1981 ➤ The day they sold The Times, both Timeses

❚ ON THIS DAY 30 YEARS AGO… “Australian newspaper tycoon Rupert Murdoch has agreed to buy The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. But the deal will only go ahead if Mr Murdoch can reach a deal with the print unions within the next three weeks over the introduction of new technology. Mr Murdoch will be expected to meet a number of conditions aimed at preserving the editorial integrity of the papers.”

➢ Read Murdoch bids to take over Times
— On This Day at BBC online

Rupert Murdoch, 1981,Harold Evans, Sunday Times,  William Rees-Mogg, The Times

In media circles this was the “sale of the century”, and it is captured here in what the photographer Sally Soames calls her “best shot” ... Rupert Murdoch announcing his purchase of Times Newspapers on Jan 22, 1981, to a press conference at the Portman hotel. He is flanked by Harold Evans, editor of The Sunday Times, and William Rees-Mogg, editor of The Times. © Sally Soames

This picture of two doomed gazelles at the feet of the tiger is the one photographer Sally Soames has nominated as her Best Shot ever. Sally’s back catalogue has been a who’s who of political and artistic giants since her first assignment for The Observer in 1963. She works exclusively in black and white and her photographs are instantly recognisable for the richness and depth of her blacks. She told The Guardian last year:

“I WAS WORKING FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES IN 1981, and there was a rumour that Rupert Murdoch was buying the paper, along with The Times. I was sent to a packed press conference given by Murdoch and the two editors. When the purchase was announced, I knew it was the end of The Sunday Times. My newspaper was going down the tubes. I had tears pouring down my face as I worked.

“As always, I went down the front. I was the littlest, always “the girl”. The three of them sat down, and it was everybody’s first sight of Murdoch. I had brought three cameras, one of them with a wide-angle lens. Everyone started shooting Murdoch – except me. I photographed all three: Harold Evans, the Sunday Times editor, on the left; William Rees-Mogg, the Times editor, on the right. They all had name plates, and I knew I had to get Murdoch’s in there, to identify him. I had to tell the story: two papers were going to change completely…”

➢ Read more on Sally Soames’s best shot at The Guardian

Universal Daily Register, 1785, newspapers, The Times

First issue of the Universal Daily Register in 1785, later to become The Times

❚ THE ROMANCE OF THE BRITISH PRESS has always derived from its being simultaneously glorious and wretched, from its earliest days when kings would jail upstart editors to the decade of continual strife throughout British industry, the 1970s. So powerful were the trade unions that, as former Times editor Simon Jenkins wrote in his 1979 book Newspapers, The Power and the Money: “Action taken… has brought one paper after another to the brink of financial ruin.” Mind you, rich proprietors also made pretty ineffectual managers. One of the more enlightened was the Canadian Roy Thomson, who flexed his muscle by shutting down for a whole year both of the world-renowned newspapers he owned and published in London — The Times (founded 1785, and 200 years later broadening its appeal from its historic role as the “Top People’s paper”) and The Sunday Times (founded 1821, which under Harry Evans had set benchmarks with its hugely influential investigative journalism). In 1980 the papers ran up a £15m loss (equivalent to £50m today) and by then Thomson had reached the end of his tether, so put them up for sale.

Those were the days when ten nationally distributed daily newspapers and nine Sundays averaged 13m paid-for sales every day of the week (serving a UK population of 56m). Seven millionaire contenders sprang into the marketplace to bid for the two Timeses, yet Harry Evans thought none was worthy to own the world’s most prestigious titles. His book Good Times Bad Times is the rippingmost yarn about real newspaper life — “Who were these seven dwarves, I asked a staff meeting, to seek the hand of Snow White?” It was the Australian wot won it. The deal led to 563 redundancies.

 Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch in his computerised offices and printing plant newly built at Wapping, 1986 © by Sally Soames, National Portrait Gallery collection

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