out of the window. On the Monday morning I took him to one side. His explanation for using such a jargon-ridden sentence was: "That's what the police said."
No defence. The first rule of thumb should be: "Would they say it in the pub?" No. They'd say: "The soldier died when a faulty gun went off." The reporter did, in fact, join the police force in Queensland as a spokesman shortly after.
The reporter had no idea that there was a difference between a marquis and marquee. Then there was the reporter who wrote: "The man appeared in caught."
That was a near disaster, as it very nearly made the paper. I was on deadline, under pressure and very nearly didn't see it. I could have been (and should have been) sacked if that had got through. I was the last in line, the sub-editor who checked everything and it nearly made it.