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This parody appeared in the Belshill Speaker in 1927. As far as I am aware it has not been republished since then.


Heddlock Phones, the great detective, was sitting by the fire in his chambers, clad in a draggled and ash-stained dressing-gown, puffing great clouds of acrid smoke from a huge pipe. By his manner, his friend, Dr. Swotson, who was reading a newspaper at the other side of the hearth, knew that no case in particular was occupying his thoughts, but that the mighty brain behind the high forehead was merely seeking something worthy of its attention. At last, it found it.

“The bane and vice of this age, my dear Swotson,” remarked Phones, “is the amount of superfluous verbiage it produces. It says too much. Nothing is left to the imagination; and naturally, the imagination suffers.”

“What makes you think so?” asked Swotson, ever eager to catch at the gleams of wisdom the great master of deduction was wont to send forth.

“well,” said Phones, “take the newspaper as a typical example. The specimen of that strange product of our age which you have just lowered to your knee affords a good illustration. Even at this distance I can read one of the head-lines –


Below it there seems to be about thirty lines of ordinary letter-press. Superfluous, my dear Swotson! Quite unnecessary! Even a man with your alleged scientific training can see what I mean. The expanded account is merely a pandering to laziness. It is a waste of time, energy, ink and paper. If only head-lines were printed, consider what a saving it would be. The head-line, correctly chosen, tells all that need be told.

Take the one in question. A reporter has evidently come across one of these stories of disappointed ambition which abound so much in pathos, and teach us to be thankful for what few of our aspirations we have attained.

I can picture the whole tragedy. Twenty years ago, a young fellow in the bloom of youth, and with the enthusiasms and aspirations of his years, joined an infantry regiment of the line. He had heard that will and ability were bound to go far; and, if even in his wilder dreams he did not dwell too much on the possibility of his having a marshal’s baton in his knapsack, he at least looked forward to the day when he might retire from His Majesty’s service with a high non-commissioned rank – a splendid example of the type to whom callow subalterns cry with relief, “Carry on, Sergeant-Major.”

But he discovered that promotion in peace time is slow and anything but sure. In war, his regiment was always drafted away from the seat of operations, or arrived too late to let its members vindicate their worth.

Our private was consistently unlucky. If he was ill, the doctor could find nothing wrong with him, and reported him for malingering. If he had one over the eight to celebrate a comrade’s marriage, death, or accession to the rank of fatherhood, someone in authority was bound to see him.

On parade, his was the tunic which refused to sit straight, his the buttons that refused to shine, his the rifle barrel in which the floating speck of dust persisted in alighting.

His honesty was put down as hypocrisy, his human weaknesses as vice. Thus, after a score of weary years of striving, he found himself the possessor of an undistinguished discharge – a disillusioned man, and “a private still.”

“Ye-es,” said Swotson, rather doubtfully, “but -”

“Now tell me,” interrupted Phones, “am I not right, and have I not made a better job of the account than the reporter fellow?”

“Perhaps,” answered Swotson, “perhaps. But you see, Phones, the paragraph yu refer to is the account of a case of shebeening. The man was selling proof spirit at three-and-six a bottle. The fine was one hundred guineas.”


Belshill Speaker, 18 Mar 1927

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