Centuries of sex and scandal

Centuries of sex and scandal

Anthony Delano

The introduction to this lively stroll through the tabloidesque landscape of yesteryear opens with a verse I’d never heard before: Up and down the blessed town I run for information; Trying to discover if there’s any new sensation. Politics and accidents and scandalising too, Sir, Either’s all the same to me, as long as it is new, Sir. It’s from a London music hall hit of 1861, The Great Sensation Song, by Frank Hall and Frederic Archer. Wish I knew the tune. Sensation, as the author has clearly seen, provided rich and varied entertainment for our Victorian ancestors. Shock, scandal and spectacle had been staples of journalism since the earliest “newsbooks” of the 17th century. But the development of popular newspapers from the middle of the 19th century onwards (made possible by the withering away of stamp duty and advertising tax, advances in production technology and the spread of railways) allowed a far wider audience to be nourished by a steady diet. As Mr Diamond, a World Service broadcaster, writes, between the Victorian age and our own everything has changed and nothing has changed. “Like many of us, the Victorians often relished the discomfiture of others, particularly if they were rich, famous, powerful, or any combination of the three.” This view convinces him that the origins of modern reporting are to be found among three pillars of newsworthiness – sex, murder and royalty. I would have said it began with the Peterloo Massacre, but I see what he means.

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