Media firestorms & the Girvan sea-monster


Daily Sketch
Wednesday, 26th August , 1953

Media firestorms, like extreme weather, seem to be increasing in frequency and intensity. From Lord Macalpine, George Entwistle, Huhne and Rennard among others, the last few months seem at times, like one long storm.

Globalization, the online world and the 24 hour news cycle have greatly increased the number of reporters that can swarm onto a hot story. No campaign can be fully prepared for such intense media interest let alone an individual. Journalists seem to come from everywhere creating pressures and demands that need a steady hand if another or indeed any mistake is to be avoided.

My first media firestorm broke exactly 60 years ago as the press hunted the Girvan Sea-monster. My father was Provost of Girvan at the time hence my observer status. Late on an August evening in 1953, the press corps stood in our back garden ‘doorstepping’ my father. I remember them calling for “Provost White”, near enough I suppose and being told in no uncertain terms by Provost Smith to come back at 9am when he would give them an interview – and again and again.

Three weeks earlier a basking shark had washed up beside a remote seaweed factory a mile or so north of Girvan. Nobody took much interest until it began to decompose then workers burnt the carcase. At this point, the skeleton became a ‘monster’ and the press got wind descending on our house that evening. The story never looked back. Local fisherman told tall tales and took tourists on paid trips to Ailsa Craig in search of a mate. My father was commissioned to send a couple of vertebrae to the natural history museum. Someone stole the head then richly described it to the press. It rumbled on for days fed by pure invention.

Another difference was the feedback now instant with the likes of Twitter but then a more leisurely three or four weeks later came cuttings from Singapore and Australia describing the monster ‘terrorizing’ this small town in the West of Scotland.

A harmless introduction to a pretty brutal experience for those who suffer a modern press firestorm