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20 June 2020

Three Score Years and Ten

Tag(s): History, Languages & Culture
The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
Psalm 90:10 King James Version
Last week I celebrated my 70th birthday. I had intended a large-scale celebration but in the circumstances it was only possible for my wife and me to have a catered lunch in our garden. I had asked that people didn’t give me presents because I have enough clutter as it is, but of course I couldn’t stop my wife and immediate family. My children each gave me a very nice present as well as jointly giving me a book containing the front page of a daily newspaper for each birthday of my life. This is actually quite an odd idea in some ways because, of course, the morning newspaper of your birthday is reporting not what happened on that day but what happened in the days beforehand. Nevertheless, it is an interesting collection even if it was the Daily Mirror which I must confess to having rarely read.

I have found it quite fascinating to see how much the newspaper has changed in that time. In 1950 it cost one penny, there were seven stories with three pictures on the front page as well as an advertisement for Guinness. There were over a thousand words. In 2019 it cost 80p, or 16 shillings in old money. By my calculation that’s an increase of 3233.33%. There was just one story with a huge headline covering half the page, 1/3 of the page had a reference to the Premier League fixtures which were published inside and there were just 71 words of editorial. In the 1950 edition the stories covered the case of two girls who did not want to be returned to their mother despite her appeal; a sow had committed suicide by jumping into a pond; Women’s Institutes demanded a ban on celluloid toys; the current Wimbledon champion dropped his racket in a warmup tournament; there were stories on developments in food rationing; a dispute over the  dispersal of a gift of apples given by Canada; and the news that Dennis Compton would be back playing cricket next month after an operation on his right knee. The pictures were of the tennis player and of a lady at Royal Ascot who was wearing a hat as is normal but was also carrying a second.

In 1951 among seven stories on the front page of the Mirror, now 1 1/2d, the most interesting was the report from French police that the two missing British diplomats Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess were behind the Iron Curtain. They had been missing for some time and the search for them had been described as the search of the century.

In 1952 came the rather alarming story that Napalm rockets were ready in Korea.

14 June 1953 was a Sunday and the whole front page of the Sunday Pictorial was given over to Edmund Hillary’s own story as he returned to base camp from his historic climb to the summit of Mount Everest. There is even a picture of Hillary and Tensing on the top of Everest but of course it couldn’t be a photograph as there was no third person to take that, so it was a painting!

1954 tells of two Siamese twins who were successfully separated but still fretted for each other and needed to share the same bed.

1955 talks of a rail strike in which negotiations were so delicate that Sir Walter Monckton, Minister of Labour, asked for a debate not to take place in the House of Commons to avoid upsetting the talks.

In 1956 there was just one story with huge headlines reporting the rift between Queen Juliana of Holland and her husband Prince Bernhard. This led to a constitutional crisis but was resolved and the couple stayed together.

In 1957 there was just one story with huge headlines and a horrific photograph showing the aftermath of a bus crash in Oxford Street, London which caused the death of seven people. The advert shows Greens sponge mixture, which 30 years later I managed as General Manager of Greens of Brighton!

In 1958 the Mirror, now 2 1/2d, carries two stories. About 1/3 of the front page complains that the Home Secretary RA Butler had been sitting for nine months on the report of the Wolfenden Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution. The other 2/3 goes to the clearly more important story with photographs of a tennis player called Shirley Bloomer who lost her petticoat on No. 1 Court at Wimbledon.

In 1959 the main story on the front page of the Sunday Pictorial was that the Duke of Edinburgh, the President of the AA, had asked the police to launch a courtesy campaign following what was reported as a police versus motorist war. But the other third goes to a pinup of a girl water-skiing in a bikini.

In 1960 the whole of the front page, with an enormous headline and not even any advertising, is given over to the story of the husband of 19 found shot dead by his wife of 49 after just ten weeks of marriage.

In 1961 the Daily Mirror, now 3d, has mainly Page 1 Comment with the huge headline “Cold feet in the Cabinet” but also the rather interesting sub-headlines that “the government is still at sixes and sevens about the Common Market (so is the opposition) and asked whether Mr Macmillan (the Prime Minister) is afraid to decide because he fears a Tory split? Not much change there.

In 1962 the front page is given over to a problem of the British Army of the Rhine, reporting friction between the soldiers and the locals.

In 1963 the front page is given over to the Profumo scandal. Lord Hailsham, Lord President of the Council, in an interview on television had blazed with fury in an astonishing outburst saying "We have all been kicked in the stomach.” But the photograph is of Enoch Powell, Minister of Health, who apparently was considering resignation over Macmillan’s handling of the case.(In fact Powell declared confidence in Macmillan and stayed in post. But in October that year when Macmillan stepped down through ill health Powell backed RA Butler for the leadership. When Lord Home won the election Powell refused to swerve under him as a matter of conscience.)

The Sunday Pictorial was renamed the Sunday Mirror in 1963 and on June 14th 1964 it divided its front page between an editorial strongly criticising Sir Alec Douglas Home, the new Prime Minister, for the award of honours to several Conservative politicians who’d all been sacked in Harold Macmillan’s “Night of the Long Knives” in July 1962. The other half is an investigation into a man whose discotheque was a place where teenagers could buy drugs.

In 1965 the front page of the Daily Mirror, now 4d, hosts a strong editorial on the developments in Vietnam criticising President Lyndon B Johnson for his failure to understand what he was getting embroiled in. They respect him for his domestic policies considering them superior to those of John F. Kennedy but believe he is running the risk of World War. The rest is given over with a huge headline to a shocking story where a woman is accused of causing the death in a fire of a seven-year-old boy. The rest of the page features a meaningless celebrity story with a photograph.

In 1966 the front page is dominated by reports of attempts to stop a seamen’s strike. The photograph is of Billy Wright, the former England captain, who has just been fired as Arsenal’s manager.

In 1967 the Mirror, normally supportive of Harold Wilson’s government, attacked him for his inaccurate criticism of the Daily Express, a rival newspaper, which has been found to be inaccurate by a Privy Council review. The main story with an enormous headline covers a security scandal.

In 1968 the Daily Mirror, now 5d, gives most of its front page to both a report and an editorial on a Royal Commission report on Trade Unions. The report says that neither the trade unions nor the CBI are happy with the report, while the editorial is generally supportive of the Commission’s recommendations. There is also a small news item that the Tories have gained a Labour seat in a by-election in Oldham West with a swing of 17.7% from Labour.

In 1969 the front page primarily covers the passing of the Divorce Reform Bill which means that divorce by consent could be the law in 1970 (as it actually was). Basil d’ Oliveira, who had been at the centre of an apartheid furore,  is shown batting as he celebrated receiving the OBE in the Birthday Honours list with a half-century in the first Test against the West Indies.

In 1970 Enoch Powell again features on the front page of the Sunday Mirror as he gave another controversial speech on race just days before the General Election. In Page One Comment they confidently forecast that Ted Heath will not be moving in to Number 10 but he moved in less than a week later with a majority of 31 seats. In complete contrast fully 1/3 of the front page is given over to a model in a bikini.

In 1971 the Daily Mirror, now 2 1/2p in decimal currency,  shows a picture of a woman after giving birth to 9 babies in a Sydney hospital and for the first time part of the front page is given over to advertising features inside “Today’s Winning Mirror.”

In 1972 the Daily Mirror, now 3p, reports that Lord George–Brown, the former Labour Foreign Secretary and Deputy Leader, was breath-tested by police after his Daimler crashed into a wall. But the main story with the headline “Up and up and up and up” reports on another round of stiff price increases.

In 1973 the Daily Mirror, now claiming to have Europe’s biggest daily sale, covers car factory strikes and the confession by Lord Lambton of his drugs fetish which he shared with a call girl.

In 1974, with Harold Wilson back as Prime Minister, he is already facing a revolt from Labour MPs over the government’s plan for a massive increase in electricity charges. But the main story with a huge photograph features a young American woman who was Prince Charles’ guest to hear his maiden speech in the House of Lords. He proposed the creation of a Ministry of Leisure.

 In 1975 the Daily Mirror, now 5p, shows a three year old girl who’d been killed by an IRA bomb. The main story features both good and bad economic news – the good news is that Britain enjoyed a balance of payments surplus of £104 million in May; but the bad news is that inflation has hit 25%.

In 1976 the Daily Mirror, now 6p, again reports on the IRA who are extorting from Irish workers in the UK. A small story features hundreds killed in Uganda following an assassination attempt on Idi Amin. A small box reports “4-1 England Triumph. See Back Page”. England had beaten Finland 4-1 in a World Cup qualifying match. But England was not one of the ten European nations who eventually qualified for the 1978 World Cup won by the host nation, Argentina.

In 1977 the Daily Mirror, now 7p, gives most of the front page to the violence on a picket line outside a North London film processing plant. This was the famous Grunwick dispute that took two years to resolve. Most of the employees were South Asian women, some of whom had been expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin, but found London less than welcoming and were badly exploited.

In 1978 the Daily Mirror, now 8p, concentrates on a violent off the ball incident in an amateur rugby union match which resulted in conviction of the assailant for Grievous Bodily Harm.

In 1979, with 1/3 of the front page now given to references to inside articles, the main story with a massive headline is of a massive shopping spree as British shoppers rushed to beat VAT rises. This followed the Conservative Chancellor Geoffrey Howe’s first budget in the Margaret Thatcher government where he increased the standard rate of VAT from 8% to 15%.

In 1980 the Daily Mirror, now 10p, reports that, after hooligan behaviour by English fans in Italy for the Euros, the FA has been fined by UEFA. 

In 1981 the Sunday Mirror, now 22p, gives the whole of the front page to the awful moment when during the Trooping the Colour six shots were heard as the Queen rode her horse. The shots were blanks and a 17 year old youth was charged under the Treason Act.

in 1982, and this is where my point about a newspaper reports not what is happening that day but what has happened in the recent past becomes really interesting, the main story features 600 islanders trapped in a war zone on the Falklands. But actually on 14 June 1982 the Argentine commander surrendered. But nearly half of the front page has a picture of Princess Diana who with just a fortnight to go before her baby’s birth braved blustery weather to watch Prince Charles play polo at Windsor.

In 1983 the Daily Mirror, now 16p, reports that Roy Jenkins quits as SDP leader.

In 1984 the Mirror, now 17p, reports on the drama in the heart of London as a warship carrying Exocet missiles crashes into London Bridge.

Next week I will cover the second half of my three score years and ten.

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