That Was the Week That Was: 50 years since the first edition of The Sun
It is 50 years since The Sun first appeared in Britain’s new agents, although Rupert Murdoch did not buy it until five years later.
This was also the week of the launch of Labour’s successful 1964 General Election campaign which saw Harold Wilson installed as Prime Minister by a narrow margin.
The Labour Manifesto was launched, on television, on 11/12th September 1964 with the assistance of, amongst others, Tony Benn.
It was arguably the moment when the short 1960s really started.
Labour was keen to present itself as the party of a new and modern Britain against the Tories with its Old Etonian leader Sir Alec Douglas Home.
Labour, or at least Wilson, was keen to distance itself from what it referred to as ‘vested interests’ which meant both employers and trade unions who resisted change. It saw the development of a new classless society where all had the opportunity to succeed. Even so Tony Benn noted in his Diary that Wilson’s speech to the TUC on 7th September had gone well
If this sounds like a precursor to New Labour that may not be far wrong. Many of the positions Labour took in 1964 were informed by polling by Mark Abrams of Research Services including slogans such as ‘Let’s GO with Labour’
The second week of September 1964 did indeed prove an interesting one as cultural historian Dominic Sandbrook points out in his book White Heat.
It saw the launch of Labour’s Manifesto, the Sun newspaper and also the premiere of a new James Bond film Goldfinger.
The links between these events elude Sandbrook however.
The Sun was the replacement for the Daily Herald a labour movement paper that had been owned by the TUC. With a declining readership and a view that a media which appealed to class was becoming outdated the paper was sold to the same stable as the Daily Mirror. [see the comments of Ian Birchall at the foot of the post]. The paper introduced journalists who went on to become well known elsewhere including Nancy Banks Smith, Geoffrey Goodman and, briefly, Paul Foot.
On 15th September the Sun rose. It was designed to appeal to precisely the same New Britain that Labour’s Manifesto was aimed at.
There was however a mismatch.
Tony Benn notes in his Diary for the period that the new paper was ‘appalling’ and ‘a pale wishy-washy imitation of the Daily Mail’ and not likely to be as much help as been supposed to Labour’s Election campaign.
Even so The Sun Editorial did echo a key Labour theme when it argued that ‘leaders of tomorrow are more likely to emerge from a College of Advanced Technology than from Eton or Harrow’.
Its first issue sold three million copies, although this went down to 1.75 million a day by the time of the October Election.
The premiere of Goldfinger on 17th September, a James Bond film based on the Ian Fleming novel, attracted crowds to Leicester Square in London.
The plot with Sean Connery as Bond, was far fetched but in fact not entirely out of touch with reality. The key figure in the film, as the title indicates is obsessed with gold, in acquiring it and trading it irrespective of regulations to control this by national Governments.
The 1964 Labour Government inherited a significant economic crisis from the Tories and itself became focused on the balance of payments and the need, it felt, to control currency movements.
Goldfinger, albeit in a fantastical sense, focused on an issue that was to be central to the Wilson Government elected in October 1964
While there are obvious differences between Britain 1964 and 2014 there are also some striking similarities. Both had a Tory Government led by an Old Etonian and both had a Labour Opposition obsessed with opinion polls and austerity politics.