ONE can only imagine the reaction when yawning readers of the Sun opened their papers on Monday morning and discovered that there was no “stunna” on page three staring brazenly out at them.
For 44 years, page three has been as much a part of the fabric of British life as Trooping the Colour and Henley’s Royal Regatta. As such, these fixtures are loathed and loved, envied and derided, in equal measure.
No sooner had the news seeped out than one of the numberless former “lovelies” was on a breakfast chat show bemoaning the decision and announcing the death of civilization as only she and her sisters know it. One shared her chagrin for who with a human heart could not? Having appeared as a teenager in “her birthday suit”, she intimated that had it not been for the gracious intervention of the Sun, the cheque book of its generous owner, its editor and the always professional photographers, she would not now be known outside of Tower Hamlets or Basildon or from whatever backwater she originally hailed.
I confess not to be one of the Sun’s many disciples, preferring to read, as I do, another of Rupert Murdoch’s organs, namely the Times Literary Supplement. However, on the few occasions I have skimmed it I have always been interested to study what pearls of wisdom the girls are offering while displaying their breasts to all and sundry.
One day, for instance, there might be Emma, 16, from Great Yarmouth, advising that we stop bickering over the exchange rate mechanism and concentrate on the Barnett Formula. More often than not, I found, Emma and her sister exhibitionists talked a lot of sense. Or at least more sense than the Sun’s fully-clothed heavyweight sages.
Once, I seem to recall, another buxom philosopher took Richard Dawkins to task, suggesting that his brand of militant atheism was simply Catholicism without the bells and whistles while yet another – perhaps Tracey, 23, from Chipping Sodbury -remarked that, after immersing herself in Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, she couldn’t wait to ask the author what she might find at the end of the universe, assuming, of course, British Rail could deliver her there on schedule.
Contrary to former Labour MP Clare Short, I never found page three outrageous and offensive. But then I am not a woman. There again, I knew that this was what the Sun published and I could take it or leave it, as Parisians could Charlie Hebdo. The special argument against page three was that it appeared in a daily newspaper which found its way into the homes of millions of “ordinary” people where it lay around for their innocent children to peruse. That, I’m afraid, it assuredly does, which just goes to show there is no accounting for taste.
But what effect the sight of exposed breasts had on formative minds I know not. Doubtless some scholar in one of our great universities is working on that as I write. My guess is that it made little if any deleterious impact. Certainly, by the standard of what is shown on TV after the watershed and on the internet 24/7, what appeared in the Sun was tame.
The first page three girl was unveiled in November 1970. At the time it caused the kind of stushie of which newspapers in dire need of a sales hike can only dream. It was sanctioned by Rupert Murdoch, and not a few of the girls featured were just over the age of consent. Though many of them would – and do – argue that they were not victims of exploitation, feminists have convincingly contended that the temptation to appear in a mass- market paper was too much for young and impressionable girls to resist.
It would be good to think that this is what has caused the tabloid finally to close what one must acknowledge is an institution. More cynical folk, however, might suggest that the demise of page three is a result of it having lost whatever appeal it had. Now it has gone the way of the Sun’s stablemate, the News of the World, and soon its loss will be no more mourned.