According to industry estimates sales of the Daily Mail, bible of the aspirational classes and creator of the concept of "Middle England", have overtaken those of the The Mirror, redolent as it is of flat caps and betting shops. The final push came from the Mail's latest promotion, called "Lucky Wallet", which is said to have cost pounds 4m and boosted sales this month by up to 100,000 copies a day.
The decline in sales of The Sun, although recently arrested, only serves to confirm the trend. Very New Britain, but how did it happen?
The man normally accredited with this attitudinal revolution is the late Sir David English, who re-invented the daily as a "compact" tabloid in 1971 when its middle-market rival, The Express, was still coming out in broadsheet format. Sir David also led a trend to attract more women readers by launching the paper's highly successful Fe-Mail section, and his right- wing campaigning in the 1980s led to a knighthood from Margaret Thatcher.
In fact, when he stood down as editor in 1992 Sir David had done very little to add to the paper's circulation. In 1971 it averaged 1.73m a day, and by the time he left it was 1.74m. What he did do was to improve the "quality" of the readership by attracting more middle-class "ABC" people into the Mail fold, which made it more attractive to advertisers and so far more profitable.
He also kept his head, and his readers, when all about were losing theirs - especially The Mirror. Over the same period its circulation plummeted from almost 4.5m to 2.83m, and in December 1977 was overtaken for the first time by the lusty Sun of Larry Lamb - page three and all. Much of this, say commentators, is attributable to initially ignoring The Sun, and also to the take-over of The Mirror by Robert Maxwell, an event from which its credibility never recovered.
Since the appointment of Paul Dacre to the editorship of the Mail, circulation has continually climbed - benefiting both from the demise of Today in 1995 and from the increasing sophistication of newspaper readers. Meanwhile The Mirror underwent a series of savage cuts to its editorial budget.
Piers Morgan took over at The Mirror in 1995 and is seen as having helped to stem the paper's slide - it is currently selling 2.38m and has a modestly rising circulation. But this has not been without controversy, most notably over pictures of the Princess of Wales exercising in a gym. He is now said to be trying to move the paper upmarket to match the rising aspirations of his former readers. Even The Sun has gone for a new-look page three.
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