It is one of the strangest tales of Blairite Britain-the Express is going left, young and up-market all at onceby Jean Seaton / October 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
Lord Hollick has a problem at the Express: my dad. I don’t suppose he will be losing much sleep about a nonagenarian retired butcher, even if he has been reading the paper since 1921. Nevertheless, the way my dad relates to a newspaper he has thought of as “his” for most of the 20th century might shed some light on the risky transplant operation which has been going on at the Express. Contemplating a venerable and ailing patient, Hollick has stuffed it with vital organs from every corner of what used to be known as Fleet Street. The question is whether the result will be a new lease of life, or a speedy demise.
My dad is a Beaverbrook man. He has always read the Express and the Evening Standard. Occasionally he reads the Mirror, and a raft of Sunday papers. My mother buys the Express every morning. Then my parents have a chat about the bits they have marked in it, for future reference. In my memories of childhood, tables always have old newspapers on them.
The most obvious thing which has been changing at the Express is the politics. Since he bought the paper in the early days of New Labour, Hollick has switched the paper from right to left. The shift has been fundamental, and for people like my dad, traumatic. (Hollick may have a problem with my mum, too, but as long as horrible crimes continue to be covered in detail, he will probably hang on to her.)
It is important to remember that in its heyday the Express did not strike the tremulously sour note which, after years of falling circulation, it acquired before the Hollick takeover. Robustly, it daily claimed to be “The Greatest Paper in the World,” and with a circulation close to 4m, high profits and a significant influence, the exaggeration seemed excusable. My dad was not exactly an average reader, but he was not atypical of a tribe that kept the home fires burning in two world wars, and nodded vigorously at references to Old Contemptibles, Dunkirk and the Blitz. He was certainly part of a key group-hereditary small business folk, suspicious of bureaucracy, law-abiding, yet living off their skills and wits-which formed a core element of the wide social sweep the Express addressed. The Express was big enough to accommodate rival points of view. Michael Foot, Tom Driberg and…