How I came up with the name ‘Sunday World’ 50 years ago
It was nearly called Sunday Morning, but 50 years ago journalist Sean Boyne suggested we take on the World... and we did!
One of my modest contributions to the launch of the Sunday World 50 years ago was to come up with the name of the new tabloid.
At a discussion in the old Creation Group offices in Glasnevin on Dublin’s northside, Managing Director Gerry McGuinness considered various ideas for the title of the newspaper that was about to be launched in March 1973.
One idea was to call it “Sunday Morning”. I told Gerry I didn’t think that would work. I could imagine phoning up somebody and saying “This is ‘Sunday Morning’ here” and a smart-ass replying: “Well it’s Wednesday afternoon where I am.”
I thought about it overnight. “Sunday” should be part of the name — that was a no-brainer. A very popular newspaper at the time was the News of the World. So I borrowed the “World” part of that title and came up with “Sunday World”.
Nobody else was using the name and Gerry went with that idea. Nowadays a highly-paid team of marketing and communications specialists would doubtless be called in to “christen” a new product like a newspaper. We lived in simpler times in the 1970s.
Gerry was a most remarkable go-getting businessman. When he first tried to raise the money to launch a new Sunday newspaper, the bank manager he approached was not impressed.
Casting a sceptical eye over the eager young entrepreneur before him, the banker quipped that he would advance him money to back a horse, but as for starting a newspaper, “forget it.”
McGuinness, still only in his thirties, persisted and managed to raise the money from other sources. The tabloid that he and the late Hugh McLaughlin launched half a century ago was destined to become a success beyond their wildest dreams.
At first, those of us working on the new tabloid were not sure if it was going to last. The printing presses then in use were more geared to magazines than newspapers, although they could print in colour — a major advantage at the time. Deadlines were difficult and the number of pages was tiny by comparison with the size of today’s version.
One Saturday night in 1974, President Childers died suddenly and presented the paper’s editorial bosses with a dilemma. They could stop the presses and put up a new lead story. That would mean missing delivery deadlines and losing many sales. Or they could do the unthinkable and just ignore the story. In the end, that’s what they did.
One of my colleagues groaned: “We’re finished.” I recall a journalist on a rival newspaper expressing outrage — it was “an insult to the Presidency” etc. But the readers did not seem to mind. Sales were UP the following week.
Instead of Childers, our lead story that Sunday, by the late Peter O’Neill, was about the persecution and harassment of a garda sergeant who had the temerity to raid a rural pub where a prominent politician was drinking after hours.
It was the kind of investigative story on which the brash new tabloid made its name. Campaigning stories like this helped to establish the reputation of the Sunday World as a newspaper that was prepared to fight for the small man against the establishment.
As for the negative reaction of rival journalists, Deputy Editor Kevin Marron always reminded us: “We do NOT write for other journalists — we write for the readers.”
Columnists like Kevin Marron and Women’s Editor Micheline McCormack did not hesitate to have a go at sacred cows. They quickly became household names throughout Ireland. Their nameless colleague Pub Spy probably did more than anyone has realised to improve hygiene conditions and service in Irish bars.
Back in the 1970s there were campaigns run by the Sunday World exposing rogue builders and rip-off pyramid selling scams that actually resulted in the government bringing in new measures to protect the public from evils that we exposed.
In the early days of the newspaper, Gerry McGuinness and business partner Hugh McLaughlin estimated that a breakeven point was a circulation of 180,000. In fact, after a few nail-biting weeks, the paper had hit 200,000 and was to go on climbing steadily for years, ultimately making Sunday World the best-selling newspaper in Ireland.
Crime lords like Martin ‘The General’ Cahill, vice bosses and the operators behind the scourge of heroin became targets for Sunday World investigations. Information flowed in from readers worried about the way their communities were being ravaged by the drugs epidemic.
Reporters took great personal risks in tackling crime stories, as did photographers, who built up a big archive of mugshots of the bad guys. A graphic photo shows Sunday World snapper Liam O’Connor being assaulted by a member of the Dunne crime family.
Music, movies and the entertainment industry were important parts of the “fun” aspect of the paper, and veteran globetrotting showbiz reporter Eddie Rowley got the big interviews, at home and abroad, as did Esther McCarthy and Eugene Masterson. As for politics, the big guns of Irish politics, including Taoisigh and party leaders, were more than happy to talk to us — an audience of up to a million readers could not be ignored.
A marvellous array of offbeat characters and eccentrics figured in the pages of the newspaper over the years. I think, for instance, of the late Edmond Walsh, an elderly bachelor in Co Roscommon who liked a few drinks and, to avoid drink driving, bought a caravan to trail after his car. The idea was that he would drive to a pub with the caravan, have a few jars, sleep overnight in the caravan, and then drive home safely. Brilliant!
The Troubles engendered many stories. Back in the early 1980s, the Sunday World was the first Irish media outlet to question the terrorism convictions of the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six — many years later, they were declared innocent.
The newspaper became a firm opponent of sectarianism and of paramilitary violence and thuggery, regardless of which terror group was responsible, whether it was the Provisional IRA, the INLA or dissident republicans or, on the other side of the north’s sectarian divide, Loyalist paramilitaries.
Loyalist gunmen hit back in 1984, shooting and seriously wounding Northern Editor Jim Campbell. That same year the newspaper suffered another devastating blow — Kevin Marron died in the Eastbourne air crash. In 2001 Loyalist paramilitaries struck again, murdering Martin O’Hagan, a member of the newspaper’s northern staff.
Despite various difficulties over the past 50 years, including threats and actual violence, the paper never missed a single edition — in newspaper parlance, the sheet always hit the street.
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