Inside Story: Hold the front page

Newspapers stored by the British Library show how the press covered landmark moments in the evolution of this country's media, from the birth of television to the Wapping dispute

Given that today's press will seize on a throwaway comment by an unknown reality TV contestant and present it as a defining moment in the nation's destiny, it is remarkable to look back on the yawn-stifling coverage given to television when the medium was launched in Britain.

"Inauguration of Television", murmured The Times's single-column headline, buried in its edition of 2 November 1936. A concise piece began: "This afternoon the Postmaster-General, Major GC Tryon, will inaugurate the BBC television service from Alexandra Palace. The programme by the Baird system will start at 3 o'clock and, after the opening speeches, a news-reel will be seen. Later there will be a brief variety entertainment."

The same day, the Daily Express made the story the lead item in its Entertainment column. Journalist Jonah Barrington filed knocking copy: "Complications the big guns to be televised Lord Selsdon, the PMG, the BBC chairman will not be available for rehearsal. Result they go before the cameras not knowing what it will be like, while perspiring producers hope for the best. Also they won't wear make-up and therefore won't photograph well."

By the time commercial TV arrived in 1955, it was front-page news. "New TV Off Without A Hitch Back-room Boys Achieve Fantastic Feat" was the Daily Mail splash, above a piece glowing with an admiration Michael Grade is unlikely to find today in that title's TV coverage. "Viewers see first 'plugs'", observed the Mail of the arrival of TV ads, without a hint that they could mean the end of society as we knew it.

Channel 4, starting as it has gone on, was launched to a broadside of negative coverage in 1982. "Seven million miss great telly turn-on", carped The Sun as it highlighted transmission problems, unaware then of how the channel's appetite for locking people in a house and filming them would one day become an obsession that would dominate the paper's news pages. The day after launch, C4's relationship with the tabloid press was established as the Express screamed "Vulgar!" across its front page following swearing in the opening episode of the soap Brookside.

The emergence of the press from a monochrome world came in 1982 with the arrival of Today newspaper. The paper's journalists tried to make their mark with an old-fashioned scoop while telling readers that a front-page colour image of the Queen marked "the first time computer technology has been used to transmit news pictures from Australia to Britain".

Though media coverage in newspapers was nothing like as extensive as it is now, the collapse of the Wapping strike was front-page news in February 1987. In The Sun, whose staff had crossed the picket lines for more than a year, the splash headline "It's All Over" reflected the sense of relief. A year earlier, the paper had published from Wapping for the first time, using the headline "A New Sun is Rising Today" and triggering the bitter dispute.

Representing as it did a major setback for the unions, the story also made an attractive splash for the Daily Mail, which celebrated the "cave in" of the print union Sogat. Both articles were written by an "Industrial Editor", a specialist role that itself would be "all over" within a couple of decades.

In November 1991, the much-missed editor of the Daily Mirror, Richard Stott, found himself in the difficult position of having to cover the death of the newspaper's proprietor, a task made harder by the fact that Robert Maxwell's demise was a huge story for news organisations worldwide.

In a front page bylined to "The Editor", Stott wrote a eulogy in which he recalled how Maxwell had once told him at a dinner party that he wanted to be remembered as "the man who saved the Daily Mirror". In the article's headline, the paper granted him that wish, albeit temporarily. The piece was accompanied by a shot of a friendly, dickie-bow-wearing Cap'* Bob and ran to 16 pages of coverage of the life of "A Great Big Extraordinary Man". The Guardian could afford to be more circumspect, picturing a rueful-looking Maxwell, who was beset by financial problems, and speculating on the future of his business empire.

A month later, Maxwell would be back on the front page of the Mirror, this time with an unflattering image that gave the impression he had grown horns, alongside an article revealing that he had plundered a fortune from the company's pension funds.

The 17 May 2004 edition of The Independent wasn't the first time it had appeared in compact format but it was the first time the smaller version had been published without a matching broadsheet edition. The move, eight months after the first publication of the compact, signalled The Independent's commitment to the smaller format and set in motion a design revolution in the newspaper industry as scores of other titles downsized.

By Ian Burrell

A New Home

The British Library holds the finest newspaper collection in the world more than 52,000 hard-copy and microfilmed titles from 1513 to the present day. This unique collection is at serious risk in its existing location in Colindale, north London, and will be moved to a new store offering state-of-the-art preservation facilities. The phased move takes place from 2008 to 2011 ( http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/features/frontpage/save.html)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most