INSERT EGG PUN HERE

EggsIf only we could blame it on the EU or Muslims – I suspect that was the first thought that entered the heads of Mail and Telegraph journos when it was pointed out that the word ‘Easter’ had been quietly dropped from the branding on boxes containing the springtime produce of the chocolate manufacturers. It would certainly chime with some of the silliest Brussels directives of recent years, ones concerning new specifications over the size of sausages, ones that prompt Sun campaigns to ‘save the British Banger’ and so on. It would also fit the classic Fleet Street Islamic narrative of Loony Left local councils banning Christmas decorations on the grounds that they might offend the non-Christian community. Alas, no. This particular move appears to have come from the chocolate companies themselves.

Nestlé deny there has been a deliberate decision to drop the word Easter from their produce this time of year, but it has disappeared none the less, just as it has from the eggs sold by their rival Cadbury. Is this a sinister conspiracy to erase the key word from a Great British Tradition? I don’t think so; it probably has more to do with the fact that businesses – which is, lest we forget, what Nestlé and Cadbury are – have merely picked up on which way the popular wind is blowing and have gone with the secular flow.

The front cover of the Radio Times – in many respects an unsung barometer of the zeitgeist – this week displays a cartoon bunny. When I was a child, the cover of the Easter issue would always be graced with religious imagery; at one time, I suspect only Father Christmas had appeared on more RT front covers than Jesus. The programming on the BBC reflected the roots of the Easter festival as well; aside from the token church services, I remember seeing the enjoyably kitsch 1973 movie of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ on BBC1 at Easter 1979, and even ITV exhibited a reverence for the Christian tradition by spending a fortune on ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, its epic retelling of the Christ legend with Robert Powell in the title role.

After donning a turban for a visit to a Sikh temple in order to win the ‘ethnic vote’ during the last General Election, David Cameron then went on to nail his colours to the Church of England mast in stressing Britain was still a Christian country. On paper, yes it is; but it’s not the Christian Britain I had shoved down my throat in early schooldays, when assemblies would be dominated by the RE teacher reading a Biblical fable, and the entire class would have to close its eyes and recite the Lord’s Prayer in unison at the end of every day before being allowed to leave at 3.30. It’s not even the Christian Britain that marked Harvest Festival with each pupil bringing a tin of food to school that would then be distributed to the pensioners of the parish. I’m not up to speed on the curriculum these days, but perhaps if such a ritual still exists it now bears a name of something like The Non-Denominational, All-Inclusive Multi-Faith Festival?

While the likelihood of a ‘Jihadi Egg’ being manufactured in the shape of a severed head and featuring a cartoon incarnation of a sword-wielding ISIS assassin on the packaging is probably a step too far even for the paranoid fantasies of a right-wing tabloid editor, the removal of a word that a Nestlé spokesman says is so associated with chocolate eggs that it’s no longer necessary to put it on the box isn’t quite the end of the world as we know it. One could argue the disappearance of references to a religious festival from something so frivolous should enhance the presumed dignity of the occasion rather than detract from it.


THE INDEPENDENT (1986-2016)

Indy

Thirty years ago, I bought the first issue of a new national newspaper; today, I bought the last. Yes, the Independent remains an online presence, but it’s not quite the same, is it? I don’t buy a paper often, but when I do, I tend to opt for the Indy; the content always seemed well-balanced between left and right to me, attempting to navigate a middle ground where other papers are incurably partisan, something I found refreshing. But what I really liked about the Independent, a factor it will be impossible to reproduce online, was the design of the front cover.

A cover featuring a single image was pioneered by the Daily Mirror at the turn of the twentieth century, when the Times famously featured classified ads on its cover. Ever since it adopted this eye-catching tactic for major news stories, the Independent has stood out from the other cluttered covers on the newsstands, in which a hysterical headline is hemmed-in by free gift offers, quotes from a columnist whose column features inside, and photos of celebrity fashion faux-pas. By its very nature, an online newspaper’s homepage is cluttered, with the need to include links to every section. The single image that gave the print edition of the Independent’s front cover its aesthetic uniqueness cannot have the same impact when viewed on a monitor or a mobile.

The paper may be moving with the times, but by doing so it has undoubtedly lost something special in the process. The Independent stood out from its competitors in the newsagents, but it won’t online. It can’t.

© The Editor

OUT OF PRINT

PapersThe announcement that the Independent has just a month remaining as a physical newspaper and will henceforth only exist in its online incarnation has been met with shoulder-shrugging resignation by some as a sign of the times, which indeed it is. The paper, like many of its competitors such as the Guardian, is operating at a loss where its print edition is concerned, one that will never be recouped. After thirty years as a newsstand alternative, the paper will disappear forever in a handful of weeks, and chances are it’ll be followed be others over the next few years.

In the same way that monochrome and colour TV sets once shared the nation’s living rooms between them, print and online versions of newspapers have coexisted for a decade now, with the latter gradually winning not so much the established readership, but a new and younger one that would never dream of picking up a physical paper. One could take the viewpoint that it’s an arrogant assumption on the part of the publishers that everyone not only has access to the internet, but that everyone would prefer to read their news via that medium. On the other hand, why should Fleet Street proprietors, for all their wealth, continue to print vast copies of print editions when so few people are buying them? A physical paper is now an object with a cult following; the masses have rejected it.

An important downside to this cyber future for the press is the fact that fewer journalists will be required to contribute to it. The editor of the Independent has not shied away from the fact that redundancies will be inevitable when the paper ceases to be printed; dozens of respected specialist writers have already lost their jobs with prominent titles over the past couple of years. A cost-cutting exercise, no doubt, but a newspaper is only ever as good as the sum of its parts, and when journalists with experience stretching back decades are sent packing, the pages their prose has graced lose something that no media-savvy intern who sources all his scoops from his mobile can replace.

Physical newspapers have been such a key part of the British way of life for so long – in their earliest form, stretching all the way back to the seventeenth century – that at one time it would have been hard to imagine the British way of life without them. Like most, I grew up in a household that received at least one paper on a daily basis; in our house, it was the Daily Mirror on a morning and the local rag on an evening; on a Sunday, it was the turn of the Sunday Mirror and the News of the World, as well as the Sunday Times or Telegraph on occasions when my father was indulging in some social-climbing.

Whilst I had little interest in the headlines as a child, it was a different matter where the comic strips were concerned. The Mirror had The Larks, The Fosdyke Saga, Andy Capp and Garth, while the Yorkshire Evening Post had Marmaduke and Alfie Apple. I used to cut some of them out before the papers were dumped in the dustbin the next morning and stick them in a book. You do stuff like that when you’re a kid. The tabloids also had photos of scantily-clad pretty girls, introducing me to the delights of the female form; some might say that aspect of the dailies has dated, but the Mail online is notorious for its sidebar of shame, so what’s really changed?

One could use the argument often used for music, that there’s no difference between downloading online and buying a CD, other than the fact few pay for the privilege when it comes to the former. It’s all just music, innit? But just as there is a growing audience with a newfound appreciation for vinyl and the wonderful work of art that was the LP, there remains something special about a physical newspaper that we will never see again if it disappears. For many years, broadsheet veterans such as the Times had front covers consisting of classified ads rather than news, something that seems bizarre now; but the newspaper front cover from when a major event occurs is still a snapshot of history that online editions couldn’t compete with.

I’ve bought many of them at the time, from 9/11 to the death of David Bowie, with the oldest in my possession being the Mirror from the day after John Lennon was murdered in 1980. Perhaps the fact the newspapers unavoidably report news from yesterday as opposed to today has also played its part in their downfall, especially at a time of instant, 24-hour media when any breaking story can be accessed online within minutes of it happening. On the other hand, detachment from an event, even if only that of a day, can sometimes give one a clearer perspective than an immediate report that merely states speculation.

Even without the arrival of the internet, advances in print technology had already altered the look and feel of newspapers with such speed that it almost feels now that each gimmick was one more last throw of the dice. Colour first appeared on a regular basis with Today, the long-gone tabloid that debuted the same year as the Independent, and digital printing called time on the inky fingers that were part and parcel of the reading experience as well as the chip shop one. If the fate that awaits the Independent is the way of the newspaper future, I fear the diminishing standards of print journalism will cost the non-physical editions dear when read alongside cyber journals of a far higher standard such as Spiked. The writing isn’t on the wall, it’s online.

ERIC LUBBOCK (1928-2016)

LubbockWhile the Profumo affair is widely regarded as the final nail in the coffin for the Conservative administration of Harold Macmillan, there were warning signs that the end was nigh even before Supermac’s Minister for War took a shine to a high-class call-girl. The year before, the Government had suffered a humiliating defeat at a by-election in Orpington, Kent, where it was defending a healthy majority of 14,760. One of the greatest upsets in British electoral history occurred when the seat was sensationally won by the Liberals, with local councillor Eric Lubbock sweeping his Tory opponent aside and ending up with a majority of 7,855. The shock victory shook Macmillan so much that a few months later he axed half his Cabinet in the so-called ‘Night of the Long Knives’.

Lubbock held the seat until the 1970 General Election, but found himself in the Lords a year later when he inherited the title of Baron Avebury; he remained there for the rest of his life, surviving the cull of hereditary peers in 1999. His death yesterday at the age of 87 brings to an end the political career of the longest-serving Lib Dem peer, one marked by a dedication to human rights issues – including seeking a review of the Timothy Evans case two years before Evans received a posthumous pardon. Lubbock was unconventional for a parliamentarian in that his religious beliefs embraced Buddhism and humanism, playing a part in the abolition of the blasphemous libel law; he also possessed a welcome sense of humour, once offering his cremated remains to Battersea Dogs Home.

One of the more likeable grandees of the Lords, Lubbock’s greatest impact on British politics may have been that astonishing achievement at Orpington 54 years ago, but it remains the yardstick by which subsequent by-election shocks have been measured ever since. And that’s not a bad mark to have made.

© The Editor