John Richards has fought an 18-year campaign to save us from apostrophe howlers ...

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John Richards (pictured) founded the Apostrophe Protection Society in 2001 after retiring

John Richards (pictured) founded the Apostrophe Protection Society in 2001 after retiring

John Richards has impressively bushy eyebrows, two children, a grandchild, an amicably divorced wife, a passion for detective novels and a vast, exacting brain.

He is also founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society, and yesterday he was nursing his wounds at home in Lincolnshire.

'The barbarians have won,' he told me. 

'The battle is lost. It makes me feel sad, with a heavy heart. But it was inevitable — I've been preparing for the worst. The apostrophe is dying.'

John has dedicated nearly two decades desperately trying to protect his beloved apostrophe — which he calls an 'endangered species'. 

Tirelessly, he has pointed out to local businesses (and beyond) where it was missing, where it should go, where it shouldn't go and where it was superfluous (CD's, rather than CDs — in a sign in the local library, for goodness' sake).

But finally, after 18 years, six months and a good 20 days in the field, this former newspaper sub-editor has hoist his white flag and hung up his spurs.

A statement on his website — which reiterates the golden rules of apostrophe use and debates the proper way to write 'dos and don'ts' — explained further.

'Fewer organisations and individuals are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English language. We, and our many supporters worldwide, have done our best but the ignorance and laziness present in modern times have won!'

The reaction among those keen to protect the English language has been visceral.

'It's been a grim few years, but the demise of the Apostrophe Society is the last straw,' said writer, broadcaster and grammar stalwart Gyles Brandreth yesterday. 

'For those who value traditional English, the apostrophe is the symbol of our cause. It's the symbol on the flag we wave at the barricades as we try to save the English language from complete collapse.'

But not for much longer. Or certainly not with the help of John Richards, anyway. 

But finally, after 18 years, the former newspaper sub-editor has decided to give up his desperate efforts to protect his beloved apostrophe

But finally, after 18 years, the former newspaper sub-editor has decided to give up his desperate efforts to protect his beloved apostrophe

His website will be up and running for a few weeks yet so we can still see photos of signs that have infuriated him — 'Honk if your horny', 'Taxi's only' and 'Resident's and Visitor's only' — while listening to a jolly song about the apostrophe. 

But at the age of 96, John is off to 'focus on other commitments'.

He tells me he's known the end was nigh for some time now.

'Interest is dying,' he says. 'The apostrophe is dying and I have been braced for this moment. I used to receive between 30 and 50 letters and emails a week. Last month, it was just one. People just don't seem to care any more.'

For John, the writing was on the wall when he saw a sign for 'coffee's' outside a new restaurant in Boston and popped in to give them some apostrophe advice.

'I said very politely, "It's not needed. It's a plural."

'But the man said: "I think it looks better with an apostrophe." And what can you say to that?'

But it's not just coffee shops, or market stalls with barrow loads of banana's and apple's. Brandreth includes some shockers — all of them real — in his book about grammar, Have You Eaten Grandma. Including 'Tattoo's,' 'Open Sunday's' and, rather heartbreakingly: 'One of the best mother's — may she rest in peace.'

John launched his grammatical crusade — and the society — in 2001, thinking it would both help educate others and soothe his despair at apostrophe misuse.

At first, he and his loyal son Stephen, then 34, were the only members. Soon, however, they were being bombarded.

'It happened very quickly and we were getting letters from all over the world,' he says, rather wistfully. 'It astonished me.'

Most flagged up local offences; some asked for help. John's approach was to write a nice letter.

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'Dear Sir or Madam,' it would begin. 'Because there

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