Many thanks to Mike Wilson, from Yorkshire in the UK, for sending in this story.
One of the hazards of typesetting is the possibility error. In the ‘old’ days, the days of hot metal, all typeset material was checked by the printer’s reader. The reader and his assistant often inhabited a quiet part of the building so they could concentrate. The reader’s assistant took the original copy and read it aloud to the reader, who kept his eye on the typeset material. Should there be a discrepancy between what was on copy and the proof, the reader made the relevant mark on the proof so that it could be corrected.
In some houses, there was no assistant and the reader’s eyes had to flick from copy to proof, back and forth all day.
Small Property Advert
On one occasion, the proof reader was checking a small property advert which I had typeset. On the proof, the price of the house read £69,000. The price on the copy was badly hand written, the digits appearing as several loops one after the other.
The reader knew I had set the ad and, as he knew I was also the overseer, he ticked the proof as correct. If I thought the price was £69,000, then that was good enough for him.
The following day I had to fend off an irate customer who went on and on about the stupidity of people who worked at the Times (Driffield, that is). It was explained to him that his hand-writing could be interpreted in two ways, either as £60,000 or £69,000. He insisted that he had written £60,000, but more than one person in the building read it as £69,000. Nothing would alleviate his anger. He demanded a repeat (corrected) advert the following week plus an apology.
All this was arranged immediately, and the atmosphere in the office returned to normal.
Late the following Wednesday afternoon, just before the pages were ready for despatch to the printer in Scarborough, a phone call came through for me from the advertising department.
The house seller was asking if the correction had been done and if his free ad was in place. We replied that this task had been done.
He then asked if the new ad and the apology could be removed.
We had to ask why, didn’t we? His reply amazed us.
He had sold the house for £69,000 and therefore didn’t need the apology.
The vendor made an extra £9,000 on the sale of his house and he didn’t even thank us for the error. Neither did he send a crate of beer round for the lads.