The play, Ink, by James Graham offers a fascinating insight into the demise of the Daily Mirror and the rise of the Sun newspaper.
Owned by IPC, which also owned the Mirror and other titles, the Sun had made unspectacular progress since its launch in 1964. However, in 1969, Rupert Murdoch decided to buy the title. It was his entry point into the British newspaper market.
The play focuses on what happens, as Murdoch appoints former Mirror man Larry Lamb as editor. An anything goes approach to news, which effectively had a dumbing down effect on the whole newspaper industry ensued.
The Mirror, under its legendary editor Hugh Cudlipp, was viewed as the ideal of what a tabloid newspaper should be, standing up for the mass of people against injustice, yet also witty entertaining and informative. Cudlipp’s Mirror caught the spirit of Britain in the post war years.
Ink is an entertaining play with dark humour, illuminated by some excellent performances, especially from Bertie Carvel as Rupert Murdoch and Richard Coyle as Larry Lamb.
The play reminded me of John Pilger’s documentary Breaking the Mirror the Murdoch Effect (1998). I was fortunate enough to work on that program, which told the story of the Mirror and the damaging arrival of the Sun on the scene. Pilger’s programme was uncannily accurate in providing a critique of the Sun.
The ensuing years have seen the phone hacking scandal and other instances of journalism being drawn into the gutter. This form of journalism has in many ways led to the post truth world and fake news.
For a brief period in the early noughties under the editorship of Piers Morgan, the Mirror did try to return to its basic principals. Pilger, Foot and others came back, the readership responded positively but sadly the owners were not prepared to give the experiment time and normal service – as it had then become – was soon resumed.
The halcyon days of the Mirror when it boasted the likes of Pilger, Paul Foot and Keith Waterhouse seem long since past. The present day incarnation of the Mirror does a reasonable job in keeping the red flag flying in a largely blue market but it is a pale shade of what went before.
Certainly today, we could do with a decent newspaper with the values of the old Mirror, prepared to stand up for working people against injustice. Such a publication would nowdays no doubt have online as well as a print presence but it would surely succeed if tried.
*Ink finished its run at the Almeida theatre on Saturday, it transfers to the Duke of York’s theatre on 9 September, running until 6 January