Friday 16 July 2010

Sex, violence, religion and nuns with guns: How Fleet Street newspapers used to sell in millions

Tom Mangold on Gentlemen Ranters today remembers his time on the Sunday Pictorial, which later became the Sunday Mirror, in the glory days of Fleet Street as the editor, Colin Valdar, aimed to push sales up above six million.

Mangold recalls: "One day, Colin Valdar called a conference and asked for ideas for a centre-page picture spread. ‘We’re going for six million this week, Cudlipp’s on my back. I need a great spread with sex, violence and religion.’ Frank Charman, chief photographer took over.

‘What about a sexy nun, Colin?’

‘OK, Frank, where’s the violence?’ Silence.

‘Goddit,’ yelled Frank, ‘I know of a convent in the midlands where the nuns go pigeon shooting.’

‘Christ,’ shouted Valdar, nearly biting through the stem of his invariable pipe. ‘That’s it.’ He seized a layout pad and slashed at it with a red pencil. He gave the picture most of the space, with room for a tiny bit of copy, but it was the headline that glued eyeballs to paper: NUN WITH A GUN."

  • Mangold's anecdote is part of a Ranter series on legendary Sunday Pictorial reporter Harry Procter. His review of Procter's book Street of Disillusion is reprinted from the British Journalism Review.
  • Colin Valdar went on to launch and edit the UK Press Gazette.

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