As Christ Church, Oxford, used to be a forcing house for future great British statesmen, so the Bizarre celebrity gossip column on The Sun has become the traditional nursery for editors of national red-tops. In recent years it has produced four of them. All over the country there are ambitious parents wondering how they can get their little darling into Bizarre College.
In fairness to them, I should point out that things do not always turn out well for brilliant Bizarre alumni. Of the four, two went off the rails. Piers Morgan was forced to resign as editor of the Daily Mirror after he published a bogus picture which appeared to show British soldiers torturing Iraqis. Piers had also been caught up in a shares scandal. Andy Coulson resigned as editor of the News of the World after a phone hacking scandal. He is now serving time with the Tories.
What are we to make of the prospects of Dominic Mohan, appointed last week as editor of The Sun? Dominic joined Bizarre College in 1996 from the News of the World, and quickly established himself as an outstanding student who knew his way around the capital's nightclubs. After five years mastering his trade on Bizarre, he felt able to branch out as a columnist, and then moved into features.
Some say that, despite (or because of?) his rigorous training on such an elite gossip column, Dominic remains a bit of a lightweight, and lacks the breadth of famous former Sun editors such as Larry Lamb and Kelvin MacKenzie. He seems, for example, to have developed what even some Sun readers may regard as an unhealthy obsession with a "glamour model" called Jordan, whose real name is thought to be Katie Price. However, it should be noted that other red-top editors, notably Richard Wallace of the Daily Mirror, have also got closer to the pneumatic Miss Price than was strictly good for them or their readers.
During recent weeks, Dominic Mohan has been editing The Sun while the editor, Rebekah Brooks (neé Wade), has been enjoying herself with the fashionable Chipping Norton set before taking up her new duties as chief executive of News International in early September. Last Wednesday, Dominic's passion for Miss Price got the better of him. The front-page headline was "Jordan has a Brazilian". The model helpfully explained that she had, in fact, "had sex with him three times" in a single night. Even by the increasingly tacky standards of red-tops, the presentation of this story was unusually racy.
However, Dominic's admirers insist there is a more thoughtful side to him, and point to the front page of last Friday's Sun, and an editorial on page two. The gist was that the Government had lost sight of what British troops are trying to achieve in Afghanistan, and Gordon Brown is no longer supplying leadership. If he is unable to do so, he should resign, and "be replaced with a Premier who can lead from the front".
I understand, of course, that no editor of The Sun can afford to be Jordan-less. She is an essential part of the enterprise. On the other hand, it is possible to have too much of her and her ilk in the wrong places. It is a question of balance. Critics of Bizarre College assert that it lays too much emphasis on celebrity and sex, and somehow warps the minds of its alumni. Time alone will tell whether it has had this effect on Dominic Mohan.
The perplexing exit of D’Ancona from Spectator
Last Friday Matthew d’Ancona left the editorship of The Spectator after only three and a half years to “pursue other interests”. I can see no reason why he would have wanted to go, and therefore I can only surmise that he has done so largely because of Andrew Neil, the magazine’s chief executive. Mr Neil has appointed Fraser Nelson, a young, energetic, fellow Scot, and formerly The Spectator’s political editor, to replace him.
It is perplexing that he has gone. In many ways he had changed the magazine in the direction Mr Neil wanted. He made it less like the old Spectator, which the abrasive chief executive hated and despised. Charles Moore, a former editor of The Spectator and now a columnist on the magazine, once likened Mr Neil to Caliban. This was an admittedly extreme example of a lofty, public school Englishness which Mr Neil set out to extirpate.
As long as Boris Johnson was editor, there was little he could do. With his appointment of Mrd’Ancona, changes were quickly made. The scope of the magazine was widened to include articles on business and travel. Its rather haughty tone was softened. Whether Mr d’Ancona or Mr Neil was responsible for recent features such as lists of best films and best poems hardly matters. These were pieces one might have previously expected to find in a colour supplement.
The magazine has become more mainstream – and lesslike its old self. This has annoyed a lot of aficionados, though new readers have been attracted, and last year sales reached a record high. Is it possible that despite his accommodation of Mr Neil’s wishes, which extended to sponsoring numerous parties in which the boisterous chief executive could play Mein Host, Matthew d’Ancona suffered from one shortcoming? He was not Scottish. Mr Neil wants his protégé and fellow countryman to edit The Spectator so that the revolution can continue.
Global reach of Mail Online gives it a unique appeal
For the second month running, Mail Online had recorded more traffic than any other British newspaper website with 29,872,465 "unique users". Its editor, Martin Clarke, dislikes the concept of "unique users" because it does not differentiate between a random visitor who visits a page once a month and someone who visits loyally every day, but he will be pleased with the figures all the same.
Why does Mail Online appear to be establishing itself as a successful – possibly the most successful – British newspaper website? (I should remind readers that I write a column for the Daily Mail, and my pieces appear on Mail Online.) One might suppose that, as the country's second highest-selling newspaper, its online version would naturally dominate.
And yet more than 70 per cent of Mail Online's "unique users" are outside the United Kingdom, and rarely, if ever, see the Daily Mail. By far the majority are in the United States, many of them apparently drawn by the gossip and showbiz stories, which are much more evident than in the Mail. Mail Online is succeeding while being, in some respects, different to its parent newspaper.