Our thanks to Jeff for this piece by Jack Malvern in The Times today:
Using sir as a form of address may be a dying convention beyond the boundaries of the military, tailors’ shops and upmarket barbers but the readers of one local newspaper are fighting back.
A week after announcing that it would be abandoning “Sir” at the beginning of correspondence on its letters page, the Henley Standard has executed a reversal. Simon Bradshaw, the editor, had said that he was prepared to drop the traditional style used since the paper’s inception 134 years ago after receiving a letter from an offended reader.
Liz Hatch, who lives in the town in Oxfordshire, had written: “I can’t believe it is necessary to maintain such a practice when other papers have eradicated this sexist attitude.” She said that although the editor was a man this was irrelevant. “Please bring your paper into the modern era and join the ranks of other papers which have removed such a ridiculous and offensive tradition.”
Bradshaw’s attempt to cause less offence backfired. Among the many readers who objected was Judith, Lady McAlpine, the widow of Sir William McAlpine, of the Sir Robert McAlpine construction company.
She began her letter: “Sir — Please do not allow your conventional good manners to be traduced by modern sexist bigotry!” She continued: “You cannot alter convention for the sake of one misguided reader. If you do this, you are opening the floodgates to allow all manner of ‘sexist’ nonsense.”
She signed her name with the addendum that she was “female, feminine and with no interest whatsoever in being regarded as ‘unisex’ — whatever that is”.
Garry Forster, of Goring Heath, took a similar view, writing: “It seems that these days people take offence at the beating of a butterfly’s wing and hence with one complaint, you immediately roll over and drop the convention of addressing letters with ‘Sir’. If people are offended by this, I say fine, but so what?”
Bradshaw published 11 letters calling for the convention to be reinstated in the latest edition of the newspaper. Underneath one, he wrote: “Thank you, all, for your intelligent and witty contributions. At the risk of reoffending Liz Hatch, I have now decided to heed the advice and leave it up to correspondents to decide whether to address me as ‘Sir’ or not and will publish their letters accordingly. I will also be happy to allow the debate to continue.”
The Times has no plans to change the form of address for its published letters, which have begun with “Sir” since the newspaper was first published as The Daily Universal Register on January 1, 1785.
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