By J. W. M. THOMPSON
THERE seemed something distinctly sheepish about the Guardian's transfer this week of its main editorial office from Cross Street, Man- chester, to Gray's Inn Road, London. The em- barrassment is easy to understand. Of course, the move south is only the natural next step after the earlier decisions to abbreviate the venerated old title of Manchester Guardian and print the paper simultaneously in London and Manchester. Nevertheless, the thought of a wave of northern disapproval of this latest break with the sturdily provincial past cannot have been pleasing. It is not forgotten how the more resolutely Lan- castrian of the Guardian's readers hated to see the name of their formidable city disappear for what they suspected were mercenary and possibly snobbish reasons.
The transfer was announced in defensive lan- guage: The advantages of detachment from the capital are great, and the decision to move the main editorial office has been taken reluctantly. It would be foolish, however, not to recognise now that the job can be done more easily and efficiently in London.' This is obviously true today: although C. P. _ Scott, who for part of his long editorship had to combine his duties as a Member of Parliament with his direction of the paper, evidently thought otherwise in his time.
The fact is, however, that of late the Guardian had made much of the need to stop the drift to the south—an admirable campaign in itself, but one which was not helpful in seeking to justify the paper's own recruitment to the migrant forces. It is as if a total-abstinence reformer were • to be discovered slinking out of a pub with an armful of whisky bottles. Recently the Guardian has been publishing a series of articles under the heading, 'Moving out of London.' These have reported approvingly on the experiences of firms which have made the effort to transplant them- selves outside the metropolitan congestion. By rather pleasing timing, the last article in this series appeared on Monday—the first day on which 'London' superseded 'Manchester' under the Guardian's title. Mr. Alastair Hetherington, the editor, clearly decided that this needed some comment. He printed a leading article explaining that although most of the firms investigated had no regrets at having left London, 'for some kinds of activity the need to operate in the national capital is inescapable (as this newspaper has reluctantly discovered): The repetition of the word 'reluctantly' is interesting. Fleet Street is crowded with provincial journalists who have joined the drift to London without any dis- cernible reluctance at all, but evidently the Guardian men are of a different stamp. They. dream of Salford and Moss Side. One sighs for the rigorous sense of duty which has exiled them
from their beloved haunts. •
One also wonders whether the Guardian edited from Gray's Inn Road will be a different news- paper from the Guardian edited from Cross Street—and whether it may not be a better one. What has made the paper, with all its virtues and talents, a sometimes disappointing publica- tion in recent years has been a sort of editorial flabbiness. According to one no doubt frivolous conjecture, this can be blamed upon the dreadful. number of hours Mr. Hetherington has had to spend in trains between Manchester and London. This disability has now been, if not removed, at
any rate substantially reduced. All journalists (among a great many others) will wish the paper well in its new phase, anyhow.
The Guardian noted that its circulation stood at about 220,000 before the start of the London printing in 1961, and averaged 263,000 in 1963. The Evening Standard, always eager to keep its readers informed of such matters, indicated that the 1963 figure in fact was arrived at thus: for the first six months, 266,000; for the second six months, 261,000.
In the last three months the Observer has had more political correspondents than most serious newspapers have in a decade. First of all, Mark Arnold-Forster departed abruptly and to wide- spread mystification among his colleagues. (He is now with the Guardian.) Almost at once, re- ports that Hurricane Flora had been detected among the glens of Kinross and West Perthshire proved to have some substance: Randolph Churchill was up there, representing the Observer at the Prime Minister's by-election. The Astor- Churchill alliance proved frail, however. Before long, Ivan Yates, of the Observer staff, was act- ing as the paper's political correspondent. This arrangement has now been changed in turn. Nora Beloff, who reported the Common Market nego- tiations for the Observer, has been appointed to the post.
A woman among the Lobby correspondents at Westminster is a rarity. There have been others-- Jennie Lee, MP, was one—but the female sex has made less progress in the Lobby than in either of the Houses of Parliament. I do not know whether this is because of conservatism in the Lobby or conservatism among the editors of newspapers.
The reason why the serious Sunday papers seldom change their political correspondents is obvious. These specialists make a distinctive and important contribution to the character of their newspapers. Their task of producing each weekend fresh news, plus a retrospective look at the week's events, is difficult, and the general level of their performance commands respect.
Just how difficult the task is was illustrated by the three serious papers last Sunday. Each printed a story on the question of whether or not Sir Alec Douglas-Home and Mr. Harold Wilson would take part in a television 'confronta- tion.' These were the stories:
SIR ALEC fo FACE WILSON ON TV. The Prime Minister has now decided . . . to appear on
television before the General Election in the same programme as Mr. Harold Wilson.— Observer Labour is pressing hard for a personal 'con- frontation'. . . along the lines of the Nixon- Kennedy television debates. . . But Sir Alec Douglas-Home has definitely rejected it in this form.—Sunday Telegraph.
No decision, I ani assured on excellent authority, has yet been taken.—Sunday Times. 'the dullest story of the three, without a doubt, was that in the Sunday Times. Sir Alec's own. comment, made within a few hours, suggested that it was also the correct account. The tedious liaison between dullness and the facts is, of course, one of the heavier burdens we journalists have to bear.