How time flies when you're having fun

To ancient Fleet Street gladiators filing into St Bride’s to celebrate the tercentenary of the first daily newspaper, 11 March 1702 seemed like only yesterday.

Whoever would have guessed that the Daily Courant was blazing a trail for the Currant Bun?

At the lectern, the founder (of the Currant not the Courant) was duly serious about the great occasion. But Rupert Murdoch’s flagship was less reverent, identifying this as a gathering of "the massed ranks of journalism’s unwashed". Charming. The Sun went on to dedicate a spread to the good old, bad old days.

Starring legendary nutters, boozers and expenses abusers.

On such a day, readers deserved our heroic side. The News of the World bringing down Lord Archer. The Sunday Times thalidomide campaign. Mulholland of the Mail and Foster of the Sketch going to jail rather than betray sources. The Guardian versus Jonathan Aitken. The Express exposing Burgess and Maclean…

As the organ played Bach, sunshine reached in through antique glass, haloing publishers and editors for saintly service in the Street of Adventure.

Everyone seemed to know who everyone is or was, or might have been. They had hired each other and fired each other. Succeeded each other and preceded each other. Harried each other and married each other. Screwed each other and screwed each other.

The Prince of Wales was too well-mannered a guest to describe it as the Street of Shame.

Yet he must have seen his tormentors as though seated in the dock awaiting Judgement Day.

There was a hint of reproach in his message.

But it was served up as a series of interrogatories, borrowing the technique beloved of the Daily Mail (Can tomato soup give you a moustache?).

But unlike Mail questions, to which the answer is usually ‘No’, Charles was begging for ‘Yes’.

"Is confidence in the healthcare system not undermined by publicity given to what goes wrong rather than tiny miracles wrought day in day out?" And, in a reference to dutiful press attention to the establishment: "Is not the result that important parts of British life have become damaged because of the failings not of the institutions themselves but of individuals within them?"

Though aware of the lengths to which the press has gone to shield the young royals, the congregation was too well-mannered to respond: "Be grateful for small mercies."

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