Britons flocked to see intimate photographs of the Duchess of York and her financial adviser, the American oil tycoon John Bryan, creating newspaper shortages across Britain. One big wholesaler claimed he had never seen anything like it since - well, the last time - 'Group Captain Peter Townsend and Princess Margaret, I think it was,' he said referring to the 1955 romance between the Queen's sister and a divorcee which created a sensation at the time.
And the Press Complaints Commission, which had been braced for a flood of protests about intrusion into royal privacy, said it was stunned by the lack of reaction. It had received only one written complaint and a couple of telephone calls.
With newspaper presses rolling for hours after staff normally go home to bed both the Sun and the Daily Mirror claimed victory in the circulation war. The battle was continuing today, with the Mirror devoting 18 pages to the holiday photographs and the Sun featuring a 'Fergie Collection'.
The Mirror's deputy managing director, Roger Eastoe, said: 'People know that the Mirror broke this story and are telling it factually.' An extra 14 per cent or 370,000 copies were sold on Thursday and more sales figures were coming in, he said. The Sun's circulation manager, Ian Jackson, hit back, claiming the story brought its biggest sale for four years.
He said the presses at News International's Wapping plant in east London kept rolling for more than 12 hours on Thursday, halting at 10am yesterday. Production is more normally complete by 4am. 'Newsagents are turning up at the plant in their cars to make sure they get copies,' he said.
The Sun said its decision to use a photograph of the Duchess topless eclipsed the Mirror but the Mirror was dismissive. 'We are a family newspaper first and foremost, reporting the news. We haven't had Page Three girls for years, and we don't print pictures of bare-breasted women unless they are totally in context,' Mr Eastoe said.
Independent wholesalers said newspaper demand had created shortages. Adrian Smith, Sales Marketing Manager of W H Smith's News Division, said that people who normally would not purchase the Sun or the Mirror had contributed to the extraordinary demand. Some outlets had sold seven times their normal orders.
All the excitement left Buckingham Palace unmoved. It refused to comment on the latest developments. Mr Bryan visited his lawyers - the celebrated libel experts Peter Carter Ruck & Partners.
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