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Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Published at 22:16 GMT 23:16 UK


Still waiting for The Sun to rise

David Yelland: Supposed to take the Sun 'upmarket'

Ironically, when David Yelland was appointed editor of The Sun less than 12 months ago, he was charged with taking the paper upmarket.

Despite a tardy apology, his decision to publish a topless photograph of Prince Edward's fiancée, Sophie Rhys-Jones, seems to have put paid to that, for the meantime at least.

Mr Yelland's predecessor in the chair, Stuart Higgins, was rumoured to have quit over the proposed image change.

Mr Higgins, like Kelvin MacKenzie before him, was a red-blooded tabloid man who revelled in the paper's heady mix of sex, sleaze and showbiz gossip.

[ image: Sophie Rhys-Jones and Prince Edward: The Sun broke news of their engagement]
Sophie Rhys-Jones and Prince Edward: The Sun broke news of their engagement
But with price slashing among the broadsheets and the Daily Mail's seemingly inexorable rise in the "middle order", the "red top" tabloid market had fallen into long-term decline.

The Sun's sales were down an average of 5% per year after its 1980s glory days. The paper's cause was not helped by the backlash against the popular press after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

As the prospective editor of Britain's biggest selling daily paper, Mr Yelland was largely an unknown quantity when he took the role in June 1998.

His professional credentials were never more than moderate, and he did not even fit the brash stereotype of a typical Sun 'hack'.

City specialist

"Shy" and "quiet" were among the words chosen by former colleagues to describe him.

The young, prematurely balding journalist had joined the Sun in the early 1990s as a City reporter after training on local and regional papers.

[ image: Rupert Murdoch: Yelland is said to have had his ear on business matters]
Rupert Murdoch: Yelland is said to have had his ear on business matters
He quickly moved up to City editor and soon had the ear of proprietor Rupert Murdoch, thanks largely to his insight into business affairs.

Mr Yelland moved Stateside to become the Sun's New York reporter but was said to have been unremarkable in the demanding role.

His next move though - to Mr Murdoch's New York Post - would have been crucial in eventually helping secure the top job at The Sun. As deputy editor of the Post he was involved with the paper's subtle shift upmarket.

His 12 months at the Sun have been anything but straight-forward. At times he has appeared startlingly out of tune with public attitudes. The topless picture of Miss Rhys-Jones is one example - claims that Britain was in the grip of a "gay mafia", another.


He was also forced into an embarrassing climb-down after printing a story about Mr Murdoch's appearance in the cartoon series The Simpsons.

[ image: One of Yelland's scoops, in October last year]
One of Yelland's scoops, in October last year
The paper's anti-euro stance, expressed in the form of a masked Tony Blair next to the headline "Is this the most dangerous man in Britain?" managed, like the single currency itself, to split public sentiment.

Yet he has also scored some important scoops, most notably breaking the story of Prince Edward's and Ms Rhys-Jones's engagement at the start of this year.

And, despite rumoured managerial pressure, Mr Yelland has steadfastly clung to the Sun's most hotly disputed selling point, the Page Three Girl.

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