You have only to look at certain blue-rinsed American matrons to
realise that facelifts do not always improve appearances. If there is a shortage of blue-rinsed American matrons, then all you have to do is look at the London Evening News.
This esteemed journal was revamped recently, coming out as a tabloid on September 16. Only my innate kindness of character has made me refrain until now from commenting on the operation. But six weeks is long enough. I can no longer hold my peace.
If I were asked to sum up the new look in a word, there is no doubt in
my mind which word I would have to use. 'Mess,' with a capital 'M. The paper looks as though it is printed on sensitised toilet paper. The clash between the type face used for the masthead and that used for the page one headline is such that I can only conclude that people like Allen Hutt and Stanley Morrison lived and died in vain.
The idea that classified ads should run right through the middle of the paper may have some thinking behind it, though damned if I can work out what it might be. Its only effect is to make me think I've got to the end of the
paper when I'm really only halfwaY through. No, I tell a lie. There is one other effect: it is to make it verV hard for the News's journalists to spot their own contributions.
The new look was conceived, as is always the case, by a team of
geniuses. No one ever explains, though, what it is they are geniuses at; certainly not newspaper make up. Those of us who are old enough to remember a paper called the Sun, which was "born of the age we live in," can only ask ourselves, "When will they ever learn?.
Several months were spent on preparing the dummies for the tabloid. It was done in absolute secrecy: for instance, the office where the whizz-kids were had its windows papered over just in case any working journalist might get an inkling of what was going on. Advertisers and the like were shown dummies ages before the launch. The lads who were actuallY
going to write the bloody thing were, as usual, left in the dark. ThiS is called planning. And though, as have said, months of work went into preparing issue No. 1 of the tabloid version, nobody seems to have given much thought to issues Nos. 2 and after.
There were the usual cock-uPs' An article on spare-part surgery — 'new kidneys for old' sort of thing — unfortunately came out with the„ phrase "Spare-time surgery, , which put me irresistibly in mind 01 that celebrated Goon, Colonel Gritpyppe-Thynne, the well-knovill amateur brain surgeon. As the adjoining column was given overt° a picture of a man with a knife
chasing a girl, that impression was heavily reinforced.
But then things like that happen even in the best-regulated families. And newspapers are not just bundles of presentation. They also contain content. Which is really what one should judge them by. So how does the new News rate there? The answer is . . not bad at all. There is no doubt that it is now a good read. Its feature writing is excellent, its news coverage is much improved, and the tabloid format does seem to have sharpened everything up. It is almost as though the old broadsheet size gave the subs the idea there was plenty of room to let stories ramble on, whereas the tabloid size obviously says, "Look, I'm little. Get down to the brass tacks, will you?"
The biggest change of all, though, is in the leading articles. The News is, of course, a Harmsworth publication, and since the Honourable Vere is not noted for leanings to the left, one ' might expect the leaders to be more or less straight Tory propaganda. Not a bit of it. Listen to this on October 9: ". . . on the eve of polling day we must put this crucial question: who can lead us through the crisis? After the deepest and most earnest consideration we have to say that it cannot be Mr Heath." Only a few days before that, the leading article had been saying: ". . . A GOVERNMENT OF NATIONAL UNITY led by Ted Heath? That is clearly not on." On October 2 the paper declared: "Addressing constituents in Brighton, Mr Julian Amery utters what must be the most unhelpful remark of the October election campaign. He says that if Labour win, Mr Wilson will
be 'bundled out of office by Hugh Scanlon, and by the mafia of militants' in a Portuguese-style coup. What inflammatory nonsense! What divisive twaddle! Is Mr Amery serious? Or merely bankers?"
Now you must admit that is pretty bracing stuff, and very different from the mumbled cotton-wool that used to pass for leading articles in the News. But there is more. On October 1 the leader made a distinctly proletarian statement: "The poor, like the weather, are always with us. And, to our lasting shame, the gap between them and the rich remains as wide as ever. So says a plainspoken report published today. It is called Unequal Britain and it costs just 50p. It should be required reading wherever the privileged few are gathered together. In the quadrangles of Eton. In White's Club. In the lobby of the Savoy. In the City. In the precious corridors
of Whitehall." bet that got Mr Vere Harmsworth a few dirty looks. In the quadrangles of Eton. In White's Club. In the lobby of the Savoy. And elsewhere.
What I'm saying is a qualified "Hooray!" The News is now worth reading. If the editor, Mr Lou Kirby, late of the Mail, can only get the front page right, and do something about those classified ads, he will really be doing the state some service. For too long the paper was a great, grey mass that used to sell about three times as many as the Evening Standard without having any of the virtues of that sharp, production. It is now very much a competitor. And nobody who cares about newspapers can say that is a bad thing.
P.S. A little bird has just flown in
and told me that the Times has decided to come out in favour of Sir Christopher Soames as the new leader of the Tory Party. The decision is entirely that of the editor, William Rees-Mogg, who thereby proves once again that he has no political judgement worth talking about. His staff are beginning to think Mr Rees-Mogg isn't worth talking about either. Sir Christopher is undoubtedly a nice man, speaks fluent French (as was shown a few years ago when his decision to talk in that language caused a diplomatic incident), is overweight (physically, not politically), is related by marriage to 'Winston, is a confirmed Marketeer, and has absolutely nothing else to commend him. Further reports on the imminent mutiny of the lads who write the paper for Top People will be hurried to you as soon as possible.