Do you remember the old days when British movie stars were often Cockneys like Michael Caine or ex-coffin polishers like Sean Connery? Nowadays, they all seem to be Old Harrovians, such as Benedict Cumberbatch.
In this century, personal news about celebrities, such as Kim Kardashian’s engagement to Kanye West, is typically bartered for publicity or even cash.
However, Cumberbatch, who played Sherlock Holmes on British TV, announced his engagement the way Phileas Fogg would have in 1873 upon returning from going around the world in 80 days: by placing an ad in The Times (it’s not the London Times, it’s just the The Times.) “It’s what we do,” he explained for the benefit of those who need explanation.
Until 1966, The Times didn’t let anything as gauche as news intrude upon the front page, which was wholly devoted to classified ads. These served as a sort of jungle drums for the moneyed classes. Here’s a sample of Personal Ads from the March 2, 1966 front page, the last edition with only ads on Page One. The more cryptic, the better:
Mrs. Tzumaio (formerly Miss Sophie Selby-Lowndes) has cancelled all her engagements for Whitsun.
I don’t know what that means, but, presumably, Mrs. Tzumaio (formerly Miss Sophie Selby-Lowndes) was confident that the Right People would be scanning the ads on the front page of The Times daily and could be counted upon to take suitable action.
Here’s a write-up of the BBC production of a crypto-psychedelic Alice in Wonderland — with Peter Sellers, John Gielgud, Michael Redgrave, Peter Cook, Eric Idle, and Malcolm Muggeridge — mentioned in Jonathan Miller’s ad looking for an “enormous corridor.” (That reminds me: we’re supposed to believe that Life Before Diversity was crushingly unvibrant and boring, but 1960s London, which I visited in 1965 when I was six, always seemed pretty Austin Powersish to me.)
I imagine that the lack of news on the cover implied that The Times was not intended to serve readers so vulgar as to only take an interest in Imperial and Court affairs at some times but not at others. Your valet made sure your copy of The Times was on your breakfast tray every morning because you were were a gentleman and gentlemen read The Times.