WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2017
Yesterday, Press Gazette reported that the Evening Standard is moving to a single print edition each day. As ever, it’s the sub-editors who will be getting it in the neck. Staffers are set to lose half their working hours and half their pay.
As well as being a personal catastrophe for the subs, it feels like the end of an era for evening papers in the capital. Until Alexander Lebedev took over and turned it into a freesheet in 2009, the Standard published no fewer than five editions throughout the day.
Off the top of my head, there was the News Extra in the morning, then the City Prices and the Late Prices Extra. The edition on sale for afternoon commuters was the West End Final, but this wasn’t the final Final; the late-night edition was also branded West End Final, but often had a different splash.
Learning to tell them all apart felt like the day you qualified for your London passport. You’d often see street vendors flogging off their stale copies of the Late Prices Extra side by side with the Final. I’d get a rather pitiful thrill by grabbing a paper from the right pile while tourists were scalped with the old stock.
Years earlier, according to this Guardian feature, it had been far easier to distinguish the West End Final. In the late Eighties, this was the only edition to carry the newspaper’s emblem – a stylised version of Piccadilly’s Statue of Eros.
(Yeah, yeah, I’ve not forgotten. As any nit-picking sub will know, Eros isn’t Eros at all. The statue is actually of his duller, worthier brother, Anteros, who represents “reflective and mature love, as opposed to Eros… the frivolous tyrant”. Even that was not enough to assuage all the Victorian objections to a nude figure prancing about with a bow in the middle of a major London thoroughfare, so it was renamed “The Angel of Christian Charity” – to no avail. To all but a few pedants, Eros it remains.)
Anyway, the Evening Standard’s Eros has another secret. He was kidnapped.
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In the summer of 1984, Mirror Group Newspapers hatched plans to launch a London evening paper. The Evening Mirror is obscure even in the roster of great Mirror failures, as it never made it to market. It bears no relation to Robert Maxwell’s later London Daily News, which at least managed five months in production.
What’s known is that the Evening Mirror was to be pitched downmarket of the Standard, aiming for the same readers who had bought the Sun, Star or Daily Mirror in the morning. Peter Thompson, then deputy editor of the Daily Mirror (and a future editor of the Sunday) was put in charge of the project.
A 56-page dummy was produced in secret at a studio in Clerkenwell and printed in the West Country. However, someone leaked a copy to Press Gazette, which ran several excerpts and judged them favourably.
The editor of the Evening Standard saw the Eros graphic in Press Gazette and promptly nicked it. In his 2016 memoir, Cudlipp’s Circus, Thompson writes:
I’d searched around for an iconic figure to symbolise the London spirit and decided on the statue of Eros at Piccadilly Circus. Lou Kirby, editor of the Standard, liked the stylised version of the winged god so much that he put it on his front page where it had remained to this day.
As soon as Robert Maxwell took control of Mirror Group, the Evening Mirror plans were cancelled. But on the front page of today’s Evening Standard, Eros survives as a greyed-out, ghostly presence – rather like the paper itself – toppling away from the titlepiece.
When the Standard moves to a single edition, perhaps it’s an appropriate time to retire him for good, or at least return him to the Mirror at Canary Wharf. And a change of name might be in order, as it’s no longer an evening paper in any meaningful sense.
The new title could even honour those sub-editors who are having their livelihoods taken away in the name of progress. How about the Sub Standard?
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