'Punch' ready to rise from grave

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The Independent Online

One of Britain's oldest and best-loved magazines is set for a comeback after being off the newsagents' shelves for three years.

The 150-year-old Punch is up for sale with a price tag of about pounds 500,000. United Newspapers is inviting offers for the weekly humourous magazine, which it closed in 1992 after a steady fall in circulation and mounting losses.

David Elias, who made a fortune from petrol credit cards and owns a string of publications, is among those to have been approached about the magazine. Mr Elias, said his spokesman, was interested but in the end decided against.

Punch's historical archive of more than 2,000 original cartoons and art- work is not thought to be included in the sale. Neither is the famous Punch lunch table which contains the carvings of guests' signatures down the years.

Founded in 1841, Punch enjoyed a century of power and popularity. Contributors including William Thackeray, PG Wodehouse, Alan Herbert and HM Bateman made it a household name, regularly selling 175,000 copies a week.

But the magazine went into decline in the 1940s, and in more recent decades the rise of Private Eye and Viz comic made it appear stuffy and old- fashioned. Increasingly confined to dentists' waiting rooms, the magazine had lost its way. A brief revival under Alan Coren ended when he left in 1988, accompanied by many of the best-known writers. By the end, sales were down to 27,000 and it was losing pounds 1m a year.

Previous efforts by Bill Tidy, the cartoonist who drew for Punch, to save the magazine - in its heyday, the major showcase for the cartoonist's craft - had come to nought.

At United, Punch falls under the Express Newspapers subsidiary, along with the Daily Express and Sunday Express. Falling circulation at the two flagship titles recently forced the company to announce more than 200 redundancies.

"It is for sale, yes," a United spokesman said. "But we are not going to disclose the actual details."