It was 20 years ago Today

... that Eddy Shah launched his dream of an all-colour, hi-tech newspaper. It crashed. Yet its legacy lives on

Fleet Street folklore has it that the launch of Today exactly 20 years ago this weekend was so accident-prone that the paper should probably have been staffed by stuntmen rather than journalists. There have been first issues more editorially hapless - The Mail on Sunday, for instance - but when it comes to mechanical malfunctions causing high expectations to run spectacularly off the road, nothing else comes close.

Having told the nation in a £2m ad campaign that "We're Ready!", and proclaimed its ability to be the first paper to deliver colour on all pages, the paper approached its launch without ever having produced a full-scale "live" dummy. Today was an accident yearning to happen.

Sure enough, on the opening night of 3 March, the paper's computer system repeatedly went down, the paper was two hours late to press, the picture technology so untried the first editions had a black and white photograph on the front, a racing editor so frustrated by network failures that he headbutted his terminal, the deputy editor and proprietor had a slanging match, the splash story turned out to be old, text jutted into column rules, and colour pictures, when they did get printed, were off-register. Small wonder that a female member of staff later threatened a colleague with a knife.

Senior staff still talk about that first night like survivors reeling from the wreckage. "A disaster", said consultant Charles Wintour; "It was a shambles", says features editor Michael Williams; "Humiliating", says editor Brian MacArthur; and news editor Colin Myler recalls: "I walked back to my hotel feeling very dejected."

The paper's founder, Eddy Shah, told the BBC recently he felt there were "degrees of sabotage", a reference to the discovery, just weeks from launch, that the paper's Vauxhall Bridge Road offices had not been earthed, causing the walls to glow hot.

Both he and MacArthur rue the "We're Ready!" campaign (Shah says: "I wish we hadn't gone down that route,"); and MacArthur still talks of the devastating combination of untried technology and a small staff. While some impressive writing talent was hired (including reporters such as Geordie Greig and Philip Jacobson), there were just 17 subs for a seven-day rota (the Express had 68 for six days). He said: "My one regret is that we didn't postpone the launch. We didn't hit the ground running; we hit it crippled."

And, to the damage the paper's poor planning had already inflicted on itself, was added the best efforts of rivals for whom predatory behaviour was first nature.

While Today set out with untried technology to transmit a "live" front-page picture of the Queen on tour in Australia, other papers, lacking this kit or the blind ambition, went down a safer road. They had rather less up-to-date pictures of the Queen pre-printed on glossy paper. The upshot was that while MacArthur's "We're Ready!" Today had either no colour or the famously blurred "Shahvision" version of Her Majesty, his rivals were on the stands in sharp Technicolor.

Yet, oddly, from the remains of that first night emerged the press we have today; and, to understand why, it is necessary to imagine Fleet Street circa 1985. Then, print unions used their ability to stop producing this most perishable of commodities to dictate pagination and print runs, ante up their wages (some Express printers pocketed £1,000 for a 16-hour week), to ambush innovation (no national newspaper journalist could touch anything more technical than pen, paper or typewriter), and to periodically stop the presses. Every so often, someone called the Imperial FOC would march his solemn officials in to see the editor and inform him that the lads were not happy and production of that night's paper would not start until they were.

Rupert Murdoch is often credited with ending this Kafkaesque world, but his way was paved by Eddy Shah and Today. They pioneered a lot of what we now take as read: the absence of print unions, journalists controlling editions, "on the run" colour, fully computerised production, satellite printing, and truck (and not rail) distribution. Much of the success of The Independent's launch later that year was due to the paper's team learning the hard lessons of Today's first night.

There were other, less palatable lessons to be drawn from Today. One of the things that Shah (Gordonstoun-educated but a former double-glazing salesman who owned small papers in the North-west) and MacArthur (ex-Times but whose previous job was as editor of the Western Daily News) wanted to do was to produce a paper that broke editorial moulds as well as technical ones.

In MacArthur's words last week: "We were going to be the nice paper, the nice tabloid. Eddy saw Today as a paper that would stand out from the excesses of Fleet Street."

Even if such an ambition was achievable (and audited circulation figures suggest that, in the mass market, readers don't crave an outbreak of generosity and pleasantness), Today did not have the staff to deliver.

This was especially true of the reporting team, at least initially. A lot of them were relatively inexperienced and recruited from the regions. Says news editor Colin Myler: "Many were from the provinces and were going up against some very experienced reporters on other papers. They could turn you over and you wouldn't know you'd been turned over." Their copy was at first, he says, "very raw".

Today's reporters got better, and many, says Myler, went on to become high-flyers and executives all over Fleet Street. Speaking from the New York Post, where he is now a senior executive, he said: "We did later turn it around and it was not too long before we were getting good news exclusives. It was a low point at the launch, but in the next few years I had far more highs than lows."

Part of the paper's problem, says features editor Michael Williams, was that "it never really knew what its market was. I remember one day we all trooped along to a focus group where a revamp of the Sunday magazine was being tested. On the cover was a picture of David Owen in a Fair Isle jumper. When the prospective readers were asked for their opinion of the dummy, one woman said: 'It's very nice, but I can't find the knitting pattern for this man's jumper.' It was a reminder of the gulf between our journalism and the target market that the management had in mind."

And so the paper never really took off, and losses continued to mount.

It stuttered on, via ownership by Lonrho and News International, until closure on 16 November 1995. That day, in the press box at Ascot, some wit amended the sign above the desk of the paper's racing correspondent. Before the word Today, he added "Here", and after it, "Gone tomorrow".

Such gallows humour should not be Today's epitaph. Eddy Shah did what most Fleet Street managements would not dare even contemplate, and his legacy is on news-stands every day. Colin Myler says: "Today led to a different way of producing newspapers. For that it deserves some credit." And that, in the end, long after the last off-register picture has faded, is the lasting Shah vision.

A TOMORROW AFTER 'TODAY'

Where are they now? Shah presided over a galaxy of star journalists, many of whom went on to greater things

Brian MacArthur EDITOR IN CHIEF, TODAY

Joined from Western Daily News, of which was editor. After Today, he became executive editor of The Sunday Times, then associate editor of The Times. He is now a media columnist for The Telegraph.

Anthony Holden EDITOR, SUNDAY TODAY

Had been executive features editor of The Times, but had gone freelance before joining Today. Left to become a writer and broadcaster. Has been a music critic for The Observer for the past four years.

Jonathan Holborow DEPUTY EDITOR, TODAY

Joined Today from The Mail on Sunday. Returned to MoS as an assistant editor, rising to become editor. Was an adviser to William Hague during his leadership of the Conservative Party. He is retired.

Alastair Campbell NEWS EDITOR, SUNDAY TODAY

Came from the Mirror where he had been a political reporter. Went back to Today as an assistant editor in 1993, before being appointed Tony Blair's director of communications. Now a sports writer for The Times.

Mary Ann Sieghart CITY EDITOR, TODAY

Joined from the Financial Times. Left to work at The Economist as a political correspondent before joining The Times as editor of the opinion pages. Now a columnist for The Times.

Jeremy Deedes MANAGING EDITOR, TODAY

A year at Today, after the Daily Express (deputy editor) and Evening Standard (managing editor). Then, at the Telegraph Group, rose to deputy chairman and chief executive. Now founding The Sportsman.

Amanda Platell FEATURES SUB-EDITOR, TODAY

Rose within Today to become a deputy editor, finally leaving in 1992 to become managing editor of the Mirror group and then The Independent. Now a regular writer for the Daily Mail.

Sue Ryan WOMEN'S EDITOR, TODAY

Joined Today from the Daily Mail. She then moved on to The Telegraph where she stayed for 14 years. Was a news editor and then managing editor. She left The Telegraph last week.

Jane Reed FEATURES EDITOR, TODAY

Had edited Woman's Own and been editor-in-chief of Woman magazineand assistant managing director of IPC magazines. At Today she rose to managing editor. Now a director of Times Newspapers.

Geordie Greig REPORTER, SUNDAY TODAY

Began as a local news reporter, became a reporter at the Sunday Times, then its arts correspondent, New York correspondent and literary editor. Now editor of Tatler.

Joy Lo Dico

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Data Analytics Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading organisation...

Accountant / Assistant Management Accountant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an Assistant Management Ac...

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Insight Analyst Vacancy - Leading Marketing Agency

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency have won a fe...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup