Times 2

End of the world for N of the World

Titillation by the yard and scoops galore: An obituary for a 168-year-old very British institution
By Geoffrey Levy

Some will see it as a mutation that became so dangerous there was no choice but to put it down. Others will see it as an institution which played a vital part in the fight against corruption and, even now, was not beyond redemption.

As in life, so in death, the News of the World continues to be the catalyst for bitterly divided opinion.
'All human life is there' was its slogan, familiar to the readers of what was nothing less than a national institution and at one time sold almost nine million copies a week.

Yet such is the swell of anger over its nefarious activities that, for those same people, its death at the age of 168 is hardly a day for mourning - more a question of 'good riddance'. Even though, let's be frank, they will probably miss its sex scandals and brash revelations on Sunday mornings.

Before anyone dances on the grave of the 'News of the Screws' - as we in the newspaper world called it - it is only fair to hoist a flag over some of its triumphs of recent years. It was the 'Screws' that exposed the squalid match-fixing by members of the Pakistan cricket team in the Test series against England last year, removing a festering sore that threatened to reduce our summer national game at the highest level to a farce.

It was the 'Screws' that exposed snooker world champion John Higgins for taking bribes to throw frames in prominent snooker matches. The same paper unearthed Prince Harry's drinking and drug involvement nine years ago when the Prince was an impressionable 17-year-old. Buckingham Palace hardly relished the revelations, but who would argue that putting the secret activities of the young Prince on the front page wasn't instrumental in stopping this wild young man from moving from marijuana onto something harder?

And, of course, it was the News of the World that poked its cameras into former Formula One boss Max Mosley's very private world of sado-masochistic sex with five prostitutes. The newspaper lost the resulting 2008 High Court action that Mosley took on the grounds that his privacy had been breached.
Famously, the Sunday tabloid ruthlessly used its so-called 'Fake Sheik' - reporter Mazher Mahmood, the paper's investigations editor, posing as a rich Arab - to coax many truths out of famous victims, especially members of the Royal Family.

Such behaviour was certainly entrapment. But who would say that the light he shed on these elevated, glittering lives was not important? And yet once, this famous Sunday paper, this household name, had been such a gentle read. Sexy and shocking, certainly, and the slightest bit wicked in its heyday of the Fifties and Sixties when its circulation was the largest in the world, but neither intrusive nor prying.

Indeed, the stories that made it so popular came largely from the law courts, where the salacious details of cases were reported in full, often, as suited the times, with elements of shock or amusement.
From its earliest days in the 1840s, when it cost three pence, it peppered its pages with titillating short items. For example, one story had the heading: Extraordinary Outrage On A Young Woman. The story read: 'Louisa Hearne, a housemaid to a lady in Shackleton, stated: "I was cleaning the doorsteps, when the prisoner, whom I never saw before, came suddenly behind me and tossed my clothes completely over my head."

'Constable Aylyn asked him why he did it and he said: "Because I like." A month's hard labour.?'
And another: 'Mary Newell, a servant wearing her master's clothes, with her hair cropped short and smoking cigars, courted a young woman as her sweetheart?…?It was not madness nor felony, but a case of diseased mind. Eighteen months.'

By 1912, the circulation had reached two million, three million a decade later and four million at the start of World War II. In the grey, post-war years, some eight-and-a-half million readers took it every Sunday, this at a time when divorce was rare and each copy of the paper could reliably be said to be read by three people.

But circulation was falling when a new editor, Stafford Somerfield, took over in 1959 and demanded his staff come up with something 'that will make your hair curl'.

The result was a two-part series involving a young actress from Swindon, Diana Dors, talking about her body ('Buttons tended to pop off my gym costume,' she cooed) and posing coquettishly under the headline The Picture They Tried To Ban, with the word 'ban' stuck strategically over her right nipple. They paid her £35,000 - a fortune in those days.

And it caused a sensation. When the paper was censured by the Press Council, the editor retorted that the watchdog's job was 'not to exercise control over the contents of a newspaper?…?I'm proud of the paper'.

Four years later, the paper was paying prostitute Christine Keeler £23,000 for her story of her affair with War Minister John Profumo - an affair she carried on while also having an affair with a Russian diplomat. Profumo, whose wife was the actress Valerie Hobson, resigned in one of the biggest political scandals of the period.

The paper presented her story as 'Confessions of Christine - by the girl who is rocking the government'.
Yet again there was Press Council condemnation on the grounds that the paper was 'doing a disservice both to public welfare and to the Press'.

Somerfield's pugnacious response was to set a philosophy that all his succeeding editors tried to follow.
'A prodigious and mounting readership tacitly acknowledges the rightness of the course we have followed,' he declared.

Ten years later another scoop, in 1973, involved Lord Lambton, an earl who renounced his peerage to become an MP and was a junior Defence Minister. When Lambton slipped into bed with prostitute Norma Levy, he did not know they were being photographed by her husband, who sold the pictures to the 'Screws'. A subsequent police search of Lambton's home revealed some cannabis, and he resigned from Parliament.

By this time its owner was Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd. His firm had beaten off a rival bid from Robert Maxwell, who later owned the Daily Mirror. It was Murdoch's first Fleet Street acquisition, and in 1984 the paper followed the trend of changing from a broadsheet to a tabloid.

Since then, it has had no less than nine editors, the first six being (Sir) Nicholas Lloyd, David Montgomery, Wendy Henry, Patsy Chapman, Stuart Higgins, Piers Morgan and Phil Hall. In 2000, Rebekah Wade (now Brooks) took over, followed in 2003 by Andy Coulson, and in 2007 by its present editor, Colin Myler.

What the paper thrived on more than most other papers (for whom character is the crucial element) were scoops. And there were plenty of them.

Ms Wade left to edit The Sun and is now News International's embattled chief executive. Inevitably, the News of the World accompanied its scoops with claims to be on a high moral ground, which clearly wasn't always the case.

Mazher Mahmood, who joined the paper in 1991, turned his Fake Sheik act into perhaps the greatest scoop-gathering machine of the time.

It was to the 'sheik' that the future Countess of Wessex, hoping to land a £500,000 PR account, embarrassed herself by referring to Tony Blair as 'President', saying his wife Cherie 'hates' the countryside and deriding Gordon Brown's 'pap' budget. In 2005, Princess Michael of Kent was exposed by the same fake sheik with some startling comments about fellow members of the Royal Family. She described the late Princess Diana as a 'bitter' and 'nasty' woman and that Prince Charles had merely married a 'womb' and been 'jealous' of Diana's popularity.

And last year came the coup-de-grace, the Duchess of York offering the fake sheik access to Prince Andrew for £500,000, and taking a downpayment of £40,000 - with the whole incident filmed by an undercover News of the World team.

It was also the paper which published pictures of Prince Andrew strolling in New York with paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, perhaps saving the Queen's favourite son from digging himself into an even bigger hole.
However, much of what the News of the World did in obtaining information made other journalists shudder. It certainly took the proud history of investigative journalism and trashed it in the interests of getting the story.

The one story it never expected to be written was its own obituary. © Daily Mail, London

Rebekah Brooks : Britain's tenacious tabloid queen

LONDON, July 9 (AFP) - Politicians have called for her head but Rebekah Brooks, the head of Rupert Murdoch's British newspaper empire, has refused to surrender to the phone hacking scandal that killed off the News of the World.

The 43-year-old redhead started out as a secretary and rose to become editor first of the News of the World, then its daily stablemate, The Sun, before taking over as chief executive of the group that owns them, News International.

During that time she proved herself to be charming but ruthless in pursuit of a story, a relentless networker but also extremely loyal to Murdoch, who is said to view her like a seventh child.

Observers say it is because of her close relationship with the media tycoon that Brooks is still in her job, when 200 journalists and staff at the News of the World will not be following the 168-year-old tabloid's closure next week.

She was reportedly in tears when she announced that, after a week of torrid allegations that the paper had hacked the phones of murder victims and dead soldiers' families, Sunday's edition would be its last.
Brooks edited the News of the World from 2000 to 2003, when some of the hacking is alleged to have taken place, but she insists she knew nothing of the practice -- and Murdoch has given her his full support.

This is despite calls by opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband for her to resign, and a lack of support from her friend Prime Minister David Cameron, who said on Friday that if offered it, he would have accepted her resignation.

Many commentators viewed Murdoch's decision to close the News of the World as a sacrifice to save Brooks, ditching one red-top (slang for a British tabloid) for another (a reference to his chief executive's trademark hair).

Brian Cathcart, professor of journalism at Kingston University, suggested Brooks was being kept on as a firewall to protect Murdoch's son and heir, James. “If she goes, the next domino along is James and that's a price Rupert's not prepared to pay,” Cathcart told The Guardian newspaper.

Speaking to staff on Friday, Brooks wryly noted that rivals had been reporting her imminent departure since she took over at News of the World. Despite being one of the most powerful people in Britain, Brooks has never been one to publicise her own life.

She reportedly wanted to be a journalist from the age of 14, growing up in Cheshire, northwest England before studying at the Sorbonne in Paris. After a stint in the regional press she joined the News of the World at the age of 20, rising to editor in 2000.

After three years at the helm of the weekly title, she moved to become the first female editor of its sister paper The Sun, Britain's top-selling newspaper, where she stayed for six years. Ironically, her high profile job, and her first marriage to a television actor, meant she was even a target of phone hacking by a News of the World investigator at the time.

At that time she was still Rebekah Wade -- she changed her name in 2009 when she married her second husband, former horse trainer Charlie Brooks, in front of guests including Cameron, Murdoch and ex-Labour prime minister Gordon Brown.

Colleagues speak of her ability to get what she wants through charm, although she is also quite prepared to take a direct approach. According to Fleet Street legend, she once dressed up as a cleaner to get into the offices of the rival Sunday Times newspaper, hiding for two hours in the toilets before sneaking out and taking off with one of their exclusives.

More controversially, she famously launched a campaign to “name and shame” paedophiles which led to riots and the vilification of some paediatricians.

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