We hardly have these any more. A newsflash arrived when the broadcasters interrupted a scheduled television programme. They stopped what you were watching to bring you momentous news that they figured you needed to know. Now.
The announcer would say something sober and sombre, such as, “We are sorry to interrupt this programme, but…” Then a pause, giving you enough time and enough cold, creeping dread to wonder if the nation had declared war, a tsunami was about to overwhelm your house, or we were about to hear the four-minute warning (in which case, check the booklet). Given the nature of the interruption, whatever they were going to tell you was probably not going to be pleasant.
News flashes brought us tidings, for example, of the Queen Mother’s demise, that of Margaret Thatcher and the pope. I’ll never forget the news flash of the Lockerbie bombing when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded on 21 December 1988. A dark evening, with people happily returning home for Christmas, looking forward to being with friends and family, and then they fell six miles out of the sky.
Nowadays, the 24-hour-news channels bring us the headlines immediately (a bit like Ceefax used to do). We know if a bomb has gone off at the time it does so, and long before the next scheduled news bulletin. Today, everything is urgent, happening, reported when the facts are barely known.
I suppose the modern-day equivalent is those bright red boxes of “Breaking News” that pop up on websites. But none of them has that built-in spine-chilling moment of horror while we waited for the announcement, possibly of our own imminent demise. Something’s just happened.
WHAT HAS JUST HAPPENED?
Probably a blessing the news flashes have largely gone, then.