06 January 2011

"If You Can Spell, You Can't Possibly Be 'Creative'"

As a linguist and pedant, who, as a child who used to read the OED for fun, I've often considered that I would be well suited to a career in sub-editing. In my current job, my writing is run past our sub-editors and it always makes me very happy when my text doesn't need any edits but I have never been sure whether I would take pleasure from perfecting (or, at least, standardising) other people's language or whether it would be torture to see so many mistakes and inconsistencies in the spelling and grammar.

Recently, I discovered a blog written by a sub-editor who likes to rant and while cruising through the archives, I read about a play called Subs, which is, funnily enough, about a team of three sub-editors at the magazine Gentlemen Prefer... As the play was on last summer and in a small theatre in Kilburn, I assumed I had missed out but coincidentally, it re-opened this week for a second run and I trekked up the Bakerloo Line this evening to see it.

Although the sub-editors at Gentlemen Prefer... ("the only magazine with a three-point ellipsis in its title") don't exactly exist in perfect harmony, they get along OK. There's the chief sub, Derek, who likes putting his deputy, Finch, in his place. Derek is smug and cocky but feels his manic-depressive wife and their children are holding him back from being promoted. Finch, meanwhile, is an obnoxious, self-deprecating Welshman, who is jealous of James--the bright young junior sub, who is favoured by Derek and loved by everyone else. In anticipation of his potential promotion, Derek hires Anna, a young, pretty freelancer, who may become permanent if Derek gets his way. Even Finch cheers up after Anna's arrival, although he's sure she'll never be interested in him. But men's magazine publishing is a dog-eat-dog world and we're left to wonder who is betraying whom.

I expected a lot of in-jokes but Subs is as much a play about the state of the publishing industry in general as about sub-editors. Some of the things that happen at Gentlemen Prefer... wouldn't be out of place in my office, although I work for quite a different publication. But there were some good lines ("What's the house style on G string?" is the opener) and Michael Cusick was particularly good as the irascible Finch. Whoever was in charge of props should have kitted out the subs with Macs, though; they would never use such crappy-looking PCs at Gentlemen Prefer...


  1. Anonymous09:34

    Thanks for the link. :-)
    Believe it or not, we sub on PCs at my current place of employment. The Times uses PCs too, but the Guardian's all on Macs. As a result of all the switching, I've discovered some very bizarre shortcuts!
    I saw the play too, and must agree - Finch was superb.

  2. Thanks. Actually, when I was talking to one of the subs in my office about the play, he said Macs were by no means ubiquitous (although he's a PC man anyway...).