IoS 1000th issue: 1991-1995, Ian Jack

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How 'austere' was the early 'IoS'? Well, the cry of 'Populism!' went up when I suggested running our first front-page picture of the Princess of Wales

When The Independent on Sunday was being invented, its founders cast around for similes that would define the kind of paper it was going to be. One I remember is "a city in Tuscany". If The Sunday Times was big and sprawling like London, the IoS would be small, rather beautiful and perfectly formed – like Sienna, say, or Lucca. My own aspiration for The Sunday Review was that it should be "The New York Review of Books with pictures". How la-di-da it all seems now, in this dark age for newspapers: how ambitious, how elitist, how blind to those words by Rupert Murdoch that no newspaper ever went bust by underestimating public taste. The IoS published some of the best-written, most handsomely presented journalism of any paper in the country. The Sunday Review was copied all over the world. I think those of us who worked on the paper then should be proud of what we achieved.

A lot of the inspiration came from the daily Independent, of course, but differences soon emerged. The daily was against Thatcher but committed to the free market. "Impartiality" was important to the ethos of its editorials. In political terms, its readership was split roughly equally between Labour, Tory and Liberal voters. The IoS ignored this inheritance and grew more obviously "left-wing", though never signed up to any party agenda. Some of our campaigns were prescient – against railway privatisation, for example, or the idea that "choice" was what users of hospitals and schools most wanted. A big moment of departure from the traditions of the daily came when we ran a front-page picture of the late Princess of Wales. The daily abstained from coverage of the royals unless the monarch or her heir said something important. I was sorry to depart from this policy – there were mutterings about populism – but it seemed to me that the monarchy was beginning to crack as an institution and the story couldn't be ignored.

A common charge was that we were too "austere" for a Sunday paper, meaning, I suppose, too serious and high-minded. Once we published the Maastricht Treaty as a special supplement – everybody talked about "Maastricht" as though they knew what was in it, though very few did, including most politicians. You might say that demonstrated the strong autodidactic streak that ran through a few of us, though it also showed we had very little money (EU treaties came free): our total editorial budget was less than The Sunday Times spent on marketing alone; we had to be creative with what we had.

And what we had most was excellent writers. It's impossible to name them all here, but a single issue might contain a Lynn Barber interview, Zoe Heller encountering VS Naipaul, Neal Ascherson in Bosnia, Blake Morrison with Neil Kinnock, Richard Williams at the Olympics, and Allison Pearson and Tony Lane with their television and film reviews. There might be also be a column by William Leith, Nick Hornby or Helen Fielding. Writers made The Independent on Sunday what it was: a writers' paper.

Click on the image above to see Ian Jack's selection

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