The poop on the scoop

Was 'Dianarama' really a such a hot story? Chris Horrie rounds up the all-time top ten

1. John Wilkes and the King's Speech

The first scoop in British journalism is normally chalked up to John Wilkes, the 18th-century professional troublemaker. In 1763 Wilkes printed a leaked copy of the King's Speech in his paper, the North Briton. The paper sold like hot cakes, but Wilkes was sent to the Tower. He was let out after a court case which ruled that the monarch could not hang journalists just because they embarrassed him. Thanks to Wilkes, the Panorama team can relax. The Queen may be hopping mad, but she is not allowed to throw them in the dungeon and leave them to rot.

2. Henry Stanley meets Dr Livingstone

In 1869 the New York Herald sent the Welsh ex-merchant sailor to interview the British African explorer Dr David Livingstone. There was only one snag. Nobody knew where Livingstone was. And Stanley had the whole of Africa, still largely unmapped, to go at. Stanley's heroic needle-in- a-haystack job took two years. In November 1871 he found the doctor, laid up half dead in a mud hut on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. "We raised our hats," Stanley filed back to New York, "and I said, 'Dr Livingstone, I presume?' " (The present-day equivalent would involve sending a reporter into outer space to rescue a stranded astronaut. Unlikely, given the state of modern editorial budgets).

3. Emile Zola and the Dreyfus Case

Zola's investigation into the fate of army official Alfred Dreyfus was the scoop of 1890s Paris. Under one of the most famous banner headlines of all time, "J'ACCUSE!", L'Aurore revealed how Dreyfus, a Jew, had been framed by the anti-Semitic army high command as a spy, conveniently explaining away the army's humiliation in the 1870 war with Germany. The story led to Dreyfus's release from Devil's Island and eventually brought down the government.

4 The Zinoviev Letter

The most famous British spy scoop came during the 1924 general election in the form of the Zinoviev letter, a detailed (but largely fictional) set of instructions sent from Moscow ordering armed insurrection if the Labour Party won the election with a working majority. The Times printed the document four days before polling (with an accompanying editorial headlined "AT LAST THE TRUTH"). By the time the scam was exposed Labour had lost the election. The Zinoviev letter is one of dozens of hyped, but untrue scoops. Other colossal whoppers: the Hitler Diaries (Sunday Times); the Ronnie Biggs saga (Daily Express) and Martin Bormann discovered in South America (Daily Express, again).

5 The Profumo affair

The 1963 Profumo scandal was a collective Fleet Street scoop rather than a genuine exclusive belonging to one paper, though the News of the World made most of the running. The story was based on a supposed threat to the security of the realm: establishing that Defence Minister John Profumo had shared call girl Christine Keeler with a Russian military attache. The real attraction was the opportunity to trawl through the sex lives of the rich and powerful. A series of sex scoops and mini scoops followed, detailing kinkiness in high places. It has continued to this day.

6 Lord Lambton and the art of the "kiss 'n' tell"

In 1973 the News of the World exposed junior defence minister Lord Lambton's sexual peccadilloes. This time the scoop was the sole property of the paper. It had bought the details and (importantly) accompanying photographs from a call girl. Within a decade the tabloids were running regular auctions for off-the-peg call-girl scoops. Many of these kiss 'n' tells ended in libel disaster. The Sun's "ELTON'S KINKY KINKS", based on false material bought from a rent boy, cost the paper at least pounds 1m. It is reckoned to be the most expensive (untrue) scoop in newspaper history.

7 Thalidomide

Harold Evans tried to turn the Sunday Times into a scoop factory during the 1970s with the launch of the Insight team. Insight is best remembered for breaking the Thalidomide scandal. The story remains the best example of the decade's craze for well funded investigative journalism. Harold Evans didn't survive the Murdoch takeover to of the Times. The craze is now at an end.

8 Watergate - the 'Washington Post'

The humdinger modern political scoop and the first since Zola to cause, in effect, the fall of a corrupt government. After the Watergate story broke, journalists were briefly portrayed in Hollywood films etc, as selfless heroes. The more familiar stereotype of the insensitive, cynical, hard-drinking mercenary was quickly re-established.

9 Freddie Star Ate My Hamster

The greatest tabloid story of recent years, this nonsense appeared in 1986 courtesy of Kelvin Mackenzie, editor of the Sun, and Max Clifford, the comic's PR minder. Clifford, who claims to provide more scoops than an ice-cream salesman, is one of an army of PR operators involved in the supply of celebrity "exclusives" to the tabloids.

10 Who Bombed Birmingham?

When the investigative journalism fad largely disappeared in the Seventies and Eighties it crossed over to TV and shows like World In Action. The old war-horse has had its fair share of scoops, including "Who Bombed Birmingham?", credited with helping to set the Birmingham Six free. And, oh yes, Panorama has had one or two as well.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Brand Marketing Manager - Essex - £45,000 + £5000 car allowance

£40000 - £45000 per annum + car allowance: Ashdown Group: Senior Brand Manager...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer /.NET Software Developer

£26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer /.NET Software ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

Guru Careers: Technical Operations Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Technical Ope...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there