Remembering the News Chronicle

Sixty years ago today the great Liberal-supporting newspaper the News Chronicle disappeared despite boasting a circulation of more than a million – considerably more than some of today’s nationals.

On the morning of October 17 1960 – “Black Monday” as it would become known – the News Chron appeared as normal. Staff turning up at the newspaper’s offices in London were sent out on assignment as usual while the newsroom tape machines clattered out the day’s happenings.

But when darkness fell it was announced that the paper had been “merged” with mid-market rival the Daily Mail in a move that sent shock waves through Fleet Street. Work stopped on the paper shortly after 5pm and the editorial staff adjourned to the nearest pub to drown their sorrows.

Laurence Cadbury, proprietor of the News Chronicle expressed “deep regret” at the passing of the paper but said “mounting costs and continued losses” had made it “impossible” for the Chronicle to continue as “a separate entity”.

Just about every national newspaper carried an obituary. The Guardian said: “To write dispassionately about the death of friends is not easy”, while the Daily Herald was also fulsome in its praise, observing: “The News Chronicle was unique. Nothing can replace it.” Even the Conservative- supporting Daily Express was magnanimous, declaring: “Last night a fine newspaper died. Families grew up with the paper: it was their voice. Now that voice is stilled.”

The News Chronicle had been created in 1930 out of Edward Cadbury’s merger of two Liberal-supporting papers, the Daily News – born 1846; first editor: Charles Dickens – and the Daily Chronicle (1855).

Inheriting the Daily News’s radicalism, it made its name in the 1930s when the paper assembled “one of the finest staffs known to modern journalism” as Michael Foot put it, and was at the forefront of the battle against fascism at home and abroad.

However, by 1960 the paper was one of the weaker players in Fleet Street, and its closure resulted in around 300 journalists, as well as printers, messengers, secretaries and ancillary workers losing their jobs.

Sixty years on though, it still beggars belief that a newspaper with a circulation of around 1.2 million – selling more than today’s Times, Guardian and Independent combined – could disappear overnight. So who was to blame for its demise?

The paper undoubtedly faced big challenges – its circulation had dropped by a couple of hundred thousand since its brave decision in 1956 to oppose Eden’s Suez adventure – but Laurence Cadbury did the paper no favours by ignoring every circulation-boosting idea put forward by his editors.

The future Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe complained that at no time before the merger [with the Mail] had party leaders been told that the paper was likely to close. If they had, he claimed, “the necessary money would have been raised” to save a paper that he and his colleagues believed was “vital” to the Liberal interest.

In the final analysis, this “most liberal of all Fleet Street titles” was “a victim of intransigent unions and weak management,” according to The Encyclopedia of the British Press.

However the chief culprit, according to ex-News Chron staff, was Laurence Cadbury who “lost the will to keep it alive” in the words of one former journalist on the paper, preferring instead to concentrate on the family’s core business, making chocolate.

“The News Chronicle should have survived and its loss was keenly felt,” declared The Encyclopedia of the British Press.

Nonetheless the fondness with which the paper is still remembered all these years on by those old enough to have read it is a tribute to the enduring quality of this great Liberal paper and its journalism.

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18 Comments

  • I remember canvassing during the 1970s when a man came running out after me clutching some pyjama bottoms he no doubt had been ironing. I was a bit alarmed until he told me he had been a News Chronicle reader.

  • Nom de Plume 17th Oct '20 - 2:58pm

    Similar story with The i, previously The Independant, now owned by the DMGT. Not much of a Liberal press left in the UK.

  • Dennis Wake 17th Oct '20 - 3:06pm

    In 1960 those who elected the last Liberal Government in 1910 would have been over 70 and the Liberal Party had lost its position as one of the two principal parties in 1922. By 1960 the party had abandoned its most distinctive difference with the Conservatives, Free Trade, and was getting about 6% in opinion polls, the same as now. Although it has done better in recent years sometimes, it is unlikely that this was because many voters were staunch Liberals, rather because it was a vessel for protest voters. Most people in 1960 thought the Liberal Party was a lost cause and a relic of the past. The present Liberal Democrat Party is a different body. Its new leader is getting about half the support that his predecessor achieved in the last General Election though that may be partly due to the lack of any by elections but there are alternative parties for those who are discontented, such as the Greens and the various Nationalist parties who have a more distinctive message for the present times.

    Maybe it is time for the Liberal Democrats to make a formal pact with the Greens and support a referendum in Scotland because that seems the only way to give it any future in an independent Scotland

    Having said all that I was very sad when the newspaper we had at home closed down. Perhaps I sensed that this was the end of an era because it was.

  • Barry Lofty 17th Oct '20 - 3:32pm

    Yes the “I” is now owned by the DMGT group but has vowed to stay indepenent on its news coverage, so far it has stuck to that promise but, as a regular reader , if it ever becomes another Daily Mail it will not have my support. I remember delivering The News Chronicle on my school days paper round, where have the years gone?

  • During our first lockdown tidy up, which seems to have been compulsory for just about everyone, I found the long lost last copy of the News Chronicle, which had saved and forgotten I had.

    Why do we save this stuff. Perhaps it’s time it went.

  • I was brought up on the News Chronicle. I particularly looked forward to Fridays when there was a regular, and very funny, column by young writer. I remembered his name long enough to ask him years later if it really was him – Michael Frayn.

  • After the demise of the News Chronicle the Darlington based regional Northern Echo was for a time the nearest to a Liberal daily in an area with an old Quaker Liberal tradition. In the Harold Evans obituaries much was made of his campaigning as Editor over the Timothy Evans case. However the driving force on the ground behind Evans was Herbert Wolf, an impressive Darlington Liberal who many of us knew within the Northern Region of the party.

  • Denis Loretto 17th Oct '20 - 11:37pm

    The Daily Mail is definitely reflecting the difference in approach of its new editor Geordie Greig, although he obviously needs to be conscious of the need not to lose too many of his readership to the likes of the Daily Express. I hope Ed Davey and his team are sending out cautious
    feelers to Mr Greig.

  • David Rogers 18th Oct '20 - 7:56am

    I was born into a “News Chronicle” household, but was only 8 when it ceased publication. However I remember the upset and confusion expressed by my mother at the time – and to be fair my father probably felt the same, but as he was out at work all day my sisters and I probably didn’t hear it from him!

  • Sandy Walkington 18th Oct '20 - 10:01am

    I believe the much missed Richard Moore was part of the leader writer team in its final years

  • Sandy – yes Richard Moore is much missed. I disagreed with him at Assemblies and Conferences on many issues but his fundamental and passionate Liberalism was beyond question.

  • No newspaper has a divine right to survive.

    If a newspaper cannot attract enough paying readers to keep going, and also cannot attract a donor to subsidise its losses, then it deserves to close.

  • I grew up on the News Chronicle – in one sense literally on it as I would come home from school each day, spread it out on the floor and pore over it. One day, when I was 11, the paper boy delivered the Manchester Guardian instead – and it said that the News Chronicle had ceased publication. It had never occurred to me that something as apparently permanent as a newspaper could die. Probably my first dose of commercial reality – and the world has gone downhill ever since. But I suspect that growing up in a News chronicle household had quite a lot to do with why I’m still a Lib Dem.

  • nvelope2003 19th Oct '20 - 3:16pm

    Mohammed Amin: It had almost 1.2 million circulation. No one was given the chance to subsidise it as the owner simply closed it.

    Margaret: Absolutely ! Maybe someday there will be an online version ?

  • Tony Greaves 19th Oct '20 - 5:58pm

    The day after it closed I went to a freshers’ meeting (actually called a freshmen’s meeting in those days!) of the Oxford University Liberal Club, addressed by one J J Thorpe. Putting aside his bluster about being able to raise the money to save it (perhaps he could) the blow-by-blow account he gave was heartrending. Anyway he inspired me enough to make be decide to join the Liberal Party. (Please don’t tell anyone.)

  • nvelope2003
    Definitely we need an on-line version. As the Daily Mail had grabbed it (in the early 1960s, the words Incorporating the New Chronicle were written in small print under the title on the front page) it might be difficult to get the name back.
    Maybe it could be called News Chronicle International.

  • Manfarang: What about The Daily News which was the name of the paper which acquired the Daily Chronicle in 1930. I wonder if the Daily Mail would be worried about someone using the name News Chronicle as they did not challenge Robert Maxwell when he started an Evening paper called the Daily News in competition with their evening paper.

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