Monday, July 12, 2004

As gentle as a Lamb... not

Someone reminded me this morning about Sir Larry Lamb, the British editor who introduced the Page 3 girl to the London Sun. In 1982-83, Lamb was editor of The Australian. His influence on the paper's design and content was swift and hard:

"Some critics occasionally said, justly or otherwise, unkind things about The Australian that Lamb inherited as editor-in-chief in 1982. Some, for example, claimed the paper could sometimes resemble 'a tabloid broadsheet'. Critics meant that though -- in terms of its page size, overall persona and appearance -- it was a 'serious' newspaper, it could tend towards the racy and populist in writing style and layout. It was a criticism Lamb would silence with an abrupt, brutal finality. Within days of his appointment the size of headlines and photographs had shrunk drastically. Overnight, the paper became tight, neat, restrained, packed with additional wordage. The transformation was total. Lamb -- and, presumably, the proprietor, Rupert Murdoch -- wanted a distinctively upmarket newspaper, reminiscent of Britain's The Times or The Daily Telegraph, and Lamb made it clear nothing and nobody would be allowed to subvert that goal. Writers who'd habitually taken advantage of a little 'journalistic licence' came to realise a vastly different era was upon them. It was an era some didn't immediately embrace with rampant enthusiasm. The radio announcer and a former newspaper editor, Derryn Hinch, went on the wireless in Melbourne to mock and savage Lamb's paper and to ask what the dickens was going on."

The author is Errol Simper, in his "A Certain Scribe" column in The Australian's Media section, June 1, 2000. Further on in his column, Simper notes:
"The scribe well recalls, too, an early Lamb news conference at which the then pictorial editor, Barry Norman, was called upon to present offerings for the front page. There were, perhaps, 10 prints lying there for Lamb's appraisal: gesticulating politicians, opening ceremonies, closing ceremonies, perspiring sportspeople, auditioning chorus lines, and so on. Some might have regarded it as a reasonably impressive short list. But Lamb frowned, then announced there'd be no photograph on the front page next day. Photographs, he said, had to carry genuine news resonance. If they didn't, the paper would get along all the better not running any. An indignant Norman vacated the conference. The only occasion the scribe can remember Lamb breaking his own layout rules in those early, abrasive days was when the former Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, died. Lamb hadn't had much time for Brezhnev. 'Death of a Tyrant', roared the front page."

The Great Photograph Massacre is still one of Lamb's claims to fame in newsroom history... I will try to fish out the pages tomorrow and post them here.

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