Another world. On the evening of 6 October 1986, ITV's News at Ten leads with a story about the Conservative Party conference in Bournemouth. There is an item about a sunken Soviet nuclear submarine. Only towards the end of the bulletin is there mention of "Britain's first new quality newspaper for more than a century" and pictures of copies rolling off the presses.
The first advertisement in the "break" is for The Independent. A young man is repeatedly hit on the head with a newspaper as we hear opinionated voices in the background. "In our opinion." Smack. "But in our opinion." Another smack, more violent. And then a smooth, reassuring voice tells us about a wonderful new newspaper that will be financially and politically independent. "From October 7. The Independent. It is. Are you?"
What a long time ago it seems and yet I can remember, I can feel, the optimism and excitement. The day began like any other. We had been producing dummies for weeks. There is a sense of calm in our offices on the edge of the City, of people going about their business as usual. At the morning conference the news is thin. Andreas Whittam Smith, the editor, sits bent forward, pencil in hand, peering at the news list as though further excitements might be wrung from it. Jonathan Fenby, the home editor, reads out some relatively unspectacular offerings. As foreign editor, I recite an equally unexceptional foreign list. Patrick Marnham is with the Pope in southern France. James Fenton has done a piece about cooking a goat for Muslim rebels in the Philippines.
A visitor from Mars might conclude we had been doing this all our lives. The only oddity is the intrusive television cameras, which begin to infuriate Whittam Smith. He suddenly snaps that they will have to be removed unless the TV crew stops chattering. All of us are nervous beneath the surface. During the afternoon a bottle of champagne arrives for Whittam Smith from the editor of The Daily Telegraph, generally believed to be our main rival, with an ironic note of congratulations.
Shortly after midnight, copies of the paper arrive from Sittingbourne, the nearest of our four contract printers to London. What incredulous pride we feel. Even now it is hard to believe that we have produced a new newspaper. There is a party and champagne, and Whittam Smith makes a short speech, thanking everyone for their hard work. He raises his glass to The Independent.
The next day, pundits have prophecies of doom for the fledgling title. (The Telegraph editor sends us a wreath.) The following months will be hard, but those of us who were there on the first day knew we were part of something important that we would never forget.
We would have been ecstatic – and perhaps a little surprised – to know that a quarter of a century later our new newspaper had survived.Reuse content