Fishy tale that reeled them in

HAVING been a Press man for more than half a-century, I am an avid reader of newspapers, but already I am anticipating the pleasure of scouring next Wednesday's editions.

HAVING been a Press man for more than half a-century, I am an avid reader of newspapers, but already I am anticipating the pleasure of scouring next Wednesday's editions. Why?

Because that is April Fools' Day, and rest assured that some of the popular national newspapers will sneak in a subtle hoax report and photographs, even more necessary this year to help alleviate the doom and gloom of their exhaustive coverage of the global economic crisis.

So I will be examining headlines and giving word-by-word attention to the text of particular news items, searching for that annual elusive and well-camouflaged spoof article compiled from a series of spurious “facts” convincing enough to lead readers up the proverbial garden path.

Mind you, although I will enjoy the 2009 hidden hoaxes, I would be surprised if any will linger in my memory for over a decade like that about which I still chuckle 11 years after a national newspaper published it in 1998. The report was illustrated by a large colour photograph that, although mocked up, seemed the perfect picture.

Although most readers up and down the country were probably pleasantly fooled by it all, those of us in the Great Yarmouth area would have been quick to spot the April lst offender, figuratively patting ourselves smugly on the back for our perception.

The news item claimed that: “The red herring is back after 500 years”, amazing experts who had feared that the once-prolific species had long been extinct. Allegedly a fisherman netted no fewer than 14 off Dorset and intended taking them home for the family cat. But suddenly it dawned on him what they might be, and he managed to keep one alive until it was safely transferred to a display tank at the Weymouth Sea Life Centre.

Most Read

But any Yarmouthian worth his salt knows that a red herring is the product of smoke-curing one of the silver darlings for which we were world-renowned for centuries, and does not exist in the state claimed in the wind-up report.

Today, as an extension of that good old red herring tale, I bring you another April Fool-type fishy fable, probably not meant for that specific date but worthy of that prime spot in the spoofer's year. It is a story that brought a chuckle, and fond memories of his prankster father, to a long-standing old friend of this column, Runham Vauxhall reader Charles Lynes, whenever it came to mind.

Early last century Bob Lynes and his close friend Bert Carrier worked for Ernie Ellis, who ran a decorating and plumbing business based next to Doughty's sports outfitting shop on the corner of Regent Road and Nelson Road Central. As they went about their daily jobs, they used to pull their colleagues' legs about various topics, and were so much in attune that they were able to embroider on their yarns by picking up threads from one another, keeping straight faces as they wove their apparently accurate tales.

But when they began to relate to their workmates accounts of their considerable prowess at their own variation on a specialist angling discipline, the response was less receptive than usual. Their fellow-employees were frankly sceptical at the pair's descriptions of pike-SHOOTING!

And not just pike-shooting, but achieving the heady heights of Norfolk champions at their du-different sport which had hitherto received little or no publicity.

When the “gun, not rod” claim came to the attention of some doubting holidaymakers, the visitors took the bait on being reassured by Bob and Bert - looking hurt at the very suggestion that they were being economical with the truth - declaring: “It's true. In Norfolk we don't catch pike - we shoot them!”

Although it is not on record, the visitors probably regarded meeting the Norfolk pike-shooting champions as a holiday bonus, and regaled their friends and relatives back home with the occasion.

But the two men's workmates remained stubbornly disbelieving, however, and threw down the challenge to the line-shooting friends. “We want to see some proof,” they demanded, thinking that would be the end of the story.

It was not long in coming, and it nonplussed Ernie Ellis's staff. For Bob and Bert produced a snapshot showing them each holding a gun and standing proudly behind a stuffed specimen pike in a glass display case on which stood three silver trophies.

As Eric Morecambe said in a catch-phrase half a century later: “There's no answer to that!”

The camera never lies? Bob Lynes and Bert Carrier were exonerated, their claim vindicated. They appeared to have proved beyond doubt that theirs was no variation on the old exaggerated anglers' stories, but that their marksmanship as they stalked along Norfolk's river banks had earned them the status of county champions .

Their stunt had worked, for stunt it was.

You have to hand it to the pals for their ingenuity in getting themselves off the pike-hook. For the truth was that they took advantage of their current job for their employer, working at the Yarmouth Grammar School premises on Salisbury Road during the 1925 summer holidays when staff and pupils were conveniently absent.

From the (unlocked?) Army Cadet Corps armoury, they borrowed two rifles. The stuffed pike they found in the biology laboratory. The silver trophies? Simple - they were sports cups but their inscriptions were turned away from the camera when schoolboy Charles Lynes, making his daily trip to deliver his father's lunch, also took a Box Brownie camera to snap “the two Norfolk pike-shooting champions”.

The set-piece photograph caused considerable mirth, not only when the two could keep the secret no longer and confessed to their gullible colleagues but in years to come when family anecdotes were being traded.

“The day after I took the pike-shooting snap, I took dad's dinner down to the school and found the two of them looking as though there were pupils,” recalled Charles, who was 85 when he relayed the tale to me years ago.

“They were wearing woolly hats they found on cloakroom pegs, sat outside the building at two desks on the front of which were chalked 'Bob' and 'Bert'.”

I have neither caught nor shot a pike, but this does remind me of the time in the Seventies when I drove my eldest son and his cousin to Earsham Pits for a day's angling. As we trudged along the bank returning to the car, a knot of people were pointing into the shallow water where a pike was seeking its dinner.

Without the rigmarole of tackling back up again, my son grabbed his keep net and managed to catch the whopper. We reached Peggotty's Hut in Gorleston about two hours later, unloaded the pike and took it into the back yard...but it was still alive and threshed about viciously. We had to belabour it with a cricket bat, poor thing.

Somebody told us pike were edible, so Mrs Peggotty did her best, but the pike had umpteen little needle-sharp bones and an unpleasant earthy taste.