Gotcha

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Falklands. It was a little war in a godforsaken place. The last spasm of post-imperial imperialism, it was at most Thachter’s war in the British public’s view. One newspaper managed to turn this public opinion around and it was the Sun.

The Sun’s editor Kelvin MacKenzie’s Falklands coverage — xenophobic, bloody-minded, ruthless, reckless, black-humoured and ultimately triumphalist — captured the zeitgeist of a new gung-ho Britain. The first headline reporting the invasion read “STICK IT UP YOUR JUNTA!”, the retaking of South Georgia, “INVASION!” and even prematurely announced “IN WE GO”. Single-word headlines became the Sun’s trademark throughout the war … and it worked too. Within a week, thousands of T-shirts bearing the Sun’s headlines were being sold.

The most memorable headline and the image came when the Argentine vessel General Belgrano had been hit. MacKenzie seized an editor’s ecstatic words and designed a front page which said: “GOTCHA. Our lads sink gunboat and hole cruiser.” When the Sun realized there was a huge loss of life (about 350 Argentines drowned), MacKenzie changed the cover for the subsequent editions.

MacKenzie later produced the headline: “BRITAIN 6 (Georgia, two airstrips, three warplanes), ARGENTINA 0.” When Private Eye spoofed the Sun with the headline, “KILL AN ARGIE AND WIN A METRO”, MacKenzie laughed off joking: “Why didn’t we think of that?”

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