"Operation Pumpkin"

Wouldn’t it be great if this were not a joke: the security contingency that was in place in the event that Kate Middleton tried to run away just before the wedding.

After protracted, top-secret negotiations between royal staff from Clarence House and representatives from the Metropolitan Police, MI5 and elements of the military, a compromise was agreed. In the event of Operation Pumpkin being put into effect Ms Middleton will be permitted to run out of Westminster Abbey with her bodyguards trailing discreetly at a distance. Plain-clothes undercover police, MI5 officers and SAS soldiers stationed in the crowd will form a mobile flying wedge ahead of her, clearing a path for the fugitive future princess to escape down.

Prince William will then have a limited time, the subject of tense negotiations between Clarence House and security chiefs, in which the path behind Ms Middleton will be kept open for him to go after her, after which the mobile protective cordon will close again at the Abbey end due to lack of manpower and the Prince will have let his bride slip through his fingers.

If Wills reacts fast enough, however, he will be able to chase after his fleeing fiancee for just under half a mile.

I wonder what security would have done if she just took off and ran.

EDITED TO ADD (5/5): The double negative in the first sentence has confused some people. To be clear: the article quoted, and Operation Pumpkin in general, is fiction.

Posted on May 4, 2011 at 12:15 PM43 Comments


MyCat May 4, 2011 12:45 PM

The author’s name “Marmaduke LaHussy” sounds like a pseudonym. I suspect that the article is a joke.

ewan May 4, 2011 1:12 PM

Marmaduke Hussey (no ‘La’) used to be Director General of the BBC. He’s dead though, so it’s not him.

Austringer May 4, 2011 1:51 PM

Well, he does say it would be great if it was NOT a joke….

Better still is the notion that someone at MI5 is, right now, trying to figure out who leaked the secret security plans after someone posting on a satirical site just made the whole thing up from whole cloth.

BF Skinner May 4, 2011 1:52 PM

Runaway Bride scenario.

Contingency: Polyjuice potion with a standin or a hologram. JK rowling was invited wasn’t she?

David Harper May 4, 2011 1:54 PM

The Register is a respected IT news web site, but they do have a mischievous sense of humour, and a less-than-respectful attitude to the great and the good. This is one of their better spoofs.

mcb May 4, 2011 2:20 PM

“This is Coachman Two, Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Pumpkin!”

“Stay with the prince”

“But Coachman One, she’s getting away!”

“Stay on the prince; she’s little people now.”

“But she’s so pretty!”

“Nothing to be done for it, Coachman Two; there will be others…”

What’s amazing is that she didn’t make a break for it at the last minute; “The Royals” does not sound like a firm into which nice people would care to marry.

A Brit May 4, 2011 3:03 PM

CLEARLY a piss-take. Anyone who thinks this is remotely serious must think us Brits a bunch of dafties.

kashmarek May 4, 2011 3:13 PM

This was a farce set up to keep the media entertained and busy with crapola so they wouldn’t be underfoot. Some of the Brits are a bunch of dafties.

Bruce Schneier May 4, 2011 3:16 PM

“Wouldn’t it be great if this were not a joke….”

Is this actually unclear? Some of you people seem to believe I thought this was real.

L May 4, 2011 3:54 PM


It is actually confusing. It can sound like you believe the content but dislike it.

In reality, you like the article but don’t believe it.

Bruce Schneier May 4, 2011 4:20 PM

“It is actually confusing. It can sound like you believe the content but dislike it.”

If that were true, wouldn’t I have said something like: “Wouldn’t it be better if this were a joke?” What I wrote seems completely unambiguous to me.

M May 4, 2011 4:32 PM

@Bruce, This is the internet. The odds that something was said incorrectly may be generally be high, but never as high as the chance that people just didn’t read it 🙂

Erik May 4, 2011 5:01 PM


The article is clearly a joke, it’s posted under Odds & Sods, Bootnotes, the same section that celebrates Paris Hilton and Bulgarian airbags among other not to be taken serious things.

BR, Erik

Dr. I. Needtob Athe May 4, 2011 6:08 PM

“Wouldn’t it be great if this were not a joke…”

I think what’s confusing some folks is the double negative here.

It IS a joke, of course, but yes, it sure would be great if it wasn’t because then it would be even funnier.

EJ May 4, 2011 6:47 PM

@Bruce – Re: people misunderstanding the introductory sentence:

I think it’s because you didn’t use the conditional tense in the verbs following the first clause, but used the past preterite instead.

In other words:
“Wouldn’t it be great if this were not a joke: the security contingency that [could/might] have been in place in the event that Kate Middleton tried to run away just before the wedding.”
might have been clearer than:
“Wouldn’t it be great if this were not a joke: the security contingency that was in place in the event that Kate Middleton tried to run away just before the wedding.”

Imperfect Citizen May 4, 2011 6:59 PM

I thought it was clear. What wasn’t clear to me is why she didn’t run…run Kate run…run away…run away…

Petruchio May 4, 2011 7:49 PM

What I wrote seems completely unambiguous to me.

Anybody can write a sentence that’s unambiguous to him personally. What’s not so easy is …

jon livesey May 4, 2011 9:07 PM

“The Register is a respected IT news web site”

That’s news to me. I think they blew their credibility a long time ago. As far as I can see, most of what they do is a) post other poeple’s press releases, and b) engage in a long-running feud against Bae.

Tom May 4, 2011 9:07 PM

@Bruce – would it not be better if you tried not to write sentences that avoided the use of so many double/triple negatives?

I mean, if you want to be clear, that is.

d May 5, 2011 1:00 AM

I have to side with the people who found your intentions unclear. Despite several rereads of you intro, only the content was able to clarify your meaning. I blame the double negatives. Exchange them for a positive and you get:
“Wouldn’t it be great if this were true?”

bob May 5, 2011 2:23 AM

Woah, is it “barely literate day”?

Bruce’s statement was clear. The text is obviously a joke.

The commenter who picked up his grammar from wikipedia should probably check out the article on colons. (Best to start on the disambiguation page.)

I think the stroppy comments are from people who forwarded the story to all their friends before realising it was a joke…

Dirk Praet May 5, 2011 2:55 AM

@ d

“I blame the double negatives”

Er, you need to work on your linguistic skills. The use of double negatives is quite common in at least several languages I know of, among which Afrikaans and my own dialect. Sometimes, it’s done in English too as an intensifier, e.g. “we don’t need no education”.

tommy May 5, 2011 3:04 AM

Shouldn’t there have been a contingency plan in case the groom got cold feet and tried to flee the altar?

I found the meaning of Bruce’s first sentence to be obvious at first glance. To satisfy those demanding subjunctive/conditional tense, realize that ellipses are very common in all speech and writing except the very formal (research papers, etc., though they’re showing up there too these days), and therefore, that “the article about…” was implied by the context:

“Wouldn’t it be great if this were not a joke: the article about the security contingency that was in place… ”

I realize that skills in cryptography and in syntax may not overlap perfectly, and that Facetwit eng is tkng ovr TW, but was disappointed at the dissenters. This is why “prescriptivists” insist on everyone playing by the same grammatical rules (Bruce passes), but are derided by “descriptivists”, who declare that answering the phone inquiry with “This is he” is stuffy and outdated, and that “so long as people know what you mean, who cares?”

Most famous example of ambiguity in pop music: hit song by Johnny Maestro & The Brooklyn Bridge, “The Worst That Could Happen”:

(Male singer): “Girl, if he loves you more than me… ”

What he meant: “Girl, if he loves you more than I (love you)….”

What he actually said, literally: “Girl, if he loves you more than (he loves) me…”

Kinky, but I’m sure that’s not what they intended back then (40+ years ago).

This all boils down to choosing correctly either the subjective or objective pronoun, as the case may be. More rules for that in the link in the sig, and more “articles” about proper usage in the writer’s home page, linked from his name at the top of the linked original posting.

Olaf May 5, 2011 3:23 AM

I thought tradition dictated he turn to the maid of honour?
Pippa wouldn’t have been a bad second choice imho.

bill May 5, 2011 3:24 AM

The dress

Q. What problem did it solve?
A. Bride can’t run.

Q. How well did it solve it?
A. Perfectly, she can barely walk in it unaided, never mind run.

Q. What other problems did it create?
A. The veil could be dropped as a trip hazard to a hapless Wills.

Q. What social and economic costs?
A. About $35M

Q. Given above, is it worth it?
A. Hell yeah, it was fun! My snaps of that day are here: http://bit.ly/jwGamA

GreenSquirrel May 5, 2011 3:53 AM

It is interesting that so many people here appear to have thought Bruce took the Register article seriously – and then felt the need to defend themselves by ranting about grammar. What Bruce wrote struck me as being crystal clear.

Equally funny, there are quite a few commenters on the Register itself who made the same mistake…..

Dirk Praet May 5, 2011 6:39 AM

@ tommy

“Shouldn’t there have been a contingency plan in case the groom got cold feet and tried to flee the altar?”

Re-read the article:

We asked our source what plans were in place should Wills, rather than Kate, attempt to flee the wedding.

“Come off it,” he said. “We only plan for things that make sense. He doesn’t want to be back on the dating scene wearing a rug, does he?”

Kevin Eshbach May 5, 2011 8:42 AM

OT: Shame she didn’t run away. It would have made all the hype in the US worth it.

TS May 5, 2011 9:41 AM

“This is Coachman Two, Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Pumpkin!”

Awesome, thanks for the laugh!

Stanley May 5, 2011 9:51 AM

Operation Pumpkin:
In some circles marriages are arranged and then there is no escape!

tommy May 5, 2011 7:57 PM

@ Dirk Praet:

I confess to not having read the article, counting on Bruce to have summarized the pertinent part; presumably, a plan for HRH’s bolting might have gotten a mention from Bruce.

On the other hand, you are incorrect in the example you cite of double negatives as intensifiers. That is the rule in, say, Spanish, but is considered totally substandard in English. Generally, it’s the mark of either a very uneducated speaker, or of a speaker of ESL (English as a Second Language), often from cultures such as the Hispanic, where double negative intensifiers are correct.

From your comment, “…quite common in at least several languages I know of, among which Afrikaans and my own dialect.”, I infer that English is not your native language. If you wish to be regarded as a speaker of English at the professional level, use adverbs for intensifiers:

“We definitely don’t need education.”
(absolutely, completely, etc.)

Bruce’s use of a double negative was to negate a negation, NOT as an intensifier, and therefore, correct. “I would never say that she lacks charm” = “I would say that she possesses charm”. See the difference? (It’s a variant of “litotes” — check that out in, say, Wikipeda.)

Also, it is risky for non-native speakers to correct others in the non-native language, unless you’re a professor of English or something similar. I believe you owe “d” an apology.

Thank you for the correction on the original article from the OP.

@ BRUCE: Don’t you feel completely reassured now? 🙂 🙂 ;-D

Richard Steven Hack May 5, 2011 11:17 PM

Whatever plan they had would only DELAY the runaway which is virtually inevitable in due time.

OTOH, only a complete sodden idiot (like Diana) – or a really determined (and probably desperate) grifter – would want to marry into the British royal family, so maybe she’ll stay a while.

Brings to mind the Willam S. Burroughs story about a group of young British revolutionaries whose motto was “Bugger the queen!” 🙂

lolpwned May 14, 2011 2:42 AM

Dirk just got linguistically pwned by Tommy. Looks like Dirk is the one who needs to brush up on his linguistics.

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