The article in Britain's Sunday Observer told about two young farmers making cheese from sheep's milk. "Farm Put to Good Ewes," read the headline.

A transcendental-meditation group has taken over the famous country estate of Mentmore, Spectator magazine noted, and the floor and walls of the former billiard room have been padded so that the TM-ers can practice levitation there. The caption on the story: "The Landed Gently."

A feature in the Guardian relayed a complaint of hotel keepers in Majorca. It seems that their operating costs are soaring because of the frequent need to repair or replace beds broken by overenergetic honeymooners. The headline: "It's Called Pillow Torque."

One of the many delights provided by British newspapers and magazines is their imaginative use of puns in headlines and captions. (Of course, if you happen to dislike that sort of thing, you can easily suffer an acute case of punburn.) American magazines and papers also pun from time to time, but certainly with nothing like the frequency or abandon of the British. And no one really seems to know just why the British press is so pun-prone.

Philip Howard, who writes regularly on the English language for the Times of London, thinks puns may be just another manifestation of British indirection and reluctance to say things straight out, "like a double negative instead of a positive."

Several press critics suggest that puns are needed to lighten the otherwise leaden prose in many major British publications. Some academics note a general fondness among highly educated Britons for employing all sorts of wordplay in speeches and writing -- quotations from the classics, French and Latin phrases, alliteration and other gimmicks -- and most editors and subeditors are fairly well-educated. Arthur Marshall, an elegant British essayist, argues that the pun is a particularly elementary form of wit -- "the worse they are, the funnier, of course" -- and that pun-heads are simply another bit of evidence that British humor isn't very sophisticated.

Peter Preston, editor of the Guardian, offers a practical explanation. The Guardian's layout and its headline style, he explains, don't permit long descriptive headlines. "So we must grab attention with a few short words," he says, "and puns are one way to do that." (His favorite dealt with a dispatch written from Tirana, the capital of Albania, and told of an economic revival under way there. The headline: "Tirana Boom Today.")

Certainly the Guardian is one of the punniest of Britain's papers. There was the recent story about the pub landlord who threw out a woman customer because she was knitting at the bar -- headlined, of course, "Knit

The Guardian's financial pages are heavily pun-pocked. When the government stepped in to slow the merger wave in the Scotch-whisky industry, the report was headed "Distillery Deals Scotched." Competition from low-cost shoe imports had hurt the earnings of a British shoe manufacturer, an article recounted; the streamer over the story declared, "Footwear Firm Is Still Down at Heel." A feature on troubles at EMI, the large record company, was bannered "The Giant With a Slipped Disc," while an article on a garage-door manufacturer's search for new business was predictably headlined "Doormaker Looks for New Openings."

The Observer is another avid pun-practitioner. A column discussing why so many women tend to fall for priests, vicars and religious gurus was headed "Hooked by the Celibait." A travel piece suggesting the pleasures of staying in small private homes on the island of Crete was naturally labeled "Off the Cretan Path," while the copy editor handling a news story about movie stars running for parliament in India imaginatively came up with this head: "Film Stars Want to Lead Castes of Millions."

A story in the Sunday Telegraph suggesting that British tax men might crack down on company-supplied cars and other management perquisites, or "perks," was headlined "The Revenue's 'No Perking' Signs." Another Telegraph feature, on the increasing popularity of artificial furs, was titled "The Fake's Progress," while a music review of an orchestra's failure to master a Haydn symphony was slugged "Haydn Seek." (That prompted a letter from a reader asking how soon he could expect to see reviews titled "Handel With Care" or "Black Liszt" -- and what the paper was going to do when it got around to an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov.)

Even the good, gray Times succumbs every so often. When the Hunt brothers -- Nelson Bunker and William Herbert -- recently testified before a congressional committee about their silver-trading activities, the Times' story was headed "The Silver-Tongued Battle of Bunker on the Hill." A front-page article described a medical report asserting that cigarette smokers who switched to snuff might improve their chances for a long and healthy life; the headline said, "New Claim for Snuff Not to Be Sneezed At."

The Economist's exceptionally high literary standards are maintained in its surprisingly frequent pun-heads. When British firms sought to block a petrochemical complex planned by Dow Chemical Co. in Scotland, the report was tagged, "Dow Shalt Not Pass."

Appropriately enough, the British Tourist Authority's monthly magazine, In Britain, takes pun in hand almost every issue. An article on how to trace one's family coat of arms was captioned "Keeping a Crest of the Times," and a report on a canal boat tour through Shakespeare country was titled "Barge of Avon." A feature on favorite food dishes and recipes in Wales was called "Fare Thee Welsh."