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Coffee House

How I became editor of The Spectator (aged 27)

23 March 2014

5:44 PM

23 March 2014

5:44 PM

Thirty years ago this weekend, I became editor of The Spectator. In the same month, the miners’ strike began, Anthony Wedgwood Benn (as the right-wing press still insisted on calling him) won the Chesterfield by-election, the FT index rose above 900 for the first time and the mortgage rate fell to 10.5 per cent. Mark Thatcher was reported to be leaving the country to sell Lotus cars in America for £45,000 a year. Although she now tells me she has no memory of it, Wendy Cope wrote a poem entitled ‘The Editor of The Spectator is 27 Years Old’. Because I was young, the events are vivid in my mind, but in fact a greater gap separates then and now than separated then from the Suez crisis. I remember thinking that people who could remember Suez seemed very old and to be speaking of a different world. The same presumably applies to 27-year-olds today when they hear archaic expressions like ‘the Soviet Union’ or ‘Arthur Scargill’.

The first Spectator edited by Charles Moore. He also wrote the cover story that week.

The first Spectator edited by Charles Moore. He also wrote the cover story that week.

Certainly, in journalism, the difference is enormous. Print union tyranny had not yet been broken by Mrs Thatcher’s reforms. The Spectator had no daytime lock, no passes, no emails, no mobile telephones, and no editorial computers. The paper cost 75p (£3.75 today) and lost £300,000 a year, and although Alexander Chancellor, its best editor of modern times, had almost doubled the circulation, it stood at less than 20,000 (60,000 today). Its character was completely personal and non-corporate. Henry Keswick had bought the paper as part of his then political ambitions, and had appointed Chancellor because, it was alleged, he was the only journalist he knew. He eventually sold it to his friend Algy Cluff. Algy grew tired of Alexander as editor, as proprietors tend to with editors they have not chosen. Alexander heard his job had been offered first to Germaine Greer and then to Richard Ingrams, his television critic. At lunch with Algy, he brought matters to a head and Algy half-indicated that the story might be true. A severance resulted. Auberon Waugh, Richard Ingrams, the literary editor, Ferdinand Mount, and others, resigned in protest. Surprised by the speed of events, Algy did not know whom to appoint, having failed to snare Germaine Greer or Ingrams, and eventually turned to his political columnist — me — for which I shall always be grateful.

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One bone of contention had concerned the company car. Algy told Alexander he must have a British model, but Alexander preferred a foreign one. The problem was solved: I was not offered a car. However, my salary was £27,000 (with no pension), which seemed a fortune. Digging out the first issue that I edited, I see that the only weekly columnists then who feature today are Chancellor (whom I made television critic in Ingrams’s place), Raymond Keene (chess), Taki and I. Only Keene and Taki are continuous.

This is from Charles Moore’s weekly Spectator column – which, as subscribers will know, just gets better over the years. To join us from £1 a week, click here.

The first edition Charles edited (pictured, above) can be read on our free online archive, here. It also contains every other edition of The Spectator starting from 1828

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