Vampire deaths and royal births mark the advent of silly season

The annual media phenomenon is not exactly confined to August anymore


It was on the 16th day of July – and the 10th day of the Great Kate Wait – that Jesus Christ, flanked by Mary Magdalene, sat down on the Sky News sofa and declared: “Blessed is he who can fill airtime from now until 9am.”

Actually, what the Australian man called Alan who believes he is the Second Coming told Eamonn Holmes was that he has met Napoleon and Elizabeth I, to which Holmes failed to ask the follow-up question that was no doubt to the forefront of every viewer’s mind. Was the Virgin Queen, as an article in the Daily Mail claimed, really a man?

It was instantly apparent that the whole segment represented a dreadful slip in standards for Sky. Just the day before it had broadcast an exclusive interview with David Beckham, a man several notches above Jesus in the channel’s celebrity hierarchy. Worse than that, Jesus was old news, having appeared on the This Morning upholstery 24 hours earlier.

So when Sky’s broadcast of Jesus/Alan’s badly-dressed delusions had viewers muttering that this was “silly season” stuff, the more discerning season-watcher knew that this was an insult to the finer practitioners of the genre.

Technically, silly season doesn’t arrive until August, when everyone who’s everyone plus our elected representatives go on holiday, leaving behind skeletal staff to cope with the ever more bizarre preoccupations of journalists, whose brains have been melted over the course of the year by those very same people who are now on holiday.

Silly season, like Christmas, seems to go on for longer each year, to the extent that the ratio of “entertaining nonsense” to “important public discourse” in “the news” can fluctuate wildly in any weather.

The once reliably daft August has become the inverse of itself, coinciding with the advent of the most serious of stories: the credit crunch, swine flu and the UK city riots were all August headline-makers.

Certainly, associating the arrival of silly season with the Dáil’s summer recess seems increasingly inaccurate. Given the farcical behaviour of some TDs of late, we can reasonably expect a higher level of public debate to take hold once they take off.

The other day I saw a tweet that began “a male TD has chased women colleagues around the Dáil chamber” and for a split-second I thought this was an actual thing that happened and not, as revealed by the rest of the sentence – “to the Benny Hill theme tune” – a joke.

“Silly season” is also a misleading term because it suggests wall-to-wall hamster stories, when it’s often just the case that “funnies” and fluff get greater prominence than usual.

On the day that Sky invited Jesus/Alan in for a chat, the channel led on an investigation into high death rates in an NHS hospital. Still, you can tell that its news editors are anxious for “Royal Baby Watch” to become “Royal Baby Born”, at which point neither shocking health failures nor poor Jesus/Alan will get a look in.

In Germany, they call the silly season the Sommerloch, or the summer hole, which is not to be confused with a vineyard-laden German town of the same name. These, incidentally, are the kinds of Googleable facts that can be found in any proud product of the silly season.

This year, I’m adopting a high-tolerance, “at least it’s not the Olympic torch relay” approach to the season. Yes, it really is strange that it’s so sunny in summer.

“Best films/albums/books of the year so far” lists are a genuinely handy way to catch-up on the culture you ignored first time around.

The summer has already got off to a classic start with the story of the discovery of Polish “vampire graves”, which are not really vampire graves, but let’s enjoy the idea for a few days before concluding that four unfortunates were decapitated sometime around the 16th century and the burial arrangement – their skulls placed between their legs – might, at best, have something to do with medieval superstitions.

Meanwhile, the desperate Premier League football transfer rumour mill becomes more tolerable if you re-
interpret it as a tragic yearning for autumn by men who hate wearing shorts themselves.

Outside St Mary’s Hospital in London, the world’s media are – at the time of writing – still interviewing each other. The Lindo Wing where the royal Messiah is due to be born has been rechristened the “Limbo Wing” in a reference to their thumb-twiddling. It probably wasn’t a Catholic member of the media who came up with that pun, in fairness.

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