WHEN FORMULA ONE ‘supremo’ Max Mosley successfully sued Britain’s News of the World (NoW) for its invasion of his ‘privacy’ in 2008 (he was secretly filmed in the company of five hired handmaidens administering stern discipline in fetish underwear), it confirmed my suspicion that privacy is now an expensive commodity: to possess it, you have to be able to afford it. No surprises there, really, because the NoW made its reputation and its profits exposing the sexual transgressions of the obscure and ordinary. The Mosley case was a calculated risk that failed, but it got me thinking about the paper.
In the early 1950s, it sold eight million copies every Sunday in a well-established British press tradition as a ‘scandal sheet’, a purveyor of ‘smut’. It was all about a particular kind of ‘content’ presented by a time-worn simple formula – reporting the sins of British flesh. I can’t recall anything else that was ‘news’ in its world. People bought it for what the other papers ignored. The bulk of the paper was several pages of closely set columns, all about cases of sexual transgression and deviation which had come before the courts. Anybody on a charge of rape, child molestation, exhibitionism, indecent exposure, prostitution or incest, guilty or innocent, qualified for a thousand words or more in what Private Eye called the ‘News of the Screws’. Each week, stringers and regional reporters scoured their local police and magistrate court lists for cases of a sexual nature and wrote them up in a standard house style devoid of any descriptive flourish.
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