- Plant Here the ‘Standard’ by Dennis Griffiths
Macmillan, 417 pp, £35.00, November 1995, ISBN 0 333 55565 1
Evening newspapers are an endangered species. When I started out as a journalist in 1958, there were not only three in London but three in New York as well. Today each of these cities can boast just one, with Washington, since the death of the Washington Star in 1981, possessing none at all. It is, therefore, a bold and defiant moment to produce an elaborate house history of one of the few survivors of a declining newspaper art-form – at least in the English-speaking world.
Vol. 18 No. 6 · 21 March 1996
In his review of my book Plant Here the Standard (LRB, 25 January), Anthony Howard writes: ‘in 1916 the decision was finally taken by the Standard’s new owner, Sir Edward Hulton, to end its 60-year career as a morning paper.’ Not so. In May 1915, Hulton purchased only the Evening Standard from Davison Dalziel. He did not buy the Standard. Davison Dalziel retained ownership of the Standard until the paper was put up for auction on 23 February 1916. With no buyers, the paper – thanks to a group of Cardiff businessmen – struggled on for a further three weeks before ceasing publication on 17 March. Sir Edward Hulton was not involved.
Howard also claims that Beaverbrook ‘took a particular interest in its strongest regular feature, Londoner’s Diary (his own invention)’. Not so. Londoner’s Diary was introduced into the Evening Standard by A.H. Mann, editor 1915-19. Beaverbrook did not assume ownership until 1923.
Howard’s ‘principal criticism of this house history has to be that it does not give anything like full credit to Beaverbrook. It is easy to understand the dilemma in which a house-trained author may find himself; the paper is after all today (and has been since 1985) the sole property of Associated Newspapers, the company now controlled by the third Viscount Rothermere – and no proud proprietor likes to see too much praise being given to a predecessor. Nevertheless, to speak of the present Lord Rothermere – or, worse, of Sir Jocelyn Stevens or the late Lord (“Whelks”) Matthews – in the same tone of voice as Beaverbrook is a substantial affront to natural justice.’ Within a text of 376 pages, Beaverbrook is featured on 108 pages, some 29 per cent. This hardly smacks of not giving Beaverbrook ‘anything like full credit’. After all, the book, covering a period of more than three hundred years, is a history of the Evening Standard, and not a biography of Beaverbrook.
Plant Here the Standard is not a ‘house history’ as Howard claims. It is not the history of the ‘house’ of Beaverbrook or Rothermere but of one newspaper – decades in the making, owned by many and read by millions. As for Howard’s allegation of the ‘house-trained author’, I have never worked for Associated Newspapers. When I was production director of the Evening Standard, I also held a similar role for the Daily Express, Sunday Express and Daily Star – all as an employee of either Beaverbrook Newspapers or Express Newspapers. The book was commissioned by Macmillan, following my editorship of the Encyclopedia of the British Press for that company, and almost ten years after I had left Fleet Street. I should add that, in the writing of the Evening Standard history, I was accorded every courtesy and consideration from past and present editors, proprietors, management, journalists and others – and was in no way pressured to put in or leave out any material. And the result is mine, and mine alone.