You would have thought that the telephone hacking scandal that engulfed Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper empire was quite enough to shatter confidence in the integrity, decency and all-round reliability of his publications but it seems he has been responsible for ending another noble and iconic feature of contemporary journalism.
Am I talking about fearless, stoutly independent and highly principled investigative journalism that exposes corruption, cover-ups and scandals? Am I talking about ensuring a fair and balanced coverage of the news, showing no bias and conferring no favours?
Well, no and no. It’s far more serious than that.
There is no point in trying to skirt the issue – it has to be stated bluntly and coldly, although saying that bravely doesn’t deny the tears.
Yes, Mr Murdoch’s quality UK newspaper The Sun has abolished, ended, stopped and cancelled the legendary topless page three girl pictures. While some women may have thought – selfishly in my view – that this feature was misogynist, demeaning to women, outdated, sexist and soft-core pornography, the fact remains that it was a tradition; well a recent tradition, but a tradition nevertheless.
I’m an enlightened, progressive sort of chap who believes that we can all live without having pictures of naked, young and generously voluptuous women shoved in front of our faces. In fact, I actually did buy Playboy in the past for its interesting articles.
Murdoch purchased The Sun in November 1969, and it was already ailing, losing circulation and out of touch with its readership. Under his ownership, the paper began publishing suggestive but not naked pictures of young ladies and, to celebrate the first anniversary of his ownership, the first nude snap was published.
The picture of 20-year-old German model Stephanie Rahn caused a sensation and circulation soared to where it is today, selling 2.2 million copies a day. The picture was taken by the newspaper’s chief photographer who then concentrated his artistic talents on producing similar and even more daring pictures until his retirement in 2003. Just why he retired is beyond me, frankly.
Of course, other newspapers, worried about the rise and rise of The Sun copied the idea but Murdoch didn’t get to where he has gotten by not tying up any loose ends – ‘Page 3’ and ‘Page Three’ are registered trademarks of his company.
Very often, the models were only 16 or 17 and when The Sun started publishing the pictures in full glowing colour, circulation surged again.
Far from The Sun not reflecting the views of its readers, they made it a point of giving the punters what they wanted by, for example, only featuring models with natural breasts. This followed a poll of readers and certainly reflected the newspaper’s sensitivity and responsibility, didn’t it?
And while in the beginning there was only one model, there were more than a few occasions where two or more were featured in all of their natural attractiveness. A special edition in 2009 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Page 3 girls featured a jaw-dropping fifteen comely beauties posing together. Needless to say, a collectors’ edition.
But, sadly, times change and with the changing of the times comes a changing in public tastes.
In 2013, for example the editions produced for Ireland only carried snaps of clothed glamour models and the newspaper cited “cultural differences” as the reason. That’s another way of saying that overwhelmingly Catholic Ireland wasn’t the best place to flog pictures of naked women.
A rival newspaper, the Daily Mirror had copied The Sun by having its very own page three girls but they dropped the feature in the 1980s, deeming the photographs were demeaning to women. This principled decision did not do anything for their circulation at all – in fact, quite the opposite.
Another sign of the times and changing public tastes was the decision by The Sun was to drop captions which contained sexually suggestive double entendres and just list the models’ names, ages and home towns. I remember buying a copy of “The Sun” in London once which featured a busty miss smiling beautifully and shamelessly while reading her copy of the newspaper – the caption was “Tiffany likes to keep a breast of the news”. Hilarious, wasn’t it and so clever! Of course I had bought the newspaper for its interesting articles.
And so, is it all over?
Well no. While the nude lassies will be replaced with similarly heavily-petalled English roses wearing skimpy underwear, their nude sisters will still be available for inspection at their subscribers-only website. And “The Sun” has indicated that if circulation falls, well – I’m sure you can guess.
And that’s the naked truth.
What do you think about the removal of Page 3 from The Sun? Is this a step in the right direction or is are there too many prudes? Tell us below.