Vintage publican's paper brewed afresh: Second oldest national daily is to undergo radical changes. Michael Leapman reports

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The Independent Online
NEXT week's celebrations for the 200th anniversary of Britain's second oldest national daily paper will be marred by the shadow of imminent extinction. With a macabre sense of timing, the Society of Licensed Victuallers, which founded the Morning Advertiser on 8 February 1794 and has owned it ever since, announced this week that from 21 February it will become a twice-weekly news magazine called the Licensee.

Although aimed from its very first issue primarily at 'coffee houses, taverns and public houses', the Advertiser has played a significant role in newspaper history. In its early days, it sold fewer copies than its chief rival, the Times (founded nine years earlier), but its influence was nearly as great because of its immense coffee-house readership.

In 1815 it was the first national paper to establish an office on Fleet Street, on the corner where the Daily Express built its headquarters more than a century later. In 1972 it moved away from the Street of Shame, a decade and a half ahead of its contemporaries. In 1991 it left London for Slough, Berkshire. In the mid-19th century, under its long-serving editor James Grant, it was a staunch supporter of the Liberal Party and launched fierce attacks on corruption at Court. Mr Grant defined its mission as being 'to enlighten, to civilise and to morally transform the world'. Moral transformation has long been abandoned in favour of enlightening publicans and campaigning for their interests. 'Of course you must always feel regret when things change,' said John Tomlin, the editor. 'But the Advertiser has survived so long by adapting to new conditions. Publicans are busy people and don't have time to read a paper every day. Our research shows we can put up our circulation (17,800) by 26 per cent. We're on a high with our 200th anniversary, so I say let's go for it.'

In recent years the paper has moved towards a magazine format. Since 1992 it has been printed in full colour on glossy paper, rather than newsprint.

Mr Tomlin is confident that the change of name and frequency will not compromise the paper's ability to work on publicans' behalf. Last year it ran campaigns to make it easier for pubs to exclude troublemakers and it claims credit for the fact that beer duty was not raised in last November's budget. It is now pressing for control of beer imports from across the Channel.

The Licensed Victuallers started the paper as a means of raising money for their charity, devoted to helping members and their widows and orphans. Today the society's chief undertakings are its two schools in Ascot, Berkshire, and Ilkley, West Yorkshire.

(Photograph omitted)