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The changing face of the Evening Advertiser

The country’s first ‘penny’ title, the Evening Advertiser in Swindon is celebrating its 150th birthday. Here, Tina Clarke takes a look at how the paper – and technology – has changed over the last century and a half…

When William Morris founded the Swindon Advertiser back in 1854, front page news did not even make it onto the front page.

Unlike the poster-style front pages favoured by the Adver these days, the front of the early newspapers was filled with adverts for businesses such as ironmongers and shoemakers.

In fact the Advertiser did just what it said on the front -­ advertise.

Readers had to turn inside to find out what was making the news,­ and then they were faced with almost solid columns of text.

But some things do not change, including the news itself.

Even in the late 19th century there were sensational court cases, murders, disasters, victories, scandals and wars -­ all first-rate ingredients for a good story.

As production methods evolved and photography began to make an impact, newspapers like the Advertiser started to change.

At first, Morris was reporter, editor and printer working from a room in High Street. In 1857 he moved the operation to Victoria Road and just over a decade later brought his sons into the business.

Better premises, better technology and more investment followed.

In the first few years of the following century the paper ran to about a dozen pages and sported an ornate logo in the masthead.

News still made it only on to page two, but then -­ as now -­ court cases provided good copy.

The case of a man charged with neglecting his six children and sentenced to four months’ hard labour rated almost a full column in the January 8, 1909, edition.

By the mid 1920s, news had finally made it on to the front,­ although it was sometimes a strange mix.

On February 7, 1928, the Adver carried a report on the funeral of famous World War I general Lord Haig alongside a review of the GWR Amateur Theatrical Society’s production of Tom Jones.

Pictures began to make a more regular appearance on the front during the 30s, but usually as part of an advertisement.

Photographs were generally saved for momentous occasions, such as the declaration of war against Germany and, later, Victory in Europe Day.

The war dominated much of the paper, not just the first page.

A lot of the news was national, with titbits of Swindon information usually nestling somewhere at the bottom.

In the war years, the advertisements changed to incorporate government advice on obtaining gas masks or making rations go further.

But still the reader was faced with acres of text.

That was until the Adver went tabloid in the 1940s in an effort to save paper.

VE Day prompted another front page picture -­ a rather staid portrait of the King and Queen under the headline “God Save the King and Queen.”

A story of that magnitude would merit a poster-size photo of celebrating crowds in today’s Adver.

By the time of King George’s death in 1952 Adver readers were much more used to seeing large pictures on the front and they were used to great effect a year later when his daughter was crowned Queen.

As the swinging 60s arrived, the Adver adapted yet again.

The masthead became less flamboyant and the broadsheet layout wasn’t so very different from what Times or Daily Telegraph readers see today.

With the advent of new technology in the mid 1980s, the Adver said goodbye to the old hot metal method of printing.

Instead of trusty old Imperial typewriters hammering out reams of copy, reporters found themselves having to master computer terminals. And although they were basic compared with the PCs of today, they represented a huge leap forward.

Newspapers boasting colour pictures began to appear on newsstands around Swindon.

And then, on September 6, 1995, came possibly the biggest change of all. The Adver changed to a tabloid format, not for wartime purposes, but for good.

The newspaper may not have changed much in appearance since that time, but a lot of the technology behind it has.

Photographers at the Victoria Road offices have said goodbye to the traditional darkroom and in the same way that black-and-white film processing gave way to colour, film itself has given way to digital cameras.

Reporters, who used to keep in touch with the office using public telephone boxes, are now equipped with mobiles.

And now, thanks to the proliferation of computers, readers can access the Adver over the Internet,­ all of which means that front page news isn’t restricted to the front page any more.

Back to the Bygones index

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