IT HAD everything: a hat, a stick and a woman with a silly name.
Now a four-paragraph Harrogate Advertiser story written for April Fool’s Day has made the national press - and become an internet phenomenon.
On April 1, 2011, we devoted all of Page 9 to made-up stories.
The main article concerned (fictitious) plans to turn the Royal Hall into a kebab house, but at the bottom of the news-in-brief column was a titbit written by news editor Tom Hay, headlined: “Woman finds a hat in a tree”.
Here’s how it read:
A HAT has been found up a tree in Bilton.
The woollen head garment, which is red and has a bobble, was discovered on Tuesday by Bilton Lane resident Sharon Bromance, 43.
“I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw it up there, ” she said. “I got it down with a stick and put it on a fence post.”
The owner now has until April 10 to reclaim the hat, after which it will be destroyed.
That day, a clipping of the piece surfaced on Twitter courtesy of Sian Hague (@HarrogateGal). “Good old Harrogate Advertiser,” she said.
Another scan was picked up by the influential FAIL Blog on April 6 and did the rounds on a second blogging website, tumblr, where it was “liked”, republished and commented upon by dozens of users.
Many were energised by Sharon’s surname - “bromance” being American slang for male bonding - some latched on to the hat’s apparently dangerous nature, while others took issue with a paper so bereft of news that it considered such hat-up-tree shenanigans important.
“FORGET THE CIVIL WAR IN LIBYA, THERE WAS A HAT UP A TREE,” shouted feelinsoflylikeadcriss.
Other blogs joined in too. Paul Smith, on bitterwallet.com, introduced the clipping by saying: “More from our semi-occasional series featuring newspapers without news.”
By April 7, a group had been formed on social networking site Facebook pledging to “Save the Bilton Lane Hat”, while under the title “Meanwhile in England...” the story cropped up on reddit.com, attracting 165 comments that can broadly be filed under “complete ridicule”.
On May 8, the piece was crowned “scoop of the week” by thepoke.co.uk, reminding Twitter user and Daily Telegraph journalist Matthew Holehouse (@mattholehouse) of a cherished story from days gone by.
“After ‘Is this the world’s straightest banana?’ - another world-beating exclusive from the Harrogate Advertiser,” he told his followers on July 10, possibly sarcastically.
Then last week Yes Man author and magazine columnist Danny Wallace joined the parade of mockers in the pages of weekly national free paper ShortList.
Under the sub-editor’s heading of “Slow news day”, he reprinted the story in full, saying: “My thanks to Nicola Lamb for ensuring none of us miss this important news, which involves a wonderfully-named Yorkshire woman and handily describes what a hat is.”
We wrote a friendly letter pointing out that the slow news day in question was April 1 and got this reply from Danny: “I am pleased and relieved to learn that there is more going on in Harrogate than an unusually-named woman panicking about a hat in a tree.
“Might I also take this opportunity to congratulate the staff of the Harrogate Advertiser on explaining to their readers what a hat is. I will now only ever refer to a hat as a head garment. But well done on a great story!”
We didn’t bother telling all the other people it was a joke, as we’re quite busy.