Wanted: One Sense of Humour

Thursday, July 29th, 2004

Tom Scott, a student at York University (my home town, yay!) is in hot water after posting a spoof of the UK government’s advice leaflet on what to do in the event of a terror attach. His site is at www.preparingforemergencies.co.uk and is quite funny.

But quite why the government (or someone in the civil service at least) thinks it should be removed is beyond me. In the UK we have a healthy tradition of satire going back to the middle ages and continuing today. This is quite timid compared with the sort of stuff printed in Private Eye every fortnight.

EducationGuardian.co.uk: “Student finds spoof terror attack drill is no laughing matter

Martin Wainwright

Thursday July 29, 2004

The Guardian

The government yesterday mislaid one of its most effective weapons against terrorist fanatics – a sense of humour – when it demanded the removal of a student’s internet skit on its Preparing for Emergencies campaign.

A heavy-handed email topped the inbox of linguistics undergraduate Tom Scott, 19, who spent a happy day on Monday composing a spoof website based on the Cabinet Office’s design.

The message was ‘firmly worded,’ said Mr Scott, a self-confessed computer junkie from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. His spoof instructions came from HM Department of Vague Paranoia and included tips on dealing with alien attack and zombies (‘remove the head – suitable tools you may find in your shed include shovels and cricket bats.’)

Mr Scott said that the website, preparingforemergencies.co.uk, was transparently not a real communication from anyone in genuine authority, with a photograph of Anthea Turner heading the section on basic first aid. Advice on bleeding says: ‘Just make sure it doesn’t get all over the carpets, but if it does, some proper cleaning stuff will fix it up good as new.’

Mr Scott said: ‘It is quite obviously a parody and I don’t think anybody is going to be confused by it. I’m not sure if this email came from someone high up or a low-level civil servant. But whoever it was, they don’t have a sense of humour.’

A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office said legal advice had been taken over the spoof, which also reassures readers: ‘This campaign is not in response to a particular threat, unless you count the threat from the Liberal Democrats.’

She said: ‘This student’s intention may not have been to confuse people but he has deliberately tried to mirror the format of the official site.’

Similar spoofs in the United States have surprised their creators with the extent to which whacky instructions – such as clearing gardens of all shrubs because terrorists like to hide in them – have been followed.

Mr Scott, who starts his second year at York University in October, said he had more than 200 emails in the first day, all supportive except the Cabinet Office’s.

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