Page last updated at 04:38 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The changing face of newspapers

By Chris Summers
BBC News

How have Britain's national newspapers changed in the past 30 years? Here we compare four papers.


15 January 1979


Britain was in the grip of the "winter of discontent". At the time many people still worked in the manufacturing industries and many of them faced lay-offs due to shortages caused by strikes by both lorry drivers and rail workers.

The Sun
Jan-Jul 1979 - 3,793,007
Jan-Jul 1989 - 4,173,267
Jan-Jul 1999 - 3,730,466
Jan 2009 - 3,146,006
Source: Audited Bureau of Circulations (ABC)

Page Three girls had been introduced in 1970, but the political and industrial crisis was so dire "lovely Tina Thomas" was actually relegated to page five.

Because of a crippling lack of newsprint, the whole paper was reduced to a measly 12 pages, three of which were sport.

Prominent stories involved the unsolved murder of model Barbara Gaul in Brighton, and campaigner Mary Whitehouse was criticising the BBC for showing sexually explicit films on BBC Two.

The Sun had recently overtaken the Daily Mirror to become Britain's most popular newspaper.

16 January 1989 (15 January was a Sunday)

Front-page headline - TV BOSS IN PORN GIRLS QUIZ

Only 10 years have elapsed but already the Sun is showing signs of change. Next to the main story on the front page is a huge plug for a feature inside about EastEnders star Leslie Grantham, entitled The Secret Life Of Dirty Den.

The page-seven lead is about a woman who had won money in the Sun's own bingo competition.

Also prominent is the new Bizarre column, about showbiz gossip, which was edited at the time by Garry Bushell.

15 January 1999

Front-page headline - JAGGER DIVORCE

The Sun claims a World Exclusive in revealing that Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger was splitting up with his wife, the model and actress Jerry Hall.

The paper was now up to a "whopping" 60 pages, with 11 pages devoted to sport.

The trend towards celebrity culture is even more marked, with several leads about TV stars and footballers - including the "news" that Manchester United's Gary Neville had bought a bicycle.

There was also a two-page spread about celebrities and their daughters, featuring Madonna, Sheryl Gascoigne and Jerry Hall again; and also a 24-page entertainment listings supplement.

Dominic Mohan has taken over the Bizarre column, which is now spread over two pages.

15 January 2009


Quite unusually the editor has chosen to "splash" on a serious story - albeit riddled with puns - about Nasa revealing that methane has been detected on the Red Planet, which could hint at the existence of some form of life.

The Page Three girl survives - despite several campaigns by the politically correct to remove her - in the form of 21-year-old Peta from Essex.

There are numerous page leads about celebrities, including one which claims a TV money expert has gone bankrupt.

Page seven is devoted to a large picture spread about Victoria Beckham advertising Armani underwear, which appears to be based on solely a press release.

Another example of PR blurb is a story - illustrated with several pictures - of a "Magic Scarf" that is apparently proving popular with female shoppers.

15 January 1979
Front-page headline - NOW - BONNY ALASTAIR

Linda Lee-Potter, who later made her name as a columnist, penned this front-page story about the birth of the world's second test-tube baby.

Daily Mail masthead
Jan - Jul 1979 - 1,943,793
Jan - Jul 1989 - 1,750,303
Jan - Jul 1999 - 2,350,241
Jan 2009 - 2,228,897
Source: ABC

Nigel Dempster's gossip column was prominent on page seven and page leads included news of film star John Wayne's nine-hour stomach operation.

He would die of cancer six months later.

Another page lead was a first-person piece of reportage by John Edwards, who was one of the journalists who had discovered the secrets of what would be known as the "killing fields" following the Khmer Rouge's departure from Cambodia.

16 January 1989

Front-page headline - FERGIE BACK ON DEATH SLOPES

The Duchess of York, popular tabloid fodder throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, was on a skiing holiday in Klosters not long after an avalanche which had killed a former royal equerry.

Page leads include a picture spread on boxer Frank Bruno's six-year-old daughter, stories about Japanese POW camps which is linked to the TV drama Tenko.

There is also a two-page spread, illustrated with lurid photographs, about South Africa's far-right AWB movement, its leader Eugene Terreblanche and sex scandals involving a woman called Jani Allen.

By now Nigel Dempster had been relegated to page 17.

15 January 1999


The lead story was about foster parents Jeff and Jenny Bramley who went missing with two little girls in their care after a row with social services. Later that year charges of abduction were dropped against the couple.

Elsewhere there are regular Daily Mail themes, including bashing of the European Union, and a feature about nurses quitting the NHS.

The page-five lead is all about Rod Stewart's then wife Rachel Hunter. In the inside pages is a two-page spread about stars like Jennifer Aniston looking hungover.

In the 1990s the Mail bucked the trend for declining circulation and opened up a huge gap on its one-time rival, the struggling and under-funded Daily Express.

Poor old Dempster has by now been shunted on to page 39, and was eventually dropped altogether in 2003.

15 January 2009


The Mail goes to town on the story about junior government minister Baroness Vadera claiming she could see the "green shoots" of economic recovery amid the general doom and gloom.

The paper also took aim at the BBC on the front page for allowing disgraced TV presenter Jonathan Ross to host the Bafta awards.

The Mail is also prone to PR spin, with a large picture spread on the "Magic Scarf" on page three, and a page lead on Victoria Beckham in that Armani underwear again.

Also noticeable is the rise of the commentator, with several pages given over to opinion columns by Stephen Glover, Ann Leslie, Quentin Letts and Keith Waterhouse.

Femail has grown to a 19-page supplement, including a picture spread about what clothes the women judges wear on The X Factor.


15 January 1979

Front-page headline - CABINET FACE TORY FURY

Daily Telegraph masthead
Jan - Jul 1979 - 1,476,887
Jan - Jul 1989 - 1,113,033
Jan - Jul 1999 - 1,044,740
Jan 2009 - 842,912
Source - ABC

The Telegraph openly gloats as Jim Callaghan's Labour government struggles amid a tide of industrial strife. Home Secretary Merlyn Rees orders an inquiry into the use of secondary picketing by the TGWU.

The broadsheet front page is stolidly conservative, with a combination of political and foreign stories and not a whiff of celebrity in sight. The main photo is of Chinese peasants protesting in what was then known as Peking.

Inside, the paper contains large amounts of foreign news, including a page-four lead about Muslim rebels killing 100 troops of the Afghan Communist government. Eleven months later the Soviet Union invaded to support the Kabul regime.

Several columnists put the boot into the government and the trade unions, with one describing strikes as "Britain's disease".

The paper is only 16 pages, due to a shortage of newsprint.

16 January 1989


Junior Foreign Office minister William Waldegrave has got himself into trouble with the Israeli government for telling them not to be "clever silly" in their dealings with the Palestinians and referring to then prime minister Yitzhak Shamir's past in the "terrorist" Stern Gang.

There is also a front-page picture of Salman Rushdie's controversial book The Satanic Verses being burned in Bradford.

The paper wears its Thatcherite heart on its sleeve with page leads on plans being considered by the Tory government for identity cards and the possibility of all immigrants being DNA tested.

George Walden pens a column about the dangers of the end of the Cold War, including the rise of Islam.

15 January 1999

Front-page headline (under a huge picture of President Bill Clinton) - 'HIS LIES WERE NOT FEW OR ISOLATED BUT PERVADED HIS WHOLE TESTIMONY'

The presidential impeachment hearing dominated the paper, with pages four and five totally taken up by it.

Other stories on the inside pages include a man who survived for 22 days lost in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, an interview with a British hostage freed in Yemen, and the ex-boyfriend of gynaecologist Dr Joan Francisco being charged with her murder. He was later jailed for life.

The paper looks a lot more colourful and better presented than in the 1970s and 1980s but remains full of hard news with little bowing to the growing celebrity culture.

15 January 2009


The paper still sometimes dubbed the Torygraph tears into Baroness Vadera for her controversial comments in an interview with ITV News.

The Magic Scarf 'story' in the Telegraph
It makes a nice picture spread, but is it news?

The front-page picture is a large photograph of the musical Oliver, ahead of a story about it having taken advance sales of 15m, which sounds very much like it has come from the theatre's PR company.

There is much less foreign news than in the past and scant crime coverage.

Again the PR companies are doing well with the Magic Scarf story making a large picture spread on page four and a survey by a retail analysis firm making a page lead about John Lewis being Britain's most popular shop.

There is also a page lead about a new drug for eyelashes that does away with the need for mascara and, on an inside page, a large article which plugging a new book and DVD on Johnny Cash.


15 January 1979


The Labour-supporting paper is clearly embarrassed by the growing "winter of discontent" and offers a lower figure for the number of jobs at risk because of the haulage dispute.

The newsprint shortage means the Guardian is down to 12 pages.

Inside the paper looks dowdy and dull, with lots of coverage of the arts and features on social work and other liberal professions.

16 January 1989

Front page headline - FREEDOM PROTEST CRUSHED

The splash is about Czechoslovak riot police attacking anti-Communist demonstrators commemorating the death, by suicide, of protester Jan Palach in Prague in 1959.

The front page also contains a large black and white photograph of a train crash in Bangladesh that claimed many lives.

Inside, politics and foreign news dominate, but there is a large article about the 20th anniversary of Buddhism coming to Britain.

15 January 1999

Front-page headline - TRIAL OF THE CENTURY BEGINS

The Guardian masthead
Jan - Jul 1979 - 379,429
Jan - Jul 1989 - 438,732
Jan - Jul 1999 - 398,721
Jan 2009 - 358,844
Source - ABC

The Guardian also leads with the Clinton impeachment hearing, with perhaps slightly less relish than the Telegraph.

There is a large front-page picture of Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk with a story suggesting a bitter feud had gone on between the two men behind the scenes.

The story about foster parents Jeff and Jenny Bramley was on page two, probably being of great interest to the paper's large readership among social workers.

The Papua New Guinea jungle rescue story and the freeing of the Yemen hostage are also page leads.

The Review has a large feature about Kate Winslet.

15 January 2009


During a tour of India Foreign Secretary David Miliband let slip that the whole tone of the Bush/Blair "war on terror" had been misconceived.

There is also a large picture of the Russian tycoon Alexander Lebedev, who is buying the Evening Standard.

The Guardian shows it too is prone to increasing triviality with page leads on Jonathan Ross hosting the Baftas, the demolition of the Astoria venue in London and a story about what presents the Royal Family received from abroad, which appears to have emanated from a press release.

Were you involved in one of these stories from 1979, 1989 or 1999? What has happened to you since? Let us know your story:

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