I can't remember who first had the idea for The Independent newspaper - me or Matthew Symonds or Stephen Glover or Andreas Whittam Smith. This was in the Eighties, when we all saw a lot of each other in the canteen of The Daily Telegraph, where we worked at the time. That is to say, they worked on The Daily Telegraph and I worked in the canteen. I was between columns and was doing a waiting and washing-up job, but as I was always pretty well dressed I tended to mingle with the customers, and very few of them realised I was not a fellow journalist. As indeed I was.
"A new newspaper!" we all chortled. "Great idea! We could get Eddie Shah in as consultant!"
This was an ironic reference to the now forgotten Eddie Shah, who had just launched - and seen sink - a new newspaper called Today or Yesterday or something. Sorry, I've had to write this story so fast that I haven't had time to check details. Still, that means it's real journalism, I suppose!
"No, I've costed it out very accurately," said Whittam Smith, "and I think we could make a fortune."
"A fortune?" said young Glover, noting something down in the pad he always carried round with him. "I thought you wanted to create a new, exciting, honest, fearless newspaper with lovely but depressing black and white photos?"
"Yes, I'm sorry - that's what I want to do," said Whittam Smith, blushing. "And I want you to be my young, fearless team."
Not for the first time, they all glanced curiously at me, as if not sure who I was, which indeed was the case. I felt I should say something constructive.
"We should sort out our roles, then," I said. "What are we all going to do?"
They responded immediately to my leadership qualities.
"Well, of course I would be editor of the paper," said Whittam Smith.
"I'd like to stride up and down the office shouting at people," said Symonds.
"Good," said Whittam Smith. "I like a man who knows his own strengths. Glover?"
"I'd like to be on the paper for a while taking notes, then leave and write a history of it," said Glover, making a note of what he had just said.
"Good," said Whittam Smith. "And you ... ?"
He obviously couldn't remember my name, which was not surprising, as he had never known it. Each of them, it turned out later, thought that I was a friend brought along by one of the others.
"Well," I said, "I thought I'd do all the investigating and writing and reporting and that sort of thing ... "
"Good!" they said.
It was obvious that none of them had given any thought to that. "And when that's up and running," I said, "I'd like to run the Sunday paper."
"What Sunday paper?" said Whittam Smith. "There isn't going to be a Sunday paper."
"Oh, come on!" I said. "Everyone wants a Sunday paper sooner or later! Everyone who starts a daily sooner or later has Sunday ideas! And in the long run they end up having a magazine, a publishing house and a TV channel and ... "
"What will you call the Sunday paper?" said Whittam Smith, responding to my vision.
"That depends what you're going to call the daily paper."
"The Independent," said Whittam Smith.
"In that case," I said, "I'll call the Sunday paper the ... the ... the Sunday Guardian!"
This was clearly not the answer they expected.
"Wouldn't Independent on Sunday be more logical?" said Whittam Smith.
"More logical, yes. Oh yes, it'd be more logical all right," I said, trying to emulate William Brown's sardonic sarcasm. "But newspapers are not a logical world. In the press we move in a world of whim, and inspiration, and intuitive genius ... "
"If we call it the Sunday Guardian, people will think it is a Sunday edition of The Guardian," said Glover, a shade nastily.
"And they will buy it for that very reason!" I said. "That is the whole idea!"
I was called away to serve at another table at that moment, and by the time I got back, the decision had been taken in my absence to call the Sunday paper The Independent on Sunday. It was not the first time that decisions were taken behind my back that were to be bitterly regretted later.
More of this history of 'The Independent' as and when it is cleared by the libel lawyers.Reuse content