When news was fun


NEWSPAPERS used to be a lot more fun than they are now. Do you remember Joyce McKinney, the former Miss Wyoming accused in 1978 of using mink-lined handcuffs to kidnap and ravish 6ft 4in Mormon missionary Kirk Anderson? She coined the ultimate romantic pledge: ‘I loved him so much that I would ski naked down Mount Everest in the nude with a carnation up my nose if he asked me to.’

The papers went mad but the Daily Mail, where I then worked, missed out on all the exclusives and resorted to badging itself as ‘the paper without Joyce McKinney’. She resurfaced 30 years later involved in dog cloning.

There was the Surrey Puma, a legend (or for all I know a reality) dating back centuries which shot into the headlines in the mid-60s after sightings of a large black cat were reported in the local paper and the nationals took it up, wringing every last drop out of it. (I have it on good authority that the first in the wave of sightings was made up by reporters at the Surrey Advertiser in Guildford on a slack news day).

So to the tale of the Tamworth Two, a pair of Tamworth pigs (brother and sister) that escaped from an abattoir in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, in January 1998. They squeezed through a fence and swam across the River Avon. Soon named Butch (the sow) and Sundance (the boar), they were on the run for more than a week, during which time their owner, road sweeper Arnoldo Dijulio, said that when they were caught they would still be slaughtered. The Daily Mail, perhaps still smarting over Joyce McKinney, won a media auction for the pigs in return for the exclusive. (Not sure if it was worth it: the interviews with the pair were a dead loss.) After they were captured they spent the rest of their days at an animal sanctuary in Kent, pictured below.


Butch was put down because of ill-health in 2010 at the age of 13 and Sundance followed seven months later at 14.

Which all leads me to the Pig of the Week, the Tamworth (although it turned out that Butch and Sundance were part wild boar – but never let the facts get in the way of a good story).


This is a proper Tamworth. It is the only red British pig and is considered to be the oldest pure breed, being the closest living relative of the indigenous Old English Forest Pig. It originated shortly around 1800 near the town of Tamworth in Staffordshire. Its ancestors may include Irish pigs called ‘Irish grazers’ and/or red pigs from the West Indies, but unlike many other British breeds the Tamworth avoided much of the cross-breeding with Asian pigs that occurred several hundred years ago. As a result, Tamworth genetics are different from all other breeds in the UK , giving its meat a distinctive flavour. It is a dual-purpose pig (ie pork and bacon) but is traditionally known for producing top-class bacon. The breed was recognised in 1865, but it has never been as popular as others and is on the priority watchlist of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust. In 2020 there were only 29 herds which registered offspring, down from 66 in 2010, with just 125 female registrations in 2020, down from 268 in 2010.

Here, here and here are some enjoyable videos.

These pigs are great but I do think it was insensitive to name them Sausage, Pork Pie etc.

PS: The Tamworth Two were reported to have swum a river in their escape bid. I was not sure if this could be true and while checking whether pigs can swim I came across this interesting article about the Swimming Pigs of the Bahamas. 

PPS: There is a good round-up of the Joyce McKinney saga here


REGULAR readers know I am a mollusc fan, so I was pleased to receive this picture from TCW commenter ‘Quartus’ of a species I have not seen before.

It was taken at Pegwell Bay on the Kent coast. The ice cream-cone shaped ones, I am pretty sure, are the aptly named pointed snail (Cochlicella acuta) which is found in dunes, sandhills and grassy downs close to the sea. Here is a stock picture of one out and about.

The shell colour is variable and some have brown bands, like the ones in Quartus’s picture.


Wheels of the Week

THIS is a very rare car indeed. It is a Vauxhall Firenza version officially called the HP (for High Performance) but known to all as the ‘Droop Snoot’.

Vauxhall Firenza (1976)

It was developed as a variant of the original Firenza, pictured below, which was then renamed the Magnum.


With a 2279cc engine, the HP did 0-60mph in 7.6 seconds and had a top speed of 120mph. It was launched in 1974 to big publicity with a race at Thruxton circuit involving leading drivers. Here is a lovely little time capsule of a film about it (I don’t know who is speaking on it).

What a masterstroke to have all the cars the same colour, making it next to impossible to tell who was in the lead. Perhaps it was the only colour available at the time. The car went on to be successful in saloon car racing in the 1970s.

The Firenza HP was a classic case of ‘timing is everything’. Sales were projected at 30,000 but by the time it hit the road the 1973 oil crisis had struck, tripling fuel prices, and no one wanted a car that was perceived as a gas-guzzler – the Droop Snoot did 22mpg. There were also production difficulties with the glass-fibre nose plus industrial disputes, and by the time production ended in 1975 only 204 had been made – a disaster for Vauxhall. I have failed to find out how many are left, but in 2014 forty members of the Droop Snoot Group gathered with their cars at Vauxhall HQ in Luton.

I don’t think there are any on the market at present, and the most recent sale price I can find is £20,000 in 2018 for a 1975 model with 103k miles on the clock. 

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