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Local newspaper reinstates 'Sir' to letters page after reader backlash over decision to drop traditional greeting

A weekly newspaper in Oxfordshire has reversed its decision to drop the traditional “Sir” greeting on published letters following a reader backlash.

Henley Standard editor Simon Bradshaw said last week that the paper would stop using “Sir” at the start of letters after reader Liz Hatch wrote in to object to the “outdated and archaic tradition”.

The greeting is commonly used on the letters pages of a number of national news publications, such as the Times, Telegraph, Spectator and Private Eye, although some titles have already dropped it.

Scroll down for table on “Sir” use in national titles

Bradshaw made the U-turn after 11 readers pleaded with him in the latest edition of the paper to keep to tradition and let them use “Sir” as “a manner of respectful address, appropriate to the gender concerned”.

In letters, also published online on Monday, one reader described the salutation as “beautifully old-fashioned” and “should not be removed”.

Another, themselves a journalist, said they were “saddened” the Standard “would amend its editorial policy because one reader was ‘offended'”.

A third wrote: “What utter tosh! How does writing a correctly addressed formal letter constitute sexism?”

They added: “I am offended by this nonsense and further offended that you should even consider giving the concept credibility…

“For the sake of the sanity of all level-headed people, please consign this ridiculous artifice to the bin, where it rightfully belongs.”

Bradshaw responded: “Thank you, all, for your intelligent and witty contributions. At the risk of reoffending Liz Hatch, I have now decided to heed the advice and leave it up to correspondents to decide whether to address me as ‘Sir’ or not and will publish their letters accordingly.

“I will also be happy to allow the debate to continue.”

Bradshaw said previously the Henley Standard, which is owned by the Higgs Group, had “merely stuck with convention”.

He wrote last week: “Letter writing is such a traditional practice that our use of ‘Dear Sir’ has always seemed appropriate, especially as I am male.

“Plus this is a local paper, so many of our readers are known to us and many regular contributors know who they are addressing.

“However, in the interests of causing as little offence as possible, from next week we will drop ‘Sir’ and I would ask other readers to please note this.”

Reporting the U-turn, The Times said today it has “no plans to change” how its own letters are addressed, saying they have begun with “Sir” since the newspaper was first published as The Daily Universal Register in 1785.

The Financial Times dropped “Sir” from its letters page in April last year despite having a male editor, calling the tradition “old-fashioned”.

The Guardian scrapped “Sir,” back in 1988 and two years ago urged readers not to use the masculine term to address their letters after Katharine Viner became editor-in-chief, calling it an “archaic convention”.

The Economist stopped using “Sir” with the appointment of Zanny Minton Beddoes as editor in 2015.

Table: Which national publications use “Sir” on letters page?

“Sir” No “Sir”
Times Financial Times
Telegraph Guardian
Private Eye Economist
Spectator Daily Mail
Daily Express
Sun
New Statesman
Daily Mirror

Comments

2 thoughts on “Local newspaper reinstates 'Sir' to letters page after reader backlash over decision to drop traditional greeting”

  1. Well done Mr Bradshaw, and by the by there’s a name that even sounds Editorial, “Mr Bradshaw”, I’d like to buy him a snifter, if only so that I could utter, “Down the hatch old boy, down the hatch”.

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