Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

MODERN TIMES: The Dinosaur Column

In Dinosaur on October 3, 2011 at 11:18 am

News of whose World?

So the News of the World is no more. Whether there were many mourners, at the funeral I don’t know. As far as I’m concerned, it died many years ago – in 1969 to be exact, when it was bought by Rupert Murdoch.

The original News of the World, the one I remember as a naive young dinosaur, was born in very different times. It first appeared in 1843, when Queen Victoria was on the throne, and the face of journalism was very different. Oh, yes, reporters and readers liked their scandal even then, but there were no phones then to be hacked in to; and obscenity laws restricted how the news was presented.

The News of the World then was a large broadsheet style newspaper, with pages of closely-packed columns. By the time I got to know it, it seemed to have changed very little in its layout and type-style. Archaic in appearance might be a way to describe it. One speciality was its coverage of the law courts, reporting particularly the more salacious offences – some of which, of course, are no longer illegal in our more enlightened days. And as a young innocent, I found much of the reporting a bit obscure. Statements like, “an act of intimacy took place in the back of a motor car” meant little to me at the time.  But the paper enjoyed mass sales throughout the country.

When Murdoch bought it, there was instant shock and horror. “The News of the World is an institution, as British as roast beef”, snorted one commentator. A brash Aussie incomer was no fit custodian of its heritage. But Murdoch wanted to expand his Australian press empire and gain entry to the British market –  and what Murdoch wanted, he got. The News of the World as I’d known it as a young dinosaur, faded into memory. And, as they say, the rest is history.

By the way, it may be worth noting that the Sun (which was next on his list of acquisitions) was the successor to a very different newspaper – the Daily Herald, once owned jointly by Odhams Press and the trade unions. It was effectively the paper of the Labour Party, enjoying a mass, working class readership, and once boasting George Lansbury as its editor. But finally its owners decided to change the title, and re-brand it to try to tune in to the new consumer-based lifestyles of the 1960s. It was a flop. Circulation declined to below the million mark, and by the time Murdoch bought the title, it was on its last legs.

The days before mobile phones:

I can remember the days when the only people authorised to listen in to our phone calls were those employed by such bodies as the Special Branch or Military Intelligence. As far as I know, that’s still officially the case.

Back then it was called “telephone tapping”, and members of such sinister subversive bodies as CND or the Committee of 100 would take great delight in trying to spot the tell-tale signs that their phone had been tapped. I was told that there was often a tell-tale click when the tapping took place. Some more imaginative folk swore they heard heavy breathing from a third party whilst they were chatting away quite innocently. Sometimes fake demos would be arranged over the phone, just to see if the police would turn up (and often they did until they got wise to what was going on).

Now it seems that with all this modern electronic, digital gadgetry, anyone can get in on the act. All you need is the right equipment and the know-how – plus, presumably, some way of identifying your target. All right, I admit it. I don’t really know how telephone hackers carry out their business. But as a method of doing the dirty on some unsuspecting victim, it’s a technological breakthrough compared to raking through their dustbins.

Sell off? No thanks!

According to a recent poll involving 7,007 folk in the Dean, only seven raised their heads above the parapet to declare their support for the Government’s plans to privatise the Forest.

That amounts to just about half a percent. On the face of it, it’s hardly a percentage at all – more of a slight blip. But Forest Research, the body given the task of analysing the results, expressed a degree of caution. Because of the conditions under which the poll was taken it might not be totally “representative of wider public opinion” they said.

But be that as it may, it did show the way that the wind was blowing as far as forest folk are concerned. And it’ll do for me.


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