Consumed by scandal – FT.com
Central to their existence has been a uniquely long and close relationship between the British popular papers and a largely working/lower middle-class readership. In that time – as my colleague Matthew Engel details in Tickle the Public (1996), his lucid history of 100 years of the popular press – the hegemony over the market has been held, in turn, by the Daily Mail, the original popular newspaper of the late 19th century, and then the Daily Express, whose heyday was the 1930s-1950s.
After the second world war, the Daily Mirror caught the social democratic tide. It had entered the bloodstream of a generation whose service in the war prompted them to hope for a more equal society. Engel notes that the National Labour MP Harold Nicolson wrote in his diary before the 1945 election that “they say the Daily Mirror is responsible for this swing to Labour, having pandered to the men in the ranks and given them a general distrust of authority”. By the 1950s, it was outselling the Express, at its best hovering a little below 5m. The Mirror covered the news with much the same agenda as the upmarket papers. Sylvester Bolam, editor of the Mirror from 1948-1953, said it did so by “being sensationalist to the best of our ability. Sensationalism does not mean distorting the truth. It means the vivid and dramatic presentation of events.”