20 Years of 'The Independent'

Twenty journalists who attended the newspaper's birth look back on the earliest days


Andreas Whittam Smith

Was: Editor

Is: First Church Estates Commissioner

It was the wrapper that counted on the first day - the photo- graphs printed beautifully. It takes time for good writing to be recognised, but the photos - they were our ambassadors.

Stephen Glover

Was: Foreign Editor

Is: Independent and Daily Mail columnist

We were very idealistic about being independent. There has to be someone who takes a long-term strategic view of the paper's interests, who is not the managing director and not the editor. I don't think I saw that as clearly then.

Simon Kelner

Was: Deputy Sports Editor

Is: Editor-in-Chief

There was a computer system which, when you put in a headline that fitted, would flash up "line full". And we would start singing "line full, line full". Richard North, Francis Wheen and Maggie Brown were sitting next to us. They weren't amused.

Alexander Chancellor

Was: Washington Correspondent

Is: columnist, The Guardian

They thought they had the design sewn up. It was lots of boxes with round corners and Andreas was saying "that's done, then". We panicked and asked if we could suggest another designer. Andreas was very open.

John Lichfield

Was: West Europe Editor

Is: Paris Correspondent

We dropped the "economic" from the European Economic Community. We were the first paper to start using EC. Stephen Glover was furious: he was a Eurosceptic and had been on holiday at the time. But Andreas was delighted.

Francis Wheen

Was: Diarist

Is: Author

I had had this idea about setting up a weekly magazine to rival the New Statesman, and I went to lunch with Stephen Glover to ask how to raise the money. Stephen said to me: "You don't want to do that - come and join us."

Jeremy Warner

Was: Business Correspondent

Is: Business and City Editor

Although it became anti-Thatcher, she was proud of The Independent because it was an entrepreneurial creation made possible by her reforms. And Murdoch played his part breaking the print unions.

Michael Crozier

Was: Associate Editor (design)

Is: Editorial Director, Crozier Associates

Designers came and went, some pleased to escape, some in tears. Myriad typefaces were tried, mastheads galore adorned dummy pages, eagles flew in from every corner of the British Isles.

Jonathan Fenby

Was: Home Editor

Is: Author

Many department heads hadn't had much experience. My appointment was crazy. We had new ideas because we hadn't come out of the same cocoons as others. Andreas said he had broken all the rules because he didn't know what the rules were.

Donald Macintyre

Was: Labour Editor

Is: Jerusalem Correspondent

Wapping, from our point of view, was double-edged. Murdoch made the breakthrough in proving they could produce a paper without the unions - but because of the controversy The Times's status was diminished.

Nicholas Garland

Was: Cartoonist

Is: Cartoonist, the Telegraph.

When I arrived, I had a lovely office looking over Bunhill Fields, and I remember the starlings congregating in the sky. There was a lot of talk about how the paper would fail, but when it came out, people said it wasn't bad.

Isabel Hilton

Was: Latin America Correspondent

Is: Editor, Open Democracy

We gave coverage to parts of the world which were not normally on the radar. Instead of the foreign desk being the strong point of the operation, The Independent had five regional editors who knew their patch well.

Matthew Symonds

Was: Deputy Editor

Is: Political Editor, The Economist

The target was to raise £16m by April, but in January when Murdoch went to Wapping, our argument about our being the only paper with cost advantages of new production systems was lost. It was a very hairy moment.

Peter Wilby

Was: Education Editor

Is: New Statesman columnist

When we were doing dummy issues the electricity kept going off. Andreas Whittam Smith actually consulted the electricity board about whether this was normal - they said not - but we decided we should have our own supply.

Miriam Gross

Was: Deputy Arts Editor

Is: Retired

I had a lot of arts experience, but when I arrived at The Independent there were these two nice chaps [Tom Sutcliffe and Sebastian Faulks], who had not much. They hadn't been jaded by the negative answers one gets when trying to commission famous people. They were willing to try anything.

Raymond Whitaker

Was: Foreign copytaster

Is: Foreign Editor, The Independent on Sunday

Technical problems often meant no dummy issue could be produced, so we went for long lunches at a chippie where you could get an under-the-counter bottle of Muscadet to go with the skate in black butter. Nowadays they would call it "team-building".

Andrew Marr

Was: Political Correspondent

Is: BBC presenter and columnist

I was approached by Tony Bevins [political editor]. People I trusted said, "Don't go near him or this lunatic project". I remember, even though junior, I was part of discussions about what our line would be on, say, the Middle East.

William Rees-Mogg

Was: Independent columnist

Is: Times columnist

Andreas had been looking for a columnist to give more balance. I was broadly sympathetic to Margaret [Thatcher], but there were many on the paper who weren't. I think the paper was more independent then than it was later on.

John Pienaar

Was: Parliamentary Correspondent

Is: Radio Five Live Chief Political Correspondent

One day we led with Britain's euro opt-out. On the Today programme's paper review they said disbelievingly that The Independent didn't think the Prince Charles Klosters ski accident story important - we only put it "in brief ". Looking back, what was more important?

David Lister

Was: Assistant Home Editor

Is: Arts Editor

I sat opposite my fellow assistant home editor, Bill Bryson, and spent several fruitless hours trying to dissuade him from his wish to leave journalism for some travel-writing fad.

MEDIA DIARY

Lite-fingered

Anyone who thought all would be sweetness and light between the Evening Standard and the London Lite, its freebie stablemate, should be quickly disabused. Hacks on the Standard are having trouble stopping their light-fingered confrères on the Lite from hacking into their computer baskets and helping themselves to tomorrow's stories today. Rats in a sack? At Associated? Surely not.

No mere Spectator

Matthew d'Ancona is diversifying. As well as being political correspondent for GQ (surely a demotion for someone who is already editor of the Spectator) he is now taking to the pulpit. D'Ancona is delivering the Harvest Day sermon at St Bride's Church in Fleet Street today. "I did not know he spoke for God as well the Spectator," says my spotter.

Heard on grape Viner

In the constant pursuit of cool, The Guardian's modest redesign last weekend provided an excuse to purge the rather amusing columns of Alexander Chancellor and Zoe Williams in its magazine. Those feeling bereft of the sage tones of Chancellor need not fret. He has been signed up by features editor Katherine Viner to start a full page column in G2 in the next couple of weeks. Thank goodness for old certainties.

No comment

Worrying times for David Cameron. His arch-critic Simon Heffer, the ginger-nut Thatcherite, is campaigning hard to be promoted to deputy editor (Comment) of The Daily Telegraph. The Telegraph's current editor John Bryant is resisting the appointment: "I know who I want to make comment editor and it is definitely not Heffer". Watch this space.

Where Sun won't shine

Meanwhile, poor Cameron had to have dinner twice in two days with Sun editor Rebekah Wade. On Sunday night Wade (talking endlessly, we hear) was at a small dinner the Conservative leader gave for Senator John McCain. On Monday night Cameron chowed down with The Sun editress and colleagues. And then The Sun gave Cameron a bum press on Thursday after his big speech. Wade's hard-right deputy Fergus Shanahan is being blamed for keeping the Currant Bun sceptical of any Tory revival.

Lack of continuity

The much trumpeted arrival of Willard White sound-alike Kirsty Young at Desert island Discs has been well received. By general consent, Kirsty Young did a marvellous job interviewing Quentin Blake in her first programme. Hats off, Kirsty Young! What a pity, then, that the continuity bod on Radio 4 said after the Friday broadcast that today's programme (castaway, Jane Horrocks) would be presented by Kirsty Wark.

Yeah but, I'm a novelist

Fame counts for so little these days. The other evening Hugo Rifkind, The Times diarist, recounted to friends how he had been stopped on the tube after having failed to swipe his Oyster card correctly. The ticket inspector proceeded to take down Rifkind's details and asked where he lived. Rifkind gave his address in Camden. The ticket inspector repeatedly demanded proof, not believing that Rifkind had nothing on him that had his address printed on it. After much rummaging through his pockets and bags and finding nothing, bright young Hugo remembered he had a copy of his new novel " Overexposure" with him. "I said to him, 'Look I've got this book with me,'" Hugo related, "I opened it and said: 'There, it's got my photo and says I live in Camden'. The guy still wasn't impressed. He said 'It doesn't say where in Camden'."

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