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Paper Monitor

09:35 UK time, Friday, 23 July 2010

A service highlighting the riches the daily press.

The UK's tabloid press has a proud tradition of rescuing distressed livestock, preferably after the creature has endured some bizarre form of cruelty overseas, thus simultaneously tapping into two key components of the British psyche: sentimentality about animals, and distrust of foreigners.

Trebles are still raised in El Vino's to one of Fleet Street's all-time greatest scoops - the pilfering of Blackie the Donkey in 1987. This hapless equidae had been singled out to be the centrepiece of a quaint Iberian pancake day festival tradition - that is, to be dragged through a Spanish village, suffer beatings from the locals before getting crushed to death under the weight of the town's fattest man.

The Sunday Express had warned its readership of Blackie's fate under the headline POOR EL CONDENADO (The condemned one) WAITS FOR HIS FAT KILLER.

To the newsdesks of the Sun and the Star, the magnitude of this story was something akin to Watergate combined with the birth of Christ, and each paper despatched a team of reporters to bring Blackie to British shores and safety by any means necessary.

The Sun was first on the scene, and its intrepid correspondent purchased the beast for the sum of £250. Back in London, editor Kelvin MacKenzie toasted victory.

But, like Icarus, the paper was to be undone by hubris. Confident of success, its reporter checked into a hotel and paid a farmer to let Blackie rest in a field.

This was to prove a catastrophic error. The Star's Don Mackay was close behind - and as soon as his rival was out of sight, Mackay bribed the farmer, took possession of Blackie and broke for the border.

(Blackie, for his part, lived out the rest of his days in a donkey sanctuary near Sidmouth).

This episode set the tone for future special forces-style animal rescue missions, such as when the Daily Mail paid £2,000 for the Lion of Kabul - also known as Marjan, who had been blinded and crippled by a member of the Taliban.

The cases of the Tamworth Two and Phoenix the Calf are clearly imprinted with the folk memory of Blackie, although the fact that no foreigners were involved must surely have been a source of regret to the reporters covering each story.

But Paper Monitor notes with pleasure that, for the Sun, the humiliation of the Blackie episode has finally been avenged.

BBC News website readers will be familiar with the Russian donkey who was forced to parasail over the Sea of Azov as part of an advertising stunt, to its apparent distress.

Now, the Sun claims to have procured the animal, named Anapka, had her checked over by a vet and given "her first square meal in days".

Its front-page splash? "WE'VE SAVED HER ASS".

Paper Monitor's attention is only distracted from this donkey story by none other than Baron Hattersley of Sparkbrook in the Daily Mail, as he cheers the demise of 24-hour alcohol licensing.

"I am ashamed of seeing pictures of teenage girls lying in heaps on pavements outside wine-bars", the former Labour deputy leader splutters.

Who could he be talking about? Why, Drunk Girl, of course - for it is her image which, inevitably, hovers alongside Hattersley's thunderings.

Why have no crack teams of tabloid investigators yet hunted down Drunk Girl and spirited her to sanctuary? Perhaps she should have had the foresight to surrender her dignity in Torremolinos.

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