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Scott Ostler

Don't Ask--All You Want to Know Is in the London Tabloids

June 25, 1987|Scott Ostler

WIMBLEDON, England — Can we talk?

About tennis, of course.

Who's winning? Glad you asked.

It's still early, you know, but right now the winners appear to be John McEnroe, Fergie the Duchess and Ion the Tiriac.

The losers are Chris Evert's ski bum's estranged wife, Bonkin's Boris Becker and Prince Charles' dented sports car.

Don't look for all those names in the summaries, mate. I get all my info from the tabs. The tabloids. The eight or nine smudgy, nosy little newspapers that give London's inquiring--or perspiring--minds their daily dose of serious world news.

Hey, you don't even need to read the stories. If you're an important person in a hurry, the screaming headlines tell it all:

--"I Split My Pants in Front of Fergie"

--"Oarsman Betrayed by a Bra Strap"

--"Chris Evert Stole My Husband"

Those three headlines all deal with different people, fortunately.

The news would get real confusing if the tabs didn't stick to the five basic staples of sound journalism--gossip and rumors about English royalty, gossip and rumors about sports stars, stories about grisly crimes, large photos of grisly crimes, and large photos of topless young ladies.

Unlike the trashy supermarket tabs in America, the London tabs ignore the frivolous stuff--the miracle diets and the UFOs.

And about those topless photos that two of the London tabs run each day--this is not mindless sexploitation, no sir. There are underlying themes involved. During Wimbledon, for example, the girls are posing with tennis rackets.

Which brings us back to what we're here for. Tennis. Let's take Chris Evert, shall we?

Chrissie recently divorced her husband. Shortly thereafter she took up with a hunky--that's a favorite tab word--former ski racer named Andy Mill, a romance for which the London tabs are slobberingly grateful.

After all, the tabs' favorite target, John McEnroe, is not in town this year. Attention, tabloids: Now batting for John McEnroe . . .

Chrissie and Andy obliged the local media with a recent evening food stop that turned into "CHRISSIE'S HOT ROMANTIC DINNER WITH ANDY THE HUNK."

They apparently did some kissing.

"It was a bloody disrespectful state of play," one restaurant patron fumed. "They were like randy teen-agers."

Then Andy's jilted wife, Robin, was kind enough to spill her heart to the Sun in a two-part story, which included juicy details of her confrontation with Andy and Chrissie on the streets of Aspen, her views on Chrissie's looks ("I never thought she was pretty, but she must have something") and Andy's new hobby ("I notice she's even got Andy hitting balls on the tennis courts. When he was with me he told me his knees were always too bad to play.").

Since Chrissie's new romance is running concurrently with her serving problems, I am shocked that the tabs did not think to banner: "TWO-TIMER MEETS DOUBLE-FAULTER."

The tabs missed that one, but they don't miss many catchy heads. When a police chief's house was burglarized and the culprit escaped, the Daily Mirror sang out: "Baffled bobbies boob as their boss's burglar does a bunk."

Of course, if you read too much of this stuff, your brain slowly turns into Yorkshire pudding. Myself, I've cut down to three or four tabs a day. But I can't very well ignore 'em all now, can I?

How else would I have learned about Boris Becker's "love ban," in which manager Ion the Terrible sent Boris's girlfriend back home, in tears? I mean, Boris never tells me this stuff.

I first read about it under a Daily Mirror headline, "Bonkin' Boris v. Lusty Lendl: Sex, Me and Tennis."

The thrust of the story was that both players have girlfriends. Sadly for the tabs, the girlfriends are two different girls.

That particular headline was better than the story, which isn't surprising, since the headline was written before the story, which is another breakthrough in big-time journalism.

Headlines that don't match the story are common, probably because of deadline problems. Wednesday's Sun carried a screamer: "I'M GONNA SMASH JIMBO, SAYS SHAW." Nowhere in the story did British player Stephen Shaw say anything even remotely close to that headline vow. So sometimes it's best not to read the story at all. You could get misled. Or disappointed.

The Bonkin' Boris story, for example, was forgettable and tame, but at least it spawned a nickname.

"Vat's bonking ?" Becker reportedly asked Tiriac when he saw the word in headlines. Tiriac probably rolled his eyes.

Well, it's a low-brow slang expression that has sexual connotations, but is also a playful word, something like the current American slang word party, as in "Let's party, blokes."

Bonking also refers to Boris' hard-hitting style of tennis. An amazingly versatile word, and isn't this what journalism is all about?

Oh, I mentioned the royalty reporting didn't I? When it comes to Lady Di and Charles and Fergie, the Duchess of York, no incident is too trivial to blow up into four-inch headlines.

Charles made all the front pages last week when he dented his prize Aston Martin automobile on his way to a polo match, only two days after barking at Lady Di for sitting on the bonnet (hood).

In retaliation, no doubt, Di was seen at a David Bowie concert giggling and resting her head on the shoulder of an unknown friend--"DISCO DI'S SUPERMAN!"

Speaking of royalty, I almost forgot the news about Queen Martina Navratilova. It's real interesting stuff about Martina and her "companion." Very big news. But what do you think I am, a bloomin' gossip?

Nossir, I go more for the hard news, like the close-up photo of a London bobby who broke up a pub fight and got a screwdriver stuck fast in the side of his skull.

It's a brutal world, mate. I could use a drink. Make mine a screwdriver, with a twist.

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