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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: DAVID YELLAND, FORMER EDITOR, THE SUN & DAVID HILL, FORMER LABOUR DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS JANUARY 19TH, 2003
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DAVID FROST: Now, it may be brash, sometimes even outrageous, but it's difficult to ignore. That's The Sun, Britain's biggest selling daily newspaper, read by an estimated ten million people. Its influence said to be particularly strong in Downing Street. Until a few days ago, it was edited by David Yelland, and he's with me right now. Good morning David..
DAVID YELLAND: Good morning, Sir David.
DAVID FROST: Nice to have you with us. What was your favourite front page during your era, and what was your least favourite?
DAVID YELLAND: I think the favourite one was one of my earliest ones, "Is this the most dangerous man in Britain," which I did one week into the job about Tony Blair and the euro, which came really to be a, you know, which marked my, you know getting on for five years as editor. I think probably the thing I'll be remembered for more than anything else is continuing that fight. I'm very proud of that. To be frank with you, the worst one was a huge mistake I made - I'm quite happy to say that now I'm out of the job - Sophie, topless - again in my first year - where we made the mistake and we apologised. That was pretty bad.
DAVID FROST: And in terms of, you mentioned the euro there, whatever Rebekah wants to be with the paper, everyone has slightly different, obviously, ideas, but there's no way the euro policy is going to change, is there?
DAVID YELLAND: Well you know -
DAVID FROST: Because of Rupert Murdoch -
DAVID YELLAND: - I - that's a matter for Rebekah, you know, she, she will be a great editor, she's a very bright girl, she's a real star, but I think we made it clear during my editorship and before that, that The Sun is opposed to the euro, as are many other papers, so I wouldn't expect a change but, you know, who knows?
DAVID FROST: I understand you've brought a euro note along with you.
DAVID YELLAND: I have. This is a leaving present from Gordon Brown to me - bearing in mind that we tussled on the single currency for nearly five years - this is a euro note, a 20 - I don't know whether I'm holding it to the right camera.
DAVID FROST: That's fine.
DAVID YELLAND: A 20 euro note signed by Gordon, and Eddie George actually. And I, I don't expect Eddie to ever -
DAVID FROST: A very nice souvenir. You did change the paper, or you did try to change the paper during your time there, didn't you?
DAVID YELLAND: Yes.
DAVID FROST: You - did you take it slightly up market or -
DAVID YELLAND: Well that's for other people to say Sir David. I mean I've read a lot of rubbish about, about myself, and also my successor this week. I mean the fact is, you know, she's a great, she's going to be a great editor, you know. I'm very proud of what I did, it's time for me to do other things. I always wanted to go to the Harvard Business School, which is what I'm going to do later in the year, I always wanted to go into business, into the business side of News Corporation, I've been saying that privately now for at least two years and, you know, thankfully I've been able to do that, which is another great privilege. I mean my career with Rupert Murdoch has been a series of great privileges. I was deputy editor of the New York Post for three years and I was editor of The Sun for four and a half. I'm 40 next year, it's not a bad little start to my career and I'll go on and do something else that's ...
DAVID FROST: And how about the power you felt you wielded? I mean how much influence, how much power do you think The Sun had, on the euro -
DAVID YELLAND: Yeah.
DAVID FROST: - and on other things? On the euro a lot?
DAVID YELLAND: I think, you know, I've had many, many private conversations with both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown over the years which I, you know, will treasure. I had a good relationship with both men through thick and thin, despite difficult times. I'm very proud to have done that, to have preserved that, because it isn't easy when you're attacking them all the time. But I, as far as The Sun's power is concerned it's for other people to say. I think there is obviously a huge influence, sometimes I think it's an influence over the rest of the media as well as an influence over, you know, the ten million people that read the paper. But the fact is, if The Sun said tomorrow, you know, we want the euro, a referendum would not be won. In other words, The Sun is only powerful if it's in tune with its readers, and that's a very important thing for us all to remember.
DAVID FROST: David, on behalf of Labour, you had for years to work out how to court The Sun. I mean how vital, I mean it would seem over the years that Labour has formed a view that The Sun is almost all powerful. But I mean how powerful did you feel it was?
DAVID HILL: Well I wouldn't say that we felt it was all powerful but what we did feel was that it was perhaps in the vanguard at the nadir of Labour's fortunes. It was the vanguard of a whole swathe of Fleet Street papers that were joining together to attack Labour. And what I think has changed now is that the relationship, as we've seen from the 20 euro note, the relationship is far more civilised and it's really a relationship now with a paper that attacks Labour when it feels it's wrong, and supports Labour when it feels it's right. I mean I don't agree with David on the euro, as it happens, but the fact is that I think it's now a civilised relationship and when one looks back to what life was like in the 1980s and early 1990s, things have changed dramatically. And I think that's the most important thing that one has to recognise that there is a view from government that The Sun is a paper with whom one can do business, who have a very eminent political editor, and it's a newspaper which, whilst it entertains, has had the courage to continue with a political editor of that significance and to devote much of one of its key pages to the political world. And for that it should be congratulated.
DAVID YELLAND: I think it's very important to make the point that, you know, in my editorship and I'm sure in the future, there is was no sort of personality bashing in the paper. You know, we criticised Tony Blair and Gordon Brown on the issues, as far as personal abuse to both Tony and Cherie Blair, I didn't go in for that at all. Now some people can criticise me for that, but that's what I felt was the right thing to do and that's what I did and I'm very confident that, you know, in years to come I will be judged correctly on that. You know, newspapers should not go in for trying to destabilise politicians in deeply personal ways - that's something I feel very passionately.
DAVID FROST: You have a very influential proprietor - how often did he come on the phone to talk about the paper or to talk about ideas?
DAVID YELLAND: Well I mean, all the time. I mean, you know, Rupert Murdoch, the two papers that he, that he loves most - and I'm not telling tales out of class, everybody knows this - are historically the New York Post and The Sun. He invented The Sun, with Sir Larry Lamb. You know, he bought it for a very small amount of money in 1969. It's now a hugely, in terms of, you know, in terms of a business model, you cannot get much better than The Sun, it is an incredibly successful thing - a very daunting thing to have to run, in many ways, but, but, you know, of course he came on the phone, and I, and he will continue to come on the phone to me and that, you know, that's a relationship which I enjoy.
DAVID FROST: Well you're departing David, and my God, Piers Morgan's going to miss you.
DAVID YELLAND: Well I won't miss him, and, you know, that period of my life is over, thankfully, and, you know, I'm moving on to new things, more challenges, and things which I will enjoy.
DAVID FROST: Thank you David very much.
DAVID YELLAND: Thank you.
DAVID FROST: Thank you David for returning to the scene.
DAVID HILL: A pleasure.
DAVID FROST: Good luck with the future David.
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