Sun on Sunday turns out to be more of the same, only less so

John Walsh finds the bland new paper unwilling to offend and unlikely to excite

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The Independent Online

Even before the News of the World ceased operations on 10 July last year, we knew it was set to return; the URL had been registered on 5 July. For nearly eight months, we've been breathless with expectation: imagine the vigour and cheek of The Sun allied to the campaigning zeal of the Screws. Imagine more kiss-and-tell footballer babes and Nazi S&M parlours, more fake sheiks and Pakistani spot-fixing, more swingers' clubs and imaginative uses for mobile phones. Would it be a rag we could treasure as a monument to British vulgarity, plumbing new depths of pun-riddled persiflage?

I almost walked past it in the newsagent's. I thought it must be The Sun from the day before. It's not called The Sun on Sunday, just The Sun, with "Sunday" an apologetic, miniature addition. How disappointing to find it's exactly the same as the daily, only less so. It's the weekly Sun minus about 15 per cent of its style.

The splash on Amanda Holden's briefly problematic Caesarean op is stupefyingly dull and doesn't justify four pages inside. The exclusives lack the wow factor: a new Sun poll reveals that we're spending more on groceries and heating (because the prices have gone up, duh). Even the Page 3 girl, Kelly Rowland, keeps her hands over her raspberry ripples, Saturday Sun-style.

The editors have looked far and wide for columnists whose views will provide the nation with hot talking-points. Toby Young unconvincingly backs Michael Gove ahead of Boris Johnson and George Osborne to be future head of the Conservative Party, and complains The Artist has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay Oscar ("Is that a joke?") Can this sophisticated man really not distinguish between "screenplay" and "dialogue"? Or is he just playing to the gallery?

The most extraordinary newcomer to The Sun's panel of opinion-formers, however, is Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York. In his column, Britain's second-most senior churchman fascinatingly reveals he's giving up alcohol, meat and dairy products for Lent. But his main function is to act as the new paper's cheerleader. "I know there will be those who will criticise me for writing in a newspaper seen by many as filling the gap left by the News of the World...." he writes. No, Dr John. There will be those who ask: how much is Murdoch paying him for this advertorial bollocks?

A long editorial reminds readers of The Sun's record of scoops and campaigns, and promises to "hold our journalists to the standards we expect of them" as laid down by the News Corporation Standards of Business Conduct. It further undertakes, "The Sun will never hesitate to speak its mind... It will never be boring." The first sighting of the post-Leveson Sunday edition tells a different story: it will be bland, it will be nice to celebrities, it will be anxious to please, it will contain nothing to upset – or to excite in any way.

'Is that it?' 1st edition verdict

Neville Thurlbeck, Former NOTW chief reporter: "Fleet Street won't be holding its breath for revelations which will set the news agenda alight. But this is surely the type of tabloid paper we will be getting post-Leveson."

Alastair Campbell, Former Labour spin doctor (From a tweet on Saturday night): "Sun on Sunday have clearly put a phoney front page out. Real one will be second edition. Otherwise major 'Is that it?' problem."

Kelvin MacKenzie, former Sun editor: "This is not trying to be the News of the World with the Sun logo on it. Personally, I like sleaze on a Sunday, so I feel slightly robbed."

Roy Greenslade, Former Daily Mirror editor: "Calculated not to provoke, it runs on through page after page of rather bland material ... no surprises, no controversies."