Bought for £1 – how Standards have changed

BARRY NEWCOMBE on the startling developments, and some memories, at London’s Evening Standard

BBC television news told me the news last night. And there it was again this morning in the Daily Telegraph business section: “Standard snapped up for £1″.

So the Evening Standard moves on, again, this time somewhat astonishingly into Russian ownership.

There will be many like myself who will be looking back on their time in the employ of the newspaper and the impact which it had on their lives. I joined in the spring of 1965 as rugby and tennis correspondent and stayed for 19 years. It was the best territory I ever worked in because evening paper demands suited me exactly. There was always an edition around the corner (seven a day when I started) and there was a need for pace of thought and operation which certainly suited my mood and inclination.

I wrote on just about every sport there is in my time. I “reported” the 1966 World Cup final at Wembley at great length from a television set in a back room in the Standard offices in Shoe Lane just as cover in case the line between the copy takers and football correspondent Bernard Joy at Wembley should break down.

Joy hand-wrote his copy in the office. So did the unassuming George Whiting, whose writing on boxing was in a league of its own. When Muhammad Ali won the world championship for the first time, Whiting said he was champion of the world “and all its rainbows”.

In those days, London had two, paid-for evening newspapers, on six days a week, and the Evening News outsold the Evening Standard by 800,000 against close to 600,000. One of the key battlegrounds was on Saturday evenings when the Classified editions offered coverage of the day’s sport and up-to-date league tables. In both offices, the teamwork was awesome for the targets to be met.

The Standard stopped printing on Saturdays in the autumn of 1974. By then the paper, under sports editor Tom Clarke, had sent me to my first Olympic Games in Munich, which meant being involved in the biggest news story of my career, the 24-hour watch over the attack on the Israeli team headquarters and its consequences. Clarke sent me, too, on my first international rugby tour in 1973 when I was just one of two Fleet Street writers – the other was the late Chris Lander – to see England win a Test match in New Zealand for the first time .

I worked four Olympics for the Standard, Munich with Walter Bartleman and Jim Manning, Montreal with Michael Hart, Moscow and Los Angeles with Neil Allen.

Bartleman was a classic, up-front East Ender who did some big jobs late in his career including the world title fight in Jamaica between George Foreman and Joe Frazier. In his eagerness to obtain quotes afterwards, Bart rushed across the grounds of a hotel and totally ignored the fact that he had to cross a swimming pool on the way. Dripping, he emerged to carry on with his job.

I left the Standard in 1984 for the Sunday Express, so it was my decision to give up the evening paper beat and the buzz which went with it.

Here we are, 25 years on, and the Standard is to take another change of direction in the London evening paper market.

Last night, reading the Standard on my way home from a Sports Journalists’ Assocation lunch in Fleet Street, it was obvious that fellow passengers on my train had three papers to choose from — only one of which, the Standard, required payment. Alexander Lebedev, and his £25 million to be invested over the next three years, has much to think about.

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