In Memory of The Star
The first issue of The Star appeared on the streets of London on January 17, 1888. A four-page broadsheet that was published six-days-a-week, it was priced like other evening newspapers at one halfpenny. The founder and very first editor of The Star was Thomas Power O'Connor (1848-1929), an Irish Nationalist M.P. and journalist who was born in Athlone and educated at Queen's College in Galway. On the front page of the opening issue of The Star was O'Connor's declaration of editorial policy, promising that The Star would champion the cause of the underprivileged and highlight the needs of working class families. To quote from O'Connor's editorial of the first issue: "The rich, the privileged, the prosperous need no guardian or advocate; the poor, the weak, the beaten require the work and word of every humane man and woman to stand between them and the world." Published by the Star Newspaper Company from its original offices in Stonecutter Street near Ludgate Circus in E.C.4, The Star provided many Londoners with a voice not provided by certain other evening newspapers, often taking a controversial stand against government policies of the day. Very much a radical newspaper, typically The Star would strongly oppose military action (The Star was vehement in its opposition to the Boer War) and would represent the plight of workers in any trade union disputes. A liberal newspaper from its inception, The Star remained so for its entire lifespan, fighting for social justice and a better life for the poor.
From the beginning O'Connor was ably assisted by his right-hand man, assistant editor Henry W. Massingham (1860-1924), a talented journalist who succeeded O'Connor as editor in 1890. His tenure as editor ended the following year however, when Ernest Parke took over the role, remaining in the position until 1918. The early success of the newspaper was also down to a team of gifted and illustrious writers who contributed to The Star on a regular basis. Among these were George Bernard Shaw, James Douglas, Thomas Marlowe, H. N. Brailsford, William Clarke and Ernest Belford Bax. O'Connor himself went on to found and edit The Sun in 1893. An author of several books, he served in parliament for several decades until his death in 1929.
It didn't take long for The Star to attract a huge readership among the population of the capital. In February 1888 the average daily circulation stood at 125,000 copies. In the years to follow the circulation of the newspaper rose dramatically. By the summer of 1895 The Star was achieving a daily net sale in excess of 150,000 copies. At this time the paper proudly claimed to have the "largest circulation of any evening paper in the kingdom." Furthermore, a little known fact is that for a brief period there was another version of The Star produced by the same publisher, The Weekly Star, which ran from between 1892 and 1894. Despite this early success, very early issues of The Star were less than attractive in terms of layout, with seven columns per page and almost half of the front page taken up by adverts. However, the overall look was typical of evening newspapers in this period. This was soon to change though. By the mid 1890s numerous drawings and illustrations were interspersed with the text. With the inclusion of short stories and fiction serials from 1896, along with the "Woman's World" feature, Edith Carrington's wildlife diary, literary reviews and Captain Coe's long-running horse racing column, it is no surprise that The Star's readership increased dramatically in the final years of Queen Victoria's reign. Despite these changes, the existing "Mainly About People," "Notes of the Day" and "What We Think" columns remained popular features for many years to come. The Star also gained an increased readership for its sensational reporting of the Jack the Ripper murders in London. The editors of the paper were certainly not afraid to experiment. A pioneering feature of The Star in the 1890s was the inclusion of a political cartoon, which proved a true innovation that was inevitably emulated by other newspapers.
The Star had to contend with stiff competion though. In the early years The Star competed against a number of other evening newspapers in London, among which were the Pall Mall Gazette, the Globe, the Evening Mail and the Evening Post. The Evening News in particular proved to be a worthy adversary. Indeed, in June 1895 an argument flared up between the editors of The Star and Evening News with both papers challenging the other's circulation figures. The Evening News felt the need to point out that a newspaper's circulation was not the same as its actual net sale, while also challenging the basic accuracy of The Star's circulation figures. The Star meanwhile firmily stood by its own claims and refuted the allegations of its rival, remarking that their own circulation figures had been independently verified. After a few more tit-for-tat exchanges, bored readers were no doubt pleased when both papers thankfully fell silent on the subject!
Despite such differences of opinion between The Star and its rival the Evening News, it is beyond dispute that the circulation of The Star increased dramatically in the final years of the nineteenth century. With the paper going from strength to strength, a special edition of The Star was issued on January 17, 1898, to mark the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the newspaper. Entitled "After Ten Years," the commemorative issue included several excellent line drawings, numerous articles and messages of congratulation from newspaper editors around the world. These were golden days in the newspaper's history, and with the beginning of a new century, The Star continued to flourish under the editorship of Ernest Parke.
Nevertheless, the fiercely competitive evening newspaper market in London proved too much for some titles. By the early years of the twentieth century, a number of rival papers were struggling to survive. One by one they folded until London was left with three surviving evening papers: The Star, the Evening News and the Evening Standard. Although managing to outlast the likes of the Pall Mall Gazette and the Evening Post, in May of 1912 The Star fell under the ownership of the Cadbury newspaper empire. At this point the sister paper to The Star, the national daily the Morning Leader, which like The Star was owned and published by the Star Newspaper Company in Stonecutter Street, merged with George Cadbury's newspaper the Daily News. The amalgamation of the two titles resulted in the Daily News and Leader, which became the new companion newspaper to The Star. On July 1, 1912, the headquarters of The Star were moved from their old premises in Stonecutter Street and relocated to nearby Bouverie Street, where they shared offices with the Daily News and Leader. From this point The Star was published by the Daily News Ltd, a company which belonged to the Cadbury family. Three years later, in May of 1915, The Star absorbed the short-lived Echo and London Evening Chronicle. Over the ensuing four months the newly merged paper bore the full title The Star and Echo, until the following August when it was once again known simply as The Star.
Such changes aside, the years following the acquisition of The Star by the Cadbury empire saw it continue to grow in size (with the exception of during the Great War when paper shortages limited the size of all newspapers) and popularity, with the estimable Ernest Parke remaining as editor. Happily for the many loyal readers The Star had attained over the years, there was little disruption resultant from the takeover. Fortunately the new owners were strong supporters of the Liberal party, so that the editorial bias of The Star went largely unchanged. A sense of continuity was assured, and this factor played a major part in the enduring popularity of The Star, with the paper continuing to plead for peace and social reform.
During World War One, rationing and paper costs meant that by 1916 The Star was by necessity only four pages long. The war also meant that The Star, like other newspapers, was under the control of government censorship. Another consequence of the war years was the need to increase the price of the newspaper in 1918 from one halfpenny to one penny. Although this was considered a war-time measure, rising costs meant that the price remained the same in the years after the war. Indeed, on a wider scale the era of halfpenny newspapers had come to an end. The final year of the war proved to be a transitional period for the newspaper. It saw the resignation of Ernest Parke, who had served as editor of The Star since 1891. His natural successor was James Douglas (1867-1940), who had worked as assistant editor to Parke for many years. Another major change to the newspaper was the conversion to tabloid size on December 27, 1917. Initially intended as an experiment in form, the new smaller size was popular with commuters, thus the paper became a tabloid on a permanent basis. This meant The Star was now made up of eight smaller pages instead of the former four broadsheet-sized pages. By the early 1920s The Star had increased to twelve pages. It continued to grow in size over the following two decades.
James Douglas' two years in control came to an end in March of 1920 when he left to become editor of the Sunday Express. At this point long-serving Star journalist Wilson Pope assumed the role. Two months later on May 6, 1920, The Star published its 10,000th issue. A commemorative edition was published to mark the occasion, with special contributions from founder T. P. O'Connor and Henry Massingham. Presently The Star went on to enlarge in size, expanding to 16 pages in 1922, and increasing to twenty-four pages by the end of 1928. Circulation figures published during the 1920s certainly testify to the continued growth and popularity of The Star.
In a visual sense issues of The Star during Pope's reign in the 1920s were a far cry from the heady days of the paper's early years. The use of photographs had increased dramatically, with the inclusion of many more feature articles developed along with the expansion of the sports, entertainment and fashion columns. The paper's long held traditions of news reporting and political commentary were still very much in evidence however. Wilson Pope's ten years as editor were an evident success, with circulation figures as ever on the increase and the overall quality of the newspaper improving all the time.
In 1930 The Star's companion newspaper the Daily News merged with the Daily Chronicle. The two papers, combined under the ownership of the Cadbury newspaper empire, formed the News Chronicle. From this point The Star and News Chronicle were seen as sister newspapers, continuing to share offices in Bouverie Street, E.C.4, with both titles published by the Daily News Ltd. The circulation of The Star continued to increase. By June 1930 the average daily net sale of the paper was 801,406. Around this time Edward Chattaway, who had previously served as assistant editor, replaced Wilson Pope as editor of The Star. Under Chattaway The Star reverted back to its former broadsheet size on October 22, 1934. Although this decision was to be reversed seven years later (see below) at the time it was felt that the continued growth of various features would be better served by making The Star a broadsheet once again. Chattaway remained as editor until 1936, at which point he was succeeded by Robert James Cruickshank (1896-1956) who held the position until 1941. Under both these editors The Star flourished. The introduction in 1936 of free illustrated supplements proved to be a popular innovation. The mid-1930s also saw sales of The Star increase even further, with the paper giving the Evening News and Evening Standard a real run for their money, although during these years The Star never quite gained ascendancy over its rivals. The Star's enduring popularity and high circulation figures were celebrated in 1938 with the publication of the book The Story of the Star, 1888-1938: Fifty Years of Progress and Achievement, which was published by the newspaper itself. Needless to say, for those wishing to know more about the early history of The Star, this is an essential read.
At this time The Star was marking a major anniversary in its history. The Star began celebrating its fiftieth year of publication with a special Jubilee article on January 17, 1938. The anniversary article included contributions from several former writers for the newspaper. These included reminiscences from George Bernard Shaw, A. A. Milne, H. G. Wells, A. G. Gardiner and Lord Hewart of Bury. The Star's Jubilee celebrations culminated with a banquet held at the Savoy Hotel on January 21. The meal was attended by all manner of notable personages among whom were members of Parliament, twenty-two Metropolitan Mayors and various Fleet Street editors. Also in attendance were representatives from the worlds of art and literature, religious leaders, bankers, civil servants and industrialists. The year 1938 proved to be a landmark year for The Star, with even Lord Rothermere, who owned the rival newspaper the Evening News, remarking that "The Star has retained in an extraordinary degree the vivacity and enterprise of its early issues." The fiftieth anniversary of The Star was truly a cause for celebration, and it is clear that the paper was loved and respected by many.
In the late 1930s The Star continued to compete successfully with its two rivals in the London evening newspaper market. Certainly in a political sense readers of The Star saw it as a welcome alternative to the generally right-of-centre Evening News and Evening Standard. In the months building up to the outbreak of war in September 1939, The Star made clear its opposition to the rise of Nazism in Germany. While other papers openly sympathised with Hitler and took great pains to appreciate and defend his point of view, The Star stood largely alone in condemning the actions of the Third Reich. This editorial policy, while acknowledged as fully just today, was atypical of British newspapers at the time. Indeed, as early as 1933, Hitler had banned The Star from sale in Germany because of the paper's criticism of the Nazi regime. As ever, The Star, along with the News Chronicle, was not afraid to stand by its convictions.
During the Second World War and the subsequent years of rationing, The Star, like other newspapers, was limited in page-length due to paper restrictions. As was the case in the first war, space limitations resulted in the disappearance of many regular features in The Star. Despite all this, The Star sold well during these austere periods. Indeed, the paper still found room to entertain as well as inform within the limits of its four pages, and the likes of the regular short story feature (solely provided for most of the war years by the estimable F. W. Thomas) would no doubt have provided light relief for many Londoners. Overseeing all this was Arthur Leslie Cranfield, who succeeded Cruickshank as editor of the Star in 1941. Cranfield's reign saw a number of changes to the newspaper. The most important was undoubtably the conversion from broadsheet back to the former tabloid size in February 1941. A few months after the conversion in size took place, The Star settled to an average size of eight (tabloid) pages. Despite the appearance of the odd twelve page edition, it was to remain this size for most of the 1940s and into the early 1950s.
Despite strict paper restrictions affecting the size and potential circulation of all newspapers in the U.K., The Star achieved its greatest ever sales in the late 1940s. The average daily net sale from July to December 1947 stood at 1,079,848 copies. The largest ever single day's sale of The Star was attained on November 20, 1947, when on the occasion of the marriage between Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, the paper sold 1,414,660 copies. Remarkably, these figures merely reflect the highest amount of newspapers which could be produced in the period; the demand for The Star among Londoners is said to have far exceeded this. Indeed the circulation of The Star, in the immediate post-war period, certainly exceeded that of the Evening Standard, and was second only to that of Associated Newspapers' mighty Evening News.
During the 1950s The Star once again expanded in size and added many more features to its contents, while still maintaining the crusading stance it had held since its inception. After sixteen years as editor of the newspaper, Cranfield finally retired from the position in 1957. His successor was Ralph McCarthy (1906-1976), who had previously worked on the News Chronicle. Issues of the paper that appeared under McCarthy's editorial reign show that the traditions of honest news reporting in The Star were still very much alive. In addition to this the paper was now larger than ever, with the fashion, arts and entertainment columns in particular showing that The Star was successfully adapting with the times. The Star appeared to be doing well, a thriving newspaper in post-war London with its future seemingly looking bright. However, unknown to the paper's many readers trouble was brewing behind the scenes in Bouverie Street. The increasing popularity of television was having a detrimental effect on the circulation of The Star (and its competitors) in the late 1950s. This factor, in addition to falling advertising revenues, restrictive working practices, intransigent unions and weak management all contributed to the sad demise of The Star and News Chronicle at the beginning of the 1960s. With a suddenness keenly felt across Fleet Street, both The Star and News Chronicle ceased publication in October 1960, when they were bought by Associated Newspapers (publishers of the Daily Mail and Evening News, based in nearby Carmelite Street). The final issue of The Star was published on October 17, 1960, after which it was absorbed by its long-time rival the Evening News (the News Chronicle was simultaneously integrated with the Daily Mail). The decision taken by Laurence Cadbury and the board of directors at the Daily News Ltd to close both newspapers was controversial to say the least. The shock resulting from the closure of The Star and News Chronicle was profound, with hundreds of newspaper staff who worked in Bouverie Street abruptly thrown out of work. Loyal readers of the two newspapers felt a sense of betrayal and even their rivals felt genuine sadness at the loss of what were two very worthy competitors.
Having said that, it should be noted that there is little room for sentimentality in the cut-throat world of newspaper publishing. History shows us that titles disappear overnight, often being absorbed by a bitter rival. Two or three newspapers may merge with one another and begin a new amalgamated life under a new title. Newspaper and magazine owners routinely close down or sell-off their titles for reasons known only to themselves. Such has always been the case with newspaper publishing, with the fate of long-running established titles decided by the proprieters, often to the bewilderment of the public and, more importantly to the staff who stand to lose their livelihoods. So with the demise of The Star in 1960, and the controversy surrounding its acquisition by Associated Newspapers. A whole team of talented journalists suddenly found themselves out of work, and the resultant devastation and sense of loss has been well documented in various reference works. There are two excellent books which provide a background and commentary on the final days of The Star and News Chronicle. The Murder of the News Chronicle and Star (1960) by Ewan Butler and Edward Martell is a fascinating work that was written, published and printed within a month of the events of October 1960. Also highly recommend reading is the book The Last Chronicle of Bouverie Street (1963) which was written by William Pattinson and George Glenton, two journalists who worked on the News Chronicle. Their first-hand account of the abrupt closure of the two newspapers makes for compelling stuff.
From October 18, 1960 the name of The Star lived on in a very limited sense as part of the full title of the paper which absorbed it. For eight years the masthead of Harmsworth's evening paper bore the title the Evening News and Star, until 1968 when the paper's name became just the Evening News once again. The Evening News and Evening Standard battled it out over the next twelve years, until the Evening News itself ceased publication when it was merged with the Evening Standard in October 1980. The new paper, now under control of Associated Newsapers, continues to this day and is the sole remaining evening newspaper covering the whole of London.
However, older generations still remember The Star with fondness and many recall it as one of the last of the great liberal newspapers. Although the history of The Star has now become the stuff of legend, with the early years of its existence at best a dusty memory, I hope the small overview I've written above stands as an affectionate testimony that this great evening newspaper entertained and informed Londoners for 72 glorious years.
Sources and Further Reading
Dennis Griffiths (ed.), The Encyclopaedia of the British Press:
1422-1992, Macmillan, 1992.
Copyright © 2006 Richard Simms