It was, I thought, much as I expected. Naked breasts and (almost) bare bums all over page 3, a three-in-a-bed story across 6 and 7 – "Lap-dance stunners tell of star’s night of lust" – and, on a later spread, "all-night raunchy romps" under the headline "Sex-mad Gaby’s a gold medal gymnast in my bed!" One could have predicted the editorial mix that "adult magazine" publisher Richard Desmond would put before what he hoped was a public panting with anticipation for the first ever Sabbath issue of the Daily Star.
But hold on. This isn’t the Daily Star Sunday. It’s The People, the title that was launched 121 years ago next month and became famed for its investigative journalism and superb sports coverage. Some mistake, surely? Alas, I think not. Last weekend’s issue of The People, with which editor Neil Wallis was presumably getting in his retaliation first, simply showed just how rattled some of the Star’s rivals were by the prospect of the first new Sunday title to be launched since the rather more salubrious Sunday Correspondent in 1989.
Over at the News of the World, it was pretty much business as usual: more sex than you could wade through in Wellingtons, plus a 24-page extra, The Ultimate Body, which carried the coverline "All about bums". The front-page blurb for this featured a bare-bummed, bare-chested – admittedly somewhat quashed, as she was sprawled face down – blonde.
The Sunday Mirror, which has been suffering from a severe case of split personality since it followed its big daily sister in discarding its red masthead, splashed on a Michael Barrymore story, as did The People and the NoW. The Mirror then featured a bikini-clad Tamzin Outhwaite on page 3, a War on Terror spread over 6 and 7, lots of celebrity fodder and a bare-breasted model on page 39. Admittedly, there was a legitimate news reason to use the boob shot: the models at a Spanish fashion show "paraded as if they were the victims of terrorist kidnappers", although it may come as news to terrorists that potential female kidnap victims wear nothing above the waist.
But the fact remains – and you may be ahead of me here – that last Sunday only one of the popular tabloids failed to publish a picture of a bare-breasted woman. Yes, it was the blokes’ own paper, the so-down-market-it’s-outasight Star on Sunday. Indeed, compared with The People and the NoW, the Star was positively decorous. Wall-to-wall celebrities, of course, most of whom, not being an avid watcher of television soap operas, I did not recognise. A wacky but irresistible spread on "a crazy new sport – extreme ironing". A few jokes, a spread on female stars’ hats – I kid you not – and some terrific pictures of the traffic-
stopping TV star Cat Deeley in the centre.
Indeed, the paper very much followed the promise of editor Hugh Whittow, who wrote in an introductory piece on page 2: "Millions of you already enjoy our successful recipe. And that is why we are opening the restaurant seven days a week." The Star Sunday is very much a Sabbath menu from the cafÅ½ where the lads get tea and crumpet on the other six days. The short-order cooks are the same. They are just tossing a few more chips into the pan.
Running on a staff so slim you’d have trouble seeing it if it turned sideways enables the Star to sell at 35p – 30p cheaper than the other three populars. Its first issue offered less: 72 newsprint pages against the NoW’s 112, the Sunday Mirror’s and The People’s 96, plus a magazine slimmer than those in the NoW and the Mirror, but with the same pagination as The People.
And its in-paper sports coverage, despite claiming to be "unrivalled" in running reports on every Premiership and League Saturday matches, is skimpy compared with the others, especially that of The People. By gambling on sport being the component that can see off the threat the Star obviously poses, the struggler among the Sunday popular tabloids has produced The SP, a lively and comprehensive pull-out sports package that should appeal to those who get their kicks from kicks rather than slap and tickle.
Will it be enough to repel boarders as the Star fires its broadsides at almost half the price? Or can the Star become the first seven-day paper properly to succeed (I was at the helm of the similarly constructed Sunday Today when, after a year of heavy seas, it finally foundered)?
I think perhaps it could. I have no idea how many copies of his new venture Richard Desmond needs to sell to turn an honest shilling, but he has said that the paper is primarily aimed at the considerable slice of the population that has not taken, until now, a Sunday newspaper. Whether or not the young audience – almost exclusively male – that has taken the Daily Star bosoms to their own will be bothered to clamber from their beds to get a breasts-free Sunday fix remains to be seen. But don’t bet against it; nor against some cost-conscious likely lads switching from the NoW or People to save the cost of a packet of salt ‘n’ vinegar.
We’ll see. Until then, I’ll leave you with what were, for me, a plus and a minus of the launch issue. An undoubted plus, for which I thank it most sincerely, is that I did not know until I read a first column by Helen Chamberlain ("The TV soccer girl with loads of balls!") that there is a footballer currently playing for Wycombe named Jermaine McSporran. Perhaps his parents were hooked on repeats of The Goon Show.
And the minus? Helen Chamberlain’s overall debut, from which I quote a choice intro: "What’s the deal with tinned tomatoes, eh? I have issues with them that I need to share with you." Not with me, Helen. I don’t have the balls for it.
Last Sunday only one of the popular tabloids failed to publish a picture of a bare-breasted woman. Yes, it was the blokes’ own paper, the so-downmarket-it’s-outasight Star on Sunday
Since my last Medialand column, Press Gazette reported that the magazine In Style had "lured" More! editor Tammy Butt to be its new deputy editor. In welcoming her, In Style editor Louise Chunn said that Butt had experience at the "coalface" of celebrity journalism.
Uh, huh. Presumably that’s a journalistic coalface similar to the frontline slit trench of restaurant reviewing and the unexploded bomb disposal unit of theatre criticism, both of which I have experienced. God, it’s hell out there.
If I were the unworldly Ms Chunn, I wouldn’t for a while consider wandering unprotected among my redundant miner mates in the North East. n
Bill Hagerty is editor of the British Journalism Review