Mr and Mrs Hallett, or The morning walk by Thomas Gainsborough

For more than 50 years their image has hung unmolested on the walls of the National Gallery, alongside well known and well loved works by such titans of British art as Stubbs, Hogarth, Reynolds, Turner and Wright.

On Saturday, however, Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait of William Hallet and Elizabeth Stephens, The Morning Walk, came under attack from a man armed with a screwdriver.

Staff and gallery-goers rushed to detail the man, who was restrained until members of the police arrived at the scene in Room 34 on the second floor of the museum.

Telegraph website, March 19, 2017

This is lamentable. Yet another dreadful intro on a good story. The lengthy list of painters looks like nothing but an attempt to show off (‘Name as many British artists as you can in 30 seconds’). What does it matter how long the picture has been in the National Gallery? ‘Unmolested’?! ‘Titans’ is a joke word.

All that is needed is a straight intro:

A man has been arrested after one of the National Gallery’s best-known masterpieces was slashed with a screwdriver.

In the second paragraph, Mr Hallett’s name is mis-spelled. In the third, I presume ‘detail’ should be ‘detain’. Frankly, such carelessness suggests contempt for the reader. And ‘members of the police’ is a very odd way of saying ‘police’. I despair.


Daily Express, March 17, 2017

Two examples in one piece of dashes where commas would be better. To quote from Style Matters:

dash: Use sparingly. They hold up the sentence and make the copy look ‘spotty’. In most cases they can be replaced by commas, or even deleted. They should be used only for a surprising twist to a sentence, such as ‘Jason Bugby is three months old – but he is already a member of Mensa’, or to enclose something which does not fit into the main subject matter of the sentence, such as ‘Despite spending so much time abroad – last year he was in England for only two months – Lord Freeman maintains a fully staffed house in Hertfordshire’. 

I would have done the second paragraph thus:

So it is fitting that the programme is to return after a 14-year break with another Liverpudlian, her great friend Paul O’Grady, hosting it. [I have dropped the comma after ‘break’ because it is not necessary.]

In the last par I would simply replace the dashes with commas.

Incidentally the caption would be better with a colon instead of three dots (ellipses). If you really must use ellipses, there should be a full space at each end and half spaces in between the dots.


Daily Express, March 17, 2017

Why ‘but’? It makes it sound as if it is surprising that Mary Berry is much loved. Obviously she has departed (not a word I would use anyway, with its connotations of ‘dear departed’) or there would be no need to replace her. How much better and simpler it would be to put ‘will replace the much-loved Mary Berry’.


Kyrgios added: “After a restless night of being sick I have nothing left and to play a great champion like Roger, I need to be at my best to have a chance.”

“I don’t take this decision lightly, these are the matches we train for but I’m in no fit state to take to the court. I’m sorry to the fans but I have to put my health first and I hope you understand.’

“I want to wish Roger the best of luck for the rest of the tournament and thank everyone for their support so far here at the BNP Paribas Open. I will definitely be back. Thank you.”

BBC Sport website, March 18, 2017

If a quotation runs over one or more paragraphs, you don’t close the quotes at the end of the intermediate paragraphs. You open quotes at the start of each paragraph and close them at the end of the whole quotation. In this piece, there is even a mistake in the mistake – the incorrect close quote at the end of the second par is single, when the rest are double.


The Times, March 15, 2017

This should say ‘uncharted’ not ‘unchartered’, chart meaning map and charter meaning something else entirely. There is a horrible line-break near the end of the section which a cursory reading of a page proof should have picked up. Words of more than one syllable should be broken between syllables. Proof-reading should also have picked up ‘tourist’ instead of ‘tourists’ in the previous sentence.

One question I would like to have seen answered is how a damaged coral reef can be restored for £13.5million. Are the corals to be paid?




i newspaper, March 17, 2017

Boiling refers only to liquid and therefore cannot be applied to rocks. Suitable words to describe very hot solid material include sizzling and incandescent, or you could say red-hot, blisteringly hot or searingly hot (note that a hyphen is not needed when the adverb ends in -ly).


The Times, March 15, 2017

Another unnecessary and dreary attempt to dress up a reasonable intro. Just knock off the words up to the dash. In any case, someone who fears spiders is an arachnophobe, not the clumsy ‘arachnophobia sufferer’. ‘Predator’ and ‘prey’ are repetitive, and I think ‘devouring’ and ‘voracious’ are too similar to use in the same sentence. I would use ‘tons’ rather than ‘tonnes’ since there is almost no difference in weight.

This is how I would tackle it:

Spiders are among the world’s most voracious predators, feasting on up to 800 million tons of  victims a year, scientists have found.

The slaughter has a major impact on insect populations, they believe.

Although individual spiders eat such tiny creatures, there are a huge number of them – 45,000 species with a collective weight of 25 million tons. A Swiss and Swedish team has calculated that their prey adds up to between 400 million and 800 million tons a year.

By comparison, humans consume about 400 million tons of meat and fish, and whales get through an estimated 280 million to 500 million tons.

Spiders mainly eat insects and springtails, which are small insect-like arthropods. Larger species occasionally dine on vertebrates such as frogs, lizards, fish and small mammals.

Lead researcher Dr Martin Nyffeler, from the University of Basel, [I think Times readers should be expected to know that Basel is in Switzerland, not Sweden] said: ‘Spiders make an essential contribution to the balance of nature. [Then run on the rest.]







The Serbian top seed lost 7-6 (11-9) 7-5 in one hour, 47 minutes in what was the first ever meeting between the two.

BBC Sport website, March 3, 2017

This is a rotten sentence.

  1. ‘in what was the . . .’ Such an ugly construction, and unnecessary – ‘in the . . .’ is all that’s needed.
  2. ‘the first ever’: Another unnecessary word – ‘the first’ is perfectly adequate.

This gives you

The Serbian top seed lost 7-6 (11-9) 7-5 in one hour 47 minutes in the first meeting between the two.

which is shorter and cleaner (I have also lost the superfluous comma). I would be tempted to turn it round like this

In the first meeting between the two, the Serbian top seed lost 7-6 (11-9) 7-5 in one hour 47 minutes.

which I think is more elegant.


i newspaper, February 25, 2017

Why are there quotes on the word ‘smuggled’? Is there a fear that the tortoises will sue? Or the smugglers? Quotes are often used to indicate that something is an allegation but beware: this may not give legal protection. I don’t often suggest leaving out facts, but in this short I would be tempted to delete the dates because they raise the questions of where the tortoises were for three years after being seized in Hong Kong, and why it has taken the zoo five years to put them on show. Plus, what happened to the other nine? Stories should never leave unanswered questions.