The Compo Face | A look at the British stories that really matter

There is a new journalistic form sweeping across Britain. It is known simply as the “Compo Face”, and it's equally horrendous as it is glorious.

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The accessibility of internet porn has affected society in more ways than we can imagine. Its ramifications, to name only a few, include addiction, violence, distorting body image, warping the way millions of young people understand sex and making it unlikely that pensioners from Stockport need to contest their pay-per-view adult entertainment bill – though the latter is not impossible.

Ron and Ann Hayward’s status as cult internet heroes dates back to 2014, when a small-claims disagreement spiralled into national news, producing one of the best pieces of photo-journalism in recent memory. Ron, 75, and Ann, 72, pose in front of their Virgin Media television, brandishing the £200 bill from the broadcaster, who had evidence of their account ordering pay-per-view porn. 

Ann insisted that nobody in the Hayward household ever watched porn. “It worried me so I called up and the next day I was told I’d ordered more than £200 of films,” she said. “I was in shock. No-one else comes in here. There’s obviously something wrong with the technology.”

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Ron and Ann Hayward (Credit: MEN)

Ron, peering over Ann’s shoulder in the image, looks less convinced. His eyes have betrayed him. They are the eyes of a guilty man; the window into the soul of a poor bloke who toiled away for 75 years and is realising, in this very moment, that his lasting legacy will be that of a fella who got a wee bit carried away while his missus popped to the hairdressers, but couldn’t possibly just ‘fess up. Poor Ron. You’ve got to feel for him. If only he knew how easy it was to find for free on Google, he could have avoided this whole palaver. He is the last of a fading breed.

Though (outrageously) the photo of the Haywards was not rewarded with a Pulitzer, it has become an early example of a new genre of photojournalism known as the ‘Compo Face’. Nearly ten years on from the porn incident, the Haywards continue to be found on the digital pages of Britain’s tabloid press. Their holy war against Richard Branson and his corporate machine lives on in infamy, not so much because of the story itself, but the stoic portrait of the 21st-century crusaders. 

Many have adopted similar poses in the years since.

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The Compo Face is a quintessentially British quality. The faces, the settings, the entitlement, the outrage – only this fine ancient island could produce stories so consistently unimportant and amusing. From public transport to potholes to uncollected dog waste, there is no molehill out of which Britain cannot make a mountain, and I consider that a point of national pride.


Despite the Britishness of the phenomenon, it is finding appreciative fans across the world. Aficionados of the Compo Face have begun gathering online, collecting the best examples of the Compo Face. They have found a home on Reddit, where r/compoface is approaching 50,000 members, while Twitter pages and Facebook groups are popping up to celebrate the worst, or best, of local British journalism.

The reporters at Metro online seem to be the industry experts. They broke the Haywards’ story, while also unearthing another classic – that of Tony and Linda Gilkes, the couple who were left outraged after Morrisons refused to sell them meat pies before 9am. 

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“I could see bags and bags of pies, all wrapped up on cages behind the counter,” Linda bemoaned. “The trolley was ready to be pushed out. But when I asked for the pies, I was told: ‘We can’t sell the pies until 9am’. I could have had a fruit pie, but not a meat pie.”

Brilliantly, Tony was convinced something more sinister was afoot. “There’s more to this. Morrisons have got their own agenda. They don’t want people to know about it. They have given too many ridiculous stories about why. They contradicted themselves over and over. Who do they think us customers are? We are the people paying their wages.” Tony’s a brave man, I tell you. He knows that it starts with not being allowed a meat pie at 9am and next thing you know, you’re living under Big Brother. Morrisons apologised for the incident, which took place at 8:45am.

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On top of Metro’s fine reportage, local news outlets have dabbled in Compo Face journalism as well. Kent Live delivered a brilliant cover photo of mushrooms and a disgruntled tenant, as seen above, while just last year, Birmingham Live brought you the story of Leon Gleed, who had mistakenly used disinfectant toilet-cleaning wipes that his girlfriend bought at Tesco, as his own loo roll. A burning rash soon appeared and Leon demanded reform.

“When I developed the soreness I knew something wasn’t quite right and when I checked the packaging it said: ‘kills 99 percent of bacteria’. Sadie said to me, ‘How can you be so stupid?’, but I think cleaning products should have warning labels on them so they’re more identifiable.

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“I’ve come through the worst of it now – I had to use Sudocrem down there for a week! The only way I can describe it is like the night after a hot curry but ten times worse! I know it was a silly mistake to make but I’m convinced there’s other people out there who have done the same!”

You have to wonder how long people will subject themselves to the Compo Face treatment. It can’t be all that fun when you see the light you’re painted in. What seems guaranteed, however, is that in a digital age where media outlets are following clicks to generate advert revenue, the appeal for a clickable headline with a Compo Face image won’t go anywhere, and in Britain, neither will the outrageous stories.

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