"BUSTIN' OUT all over" was the headline last week above a lovely in a leather outfit with a breast and a pierced nipple exposed for the consideration of the reader. A turn of the page reveals a picture of a naked female bottom being stroked by a middle-aged man. The "health" page is decorated by a shot of a nude woman, given the tiniest hint of respectability by having a skeleton faintly outlined on her buttocks and back.
The publication in question is not the Daily Sport or even The Sun, but last Tuesday's edition of the Daily Mail, that most staunch defender of family values. Paul Dacre, its editor, is increasingly happy to publish the raciest of pictures, whether of posed models or as illustrations of stories such as those involving Janet Jackson and Alex Best. The acceptance of such images is a sign of the growing toleration of nudity in what were once determinedly chaste quarters of the press.
Which makes it all the more remarkable that the publishing giant IPC has come over all shy after deciding to spend £8m on the launch of its men's weekly,Nuts. A senior IPC executive told me that many men had decided that the amount of bare female flesh in magazines had just gone too far.
Nudity, he said, had become a "blocker" that was repelling men at the news-stands. "There's a boundary at which that becomes something which is a solo pleasure rather than something that is socially acceptable to read on a bus or train or leave lying around the house if you have kids."
Compared to the Mail, the men's weekly (which last week claimed an initial sale in excess of 150,000) seems pretty coy. Thursday's edition of the paper showed the model Sophie Anderton in a see-through bodysuit and a back view of her bare bottom. The same set of pictures were thought to be so good that they were even trotted out the next day, on the grounds that it had been noticed that Anderton, a former drug user, had concealed scars on her legs by clever use of make-up.
Perhaps executives at Emap are avid readers of the Mail. Their rival men's magazine, Zoo Weekly, has hit the streets with a nipple count of 43 in its first edition and is also said to have sold well.
Surely the Wagner-loving Dacre would object to any suggestion that the Daily Mail was "socially acceptable to read on a bus or train or leave lying around the house if you have kids". Indeed, his newspaper famously has a high proportion of women readers.
The fact is, sex sells and, just as The Daily Telegraph once peppered its page three with saucy court copy, the Mail uses show business "news" stories to sell papers with photographs it once would have considered unprintable.
So where does that leave Clare Short? Last month she risked the wrath of The Sun as she renewed her 20-year-old campaign against the "degrading" 34-year-old institution of page three, saying she wanted to "take the pornography out of our press". It might be only fair if the former International Development Secretary extended her attack to Dacre's product as well.
There was more hand-wringing over the changing moral values of the British media last week when John Lydon uttered the C-word after viewers failed to send him packing from the jungle-based television show I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! He later walked off the set anyway, to the anguish of ITV executives who saw him as a major attraction to audiences of more than 10m.
Even though only 100 of those people actually took the trouble to complain at the former Sex Pistol's turn of phrase, every newspaper but one chose to err on the side of caution and used asterisks to report it.
The Guardian published a headline with Scrabble letters spelling the name of an 11th-century king who famously tried to turn back the sea. Given the paper's reputation for literals, it was fortunate that the headline didn't come out just as Johnny Rotten would have intended.
Then the newspaper lost its inhibitions and printed articles with the word without a single asterisk, noting that its taboo had been broken after the audience for The Vagina Monologues was encouraged to shout it in unison.
Perhaps the bosses at ITV can cite the drama to the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom, which is considering whether to punish the broadcaster for the profanity by imposing a swingeing fine.Reuse content