Murdoch: profits will decide fate of bare breasts

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The Independent Online
RUPERT MURDOCH yesterday intervened in a battle to expel topless Page Three girls from The Sun, indicating that bare breasts will make a speedy comeback if sales drop.

Over the weeks, Page Three Girls have been replaced occasionally by women wearing fluffy bikinis or Wonderbras, because The Sun's deputy editor, Rebekah Wade, thinks topless models put women off buying the paper. But in Adelaide Mr Murdoch faced News Corp shareholders worried that expelling naked breasts from The Sun was so drastic it might cutearnings.

"If there was any threat to that, they would return very quickly," Mr Murdoch told his snickering audience. "All the newspapers are living organisms. They go on developing and changing with the times and popular taste. The Sun is no exception."

On 22 October, Tasty Tara, 25, sported a bra resembling two distressed Brillo pads. Then came a run of clothed models, and media pundits greeted the dawn of a nippleless age in The Sun, ending 30 years of Page Three history. But by last Wednesday, bare breasts were back with Red Hot Jo, 20, from Leicester. This Monday, Gorgeous Rebekah, 20, from Birmingham (no known relation), was in a compromise position, one nipple on show, the other in deep shadow.

Readers may have the final say. The paper has launched a "Search for the Page Three Millennium Girl", with readers invited to vote for their favourite model, with or without tops. The winner will appear in The Sun's special issue for 1 January 2000. Insiders say a clothed winner means Ms Wade has won.

The tabloid is trying to attract more women readers, with its 12-page Sun Woman section, packed with the usual "women's" articles on dieting, hair and George Clooney. The Sun, with 3.6m daily sales, is still the biggest-selling paper, but it trailed The Daily Mail and Mirror in attracting women.

For a decade The Mail led the way, but last month the Mirror challenged with M, a women-focused magazine. "The Mail and the Mirror have woken up to the fact that 7.5 million copies of women's magazines are sold each week," said a media analyst. "That's a big market, and The Sun would be wise not to ignore it."