Farewell to a Great British institution

David Randall tells the story of The News of the World – using many of its own words
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The Independent Online

The year 1843 – railway mania, the young Victoria, crinolines, A Christmas Carol, and The News of the World. "Our motto is the truth, our practice is fearless advocacy of the truth". Hence: "Frightful Tragedy in Soho". "Melancholy Suicide of a City Solicitor". "Awful Discovery in Drury Lane – A Child Found Pickled In A Jar". "The Monster Stopped for Pie and Peas". A whole Sunday of penny dreadfuls for 3d.

New owners from Wales. A different motto: "All human life is there". So, too, is death. Bodies everywhere. Corpses clothed, unclothed, dismembered, and cold. Accidents, suicides, and murders. And things you really can't spell out. Girls stabbed but not interfered with. Unmentionable acts. Unspeakable suggestions. Gross outrages. Lewd suggestions. And men who made their intentions all too clear. "A Fickle Swain and His Jilted Sweetheart". "A Publican's Misconduct". "Incident In A Watercress Bed". "Severe Reflections on the Men of Reigate".

Emsley Carr, the editor who took the paper's sales from 40,000 to four million. The heyday of middle-class murder: the Armstrong case, Alma Rattenbury, Thompson and Bywater, and the Croydon Poisonings. "As English as roast beef" – just like the paper. A national institution: the News of the World Matchplay Championship, the Popular Barmaids Contest, News of the World Football Annual, the Unclaimed Money column, Pigeon Notes, and a music hall songsheet every week. Five million, six million, eight million sales.

After the war, a little saucier. Naughty vicars, dirty deacons, sordid scoutmasters, and peeping toms. Starlets, debs, and soubrettes. Breaches of promise, co-respondents, and divorce. A hotel room in Brighton, a lady who was not his wife, intimacy taking place, and "evidence that can't be reported in a family newspaper". "Mother of 14 Admits Bigamy". "Rector's Love Secret". "Mr Fruity's Letters".

Sales slump, but sensation perks up. Serialisations: Diana Dors – "It's Dors! It's Dynamite! Wild And Wicked!", and "The Pictures They Tried to BAN". Miss Keeler and her steamy nights with the war minister – "Confessions of Christine – By The Girl Who Is Rocking The Government". Cheque-book journalism, and paying a witness in the Moors murder trial.

Enter Rupert Murdoch. The News of the Screws. Whose screws? Well, anyone's screws. "Nudist Welfareman's Model Wife Fell For the Chinese Hypnotist From the Co-op Bacon Factory". Saturday afternoon phone calls to sad little wife-swappers: "I'm just ringing to say we'll be naming you in tomorrow's paper...." In 1978, it was maths teacher Arnold Lewis. Advertised in contact mags. Named and shamed in the paper. And dead by the morning. Suicide note read at inquest. Reporter asked: "Does that upset you?" "No, not really," she replied.

Another week, another expose. This time, reporter Neville Thurlbeck. He should have made his excuses and left, but didn't. He joined in – lent them a hand, so to speak – and was filmed by his quarry. Red faces all round. But not as many as when the Screws discovered celebrity. "TV Beauty's Secret Drug Shame". "Frank Bough: I Took Drugs With Vice Girls". Yet still Captain Cash, Unity Hall, and Fish of the Week.

Sexier and sexier. Piers Morgan, Rebekah Wade, and Andy Coulson. Three-in-a-bed romps. Five times a night. At it like knives. Bonking with bimbos. Footballer's sex lives, and lashings of puns. Every one a winner. Buy-ups, stitch-ups, the Fake Sheikh, and kiss-and-tells. Subterfuge and entrapment. Splashing the cash. Dangling the bait. Mugs falling for it: the Countess of Wessex, Lawrence Dallaglio and silly Sarah Ferguson.

A trip to the moral high-ground. Sarah's Law and the outing of perverts. No more naughty vicars, but a paedo on every street – even if one turned out to be a paediatrician.

Then court reports starring the paper. Tommy Sheridan. Max Mosley, and "one rogue reporter". Glenn Mulcaire on £150,000 a year supplying phone numbers – of celebrities, footballers, princes, murdered girls, parents, 7/7 victims, families of war dead, and heaven knows who else. Phone-hacking, email-snooping, info-blagging, police-bribing. Execs who didn't know. Rebekah Brooks was on holiday. She couldn't remember. She made her excuses – but it was the staff who left.

'NOTW' in numbers

1843

Year the paper was founded. Initial circulation: 13,000.

31

Rebekah Wade's age when she became editor in 2000.

150

The crowd who targeted a paedophile's home in Portsmouth in August 2000, after he was 'named and shamed' as part of the paper's 'For Sarah' campaign.

8,436,000

Average circulation in 1950: one issue for every six people in the country.

2.6m

The paper's average circulation for the year June 2010-June 2011.

4,332

The number of names found in the 11,000 papers of the private detective Glenn Mulcaire.

£15m

The fund put aside by News International in April 2011, to compensate 'legitimate' victims of phone-hacking.

£120m

Estimate of the total compensation package, based on each claimant getting £30,000.

250

Number of criminals Mazher Mahmood is said to have seen convicted up to January 2010.

200

The approximate number of jobs lost with the closure of the paper.

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