Saturday, July 09, 2011


A long time ago I went to a house fire. An old lady had died, and I was tasked with doing a report for Radio Manchester. I parked the radio car (an estate vehicle with a gigantic telescopic mast on the top - these were analogue days) and had a shufty at the house. It was certainly a mess. It was the days when there were two big causes of house fires, chip pans and exploding TV's. Firemen would wax lyrical about the dangers of plugged in TV's. I don't think they explode anymore. Apparently chip pans are still a problem. But I digress.

Another old lady emerged from a house nearby. I asked her who had lived in the burnt out shell.
"I don't think Mrs Wells have would have wanted her name published." she said.
I wrote down "Mrs Wells" in my notebook.
"You fiend" hissed the neighbour.  
Actually I don't think I used the name in the end.
I think I had a fit of  conscience.

But this week I kept remembering the neighbour. She was certainly being critical of me, but if I wasn't much mistaken, there was a tinge of pleasure in the way she expressed it. I was a fiend. And that's the way I thought about the News of the World. They were fiends. And wicked. And week in and week out three million of us bought the paper. I was one of them, from time to time.

I have to be honest. I loved some of the stories the NotW came up with. Nobody was sacred.(Maybe that was the problem). There was an amazing never-ending parade of exclusives. They'd started before I was born. That iconic shot of Christine Keeler sitting naked on a chair at the height of the Profumo affair? The NotW.  Jeffrey Archer and an envelope full of money for a woman he'd never slept with? Them. And of course there was the fabulous fake Sheikh himself, investigator Mazher Mahmood, whose gleeful exploits among the greedy and gullible surely earned himself a secure place in the heart of anyone who considers themselves a hack.   

Their methods and targets were the very worst, now we know. And looking back it did strike me as a tad odd the way people's criminal records would pop up in their journalism. And they seemed to know all sorts of amazing things about very private people. Over the years I did also notice that police raids, really sexy ones with proper villains being foiled by brave armed officers, did have a curious habit of occurring in front of a Wapping snapper.

They were drawing journalistic holy water from a magic well, or so it seemed to me. There was obviously always a dark side to the operation, but nobody felt like pointing it out. Other hacks were a bit scared of their operators, they were so mean and slick. Phone hacking, well that was bad, cheating and illegal, but who cared except Hugh Grant and Sienna Miller? Until this week when it all came to bits under the scrutiny of the Guardian. When I heard the Milly Dowler and UK war dead families allegations it was clear to me that the paper was finished. Who on earth can have thought, for a second, that intruding on those poor people was a good idea? The paper, which often seemed dangerously comfortable in the shadows, had finally lost its way.

Will I miss the News of the World? Yes, quite a bit if I'm frank.  I'm afraid it's easily the most interesting of the Sunday red-tops. Footballers will rejoice as the market for kiss and tells has just received a mortal blow. On the other hand some great sports reporting has just gone out of the window.

It's the last one this weekend. I'll buy it and keep it to show to kids in years hence. This was a newspaper, I'll explain. But they had to shut it, in the end.

Update: @langrabbie points out the iconic Keeler photo wasn't for the NOTW, which is true, although the paper did buy her story for £23,000. The truth behind the pictureis revealed on the V&A website. 


Anonymous said...

The fact that nobody cares about invasions of privacy just because these people are famous concerns me. Seems it is OK to commit a crime against some victims but not others. So anybody who happens to be a talented footballer, actor or musician is an acceptable victim of crime but a good doctor, lawyer or manager is not. Lovely people you ex-NotW readers - thanks for doing your bit to make this country shit.

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