Tim Dawson

The Silly Season stories that shouldn’t have been news

  • From Spectator Life
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August is traditionally known as Silly Season on Fleet Street. It’s the annual journalistic jamboree, slap bang in the middle of recess, when half the country is trying to enjoy its summer holidays, and, in the absence of anything newsworthy to report on, journalists start to scrape the proverbial barrel in order to fill their column inches. 

So far, 2021 has not delivered the usual summer lull – the Olympics, the pandemic and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan have kept reporters busy. But history proves that a frenetic August is the exception rather than the rule. They say no news is good news; well, in the British press at least, no news tends to mean silly news. So here are seven of the silliest Silly Season stories to brighten up your summer.

Scilly Season – Harold Wilson’s Dinghy Disaster


In 1973, Labour leader and former Prime Minister, the droll, pipe smoking Harold Wilson – who would be elected again the following year – nearly drowned. The rumour was that his dog, Paddy, knocked him off his dinghy, as he bobbed in the sun-dappled water whilst holidaying in the Scillies. Fortunately, the Wolff family had decided to picnic in the nearby beauty spot of Bar Point, and heard Wilson’s familiar voice wafting towards them: ‘I can’t get in my boat!’. They were able to rescue him. Despite Labour’s best efforts to suppress the story, the press had a field day. Headlines included, ‘Scilly Secret Floats to the Surface’, ‘Wilson Rescued in Sea Drama’ and ‘My Dog Tipped Me In’. Perhaps the most mischievous headline came from The Telegraph, upon discovering Mr. Wolff’s voting record: ‘Lifelong Tory saves Wilson from Drowning’. Shouts of ‘Why didn’t you throw him back in?’ dogged him for years.

One Foot in the Stars

Victor Meldrew – in space! No, not a frankly excellent sounding sitcom spin-off, but a real story from 2005.

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