It seems to be The Times of London, and the biggest headline thunders: "GOVERNMENT TO ABOLISH INCOME TAX."
The lead: "Mrs. Thatcher last night announced that Mr. Kerry Packer, the Australian businessman, is to be granted exclusive rights to the televising of Parliament and control of all future television channels in return for a sum thought to be around 2 billion pounds sterling a year. The Prime Minister pledged that the revenue would enable the Government to abolish income tax."
The eye drifts to other startling heads: "New Doubt Over Succession to Throne." "Grand Canal to Become Motorway." "Curates' Union Threatens to Black the Host."
About this time the eye drifts to the logo and notes that, though the newspaper resembles The Times of London in every detail, it is called Not (Yet) The Times.
Probably it was inevitable. When the New York Times ceased publication for three months in 1978 because of a strike, some staffers put out a parody issue of 24 pages last Oct. 16.
The Times of London and The Sunday Times have been shut down since last Nov. 30, also because of labor troubles.
It was an American writer living in London, one Cindy Blake, who first got the idea when she spotted Not The New York Times on a visit home. She contacted John Graham, former Washington correspondent for The Observer, and some veterans of The Sunday Times, notably George Darby, Phillip Knightley and designer Victor Clark. They set to work.
Co-conspirator David Thomas, whose father is a high official at the British Embassy here, said that though no one has so far engaged to distribute the paper in Washington, it can be ordered by mail for 1 pound from Stopeshill Ltd., 24 Petersham Pl., London SW 7.
In 16 pages of small type, Not The Times digs out an incredible amount of news.
Buckingham Palace denies reports of impending divorce between the $&(WORD ILLEGIBLE queen and the duke of Edinburgh. Pakistan has developed 01queen a neutron bomb. The Bank of England is to be sold at auction, And at Old Trafford there is the excitement over a cricket match in which two Sri Lankan athletes and "a number of spectators" were killed.
"Yesterday's tragic incident at Old Trafford," booms the editorial, "draws attention once again to the need for a clearer definition of the run-out rule...."
The Court Circular - the daily column which makes The Times unique and endears it to American visitors - leads off: "Buckingham Palace - The Queen had a boiled egg for breakfast and read the morning papers. Air Commodore Ashbrooke Pembertonffrench was in attendance."
It goes on to list those who attended a gala dinner, including not only Jane Austen, Francis Bacon and the unknown author of Ecclesiastes, but the names of the perpetrators of Not The Times.
Jane Austen, by the way, turns up under marriages, where the opening sentences of "Pride and Prejudice" appear in snippets.
An obituary: "Brig. Hubert Sinclair Muirfield, CB, CBE, MC, who served in both wars in the Northern Rhodesia Flying Corps and latterly served on the Wet Fish Authority in Scunthorpe, has died at the age of 93. He leaves a grandmother and three curly-haired retrievers."
The infection has spread to the pictures, too. What purports to be "Welsh and French members of the newly elected European Parliament" is actually an old photo of Lloyd George and Clemenceau in World War I.
Somewhat more barbed is the picture that goes with an article on the auction of a rare "Amati fiddle." "Amati," one recalls, is not only the name of a great violin-maker but also Italian for "lovers." In the photo, the man holding the priceless instrument has an eerie resemblance to Jeremy Thorpe. (It is, in truth, Thorpe, and how he got to be photographed in evening dress holding a violin is too tiresome to relate.) "Fiddle" is British slang for a connivance.
Editor Graham said the issue is such a success that the first run of 200,000 copies is nearly sold out and a second run of 100,000 has been ordered. There may be a third.
"This will top the record for parody publications," he said from London. "It will be the target for future parodies. We've been getting telex orders from Hong Kong and Australia...and it's all because we have such brilliant writers, including Peter Jay (former British ambassador to the United States, who wrote the lead editorial), Marina Warner, (novelist) William Shawcross and Christopher Book, the first editor of Private Eye and the most brilliant parodist in England."
The further one delves into this newspaper, the more one appreciates how thoroughly the job was done. Even the ads aren't sacred (how about the Micro-Dot Fly Mail Services, or a new antiperspirant, Acquittal, for Men in the Dock?), even the letters, even the bridge column and the TV schedule. Even, can one bear it, the staid University news, which here intones:
"Emmanuel Hall. Mr. U. H. Holloranski, D. Sc., university lecturer-elect in Old Norse, has been given the old heave-ho."
References to America abound, from word of a secret pact to make the U.K. the 51st state to a sly mention of "Rehoboth, Md." Perhaps the best laugh for those who have visited Britain recently is this leader:
"Holiday chaos struck at Britain's major airports yesterday, bringing Heathrow, not to mention Gatwick, Manchester and even Aberdeen airports to a grinding halt.
"The main reason for this was the unprecedented decision by deputy airtraffic controllers in Barcelona, Paris and London not to go on strike or even so much as work-to-rule over the Bank Holiday weekend...."