Farewell Fleet Street
On August 5th 2016 I left the London office of The Sunday Post for the last time, along with my colleague Darryl Smith. Together we were the last two newspaper journalists to have worked on Fleet Street, the spiritual home of the British newspaper industry.
Although there are no newspaper offices left on the thoroughfare that links Ludgate Circus in the east with The Strand in the west, the term `Fleet Street’ continues to be a useful shorthand for newspapers in general.
So how did this particular stretch of road become so famous?
In around 1500 the wonderfully-named Wynkn de Worde, an apprentice to William Caxton (who introduced the printing press to England) set up a printing shop near Shoe Lane. At around the same time one Richard Pynson was establishing his own printing and publishing business next to St Dunstan’s Church to serve the legal profession.
For two hundred years, printing in the street served the legal profession as well as publishing books and plays.
Then, in 1702, London’s first daily newspaper was published. The Daily Courant was followed by others. The repeal of the Paper Duty and the newspaper tax in the mid 1800s resulted in a dramatic increase in newspaper production. By the middle of the 20th Century Fleet Street was home to most of the national newspapers and numerous pubs and bars.
The departure of News International, owners of the Sun and The Times in the nineteen eighties was the beginning of the end, and today the offices of national newspapers are spread across London rather than huddled together in and around one street in EC4.
A few press agencies and regional newspapers continued to have staff in Fleet Street, but by August 2016 just one was left. The Sunday Post, flagship of the Dundee-based publisher DC Thomson. At one time the building was home to journalists working on a range of publications produced by the company, including The Weekly News, The Dundee Courier, The Dundee Evening Telegraph, the People’s Journal and Shout.
The titles can be seen in mosaic form between the floors on the outside of DC Thomson’s premises at 185 Fleet Street. One of the most visible reminders of the area’s past, they must have been photographed thousands of times from passing tourist buses.
Leading up to our final day, we started to realise we would get some attention, but I certainly didn’t foresee how it would play out.
On our penultimate day, colleagues in non editorial roles presented us with gifts, including a memorable caricature done by a Beano artist. We received the traditional newspaper parting gift of a front cover featuring only our own stories.
On the last day, I’d had my first request for an interview before I left home. By the time I got to the office, film crews and photographers from AFP and Reuters were on their way. Whilst they did their stuff, a snapper from Getty Images appeared as we stepped out the front door, and the BBC’s Nick Higham appeared beside my desk. We gave phone interviews to the FT and The Times.
As I left the office, rather than heading off to one of Fleet Street’s famous watering holes, I had to head to the BBC where I was faced with three live interviews in a row; for BBC Radio Scotland, PM on Radio 4, and Five Live. Whilst there I was waylaid by someone from BBC World Service who recorded an interview for broadcast later.
In the days and weeks that followed, I had interview requests ranging from the financial website Headlinemoney to a newspaper in Bangalore. The story was reported from New York to India, and I even had an approach on behalf of the official Chinese news agency.
When journalists start interviewing other journalists, it’s usually because they’ve run out of people to speak to, but being on the receiving end of so much press attention certainly made for a memorable few days.
The previous three decades were pretty good fun, too.
Here are links to some of the places our departure was covered:
Newshour, BBC World Service (at 39 mins 10 seconds)