For our 16th wedding anniversary, Caroline and I went to the Almeida Theatre to see Ink, a new play about Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of the Sun in 1969 and the subsequent circulation war with the Daily Mirror. It is terrifically funny, brimming with comic characters and acerbic one-liners, as you would expect from writer James Graham, perhaps best known for This House, his play about the five-year duel between the Labour and Conservative whips during the period 1974-79. Ink is due to transfer to the Duke of York’s Theatre on 9 September and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
One of the things that struck me as the Murdoch character prowls the stage, laying out his plans for world domination, is how similar he is to Jeremy Corbyn. I don’t just mean in the obvious ways — privately educated, married numerous times, roughly the same age. I mean politically, too. Many of Murdoch’s best lines, particularly those in which he rails against the Establishment, could easily be delivered by the Labour leader. For Murdoch, the force he wants to unleash to bring down the ruling class is untrammelled capitalism, whereas for Corbyn it is organised labour. But they share a visceral contempt for the English class system and the sclerotic institutions and traditions that underpin it.
When Murdoch bought the Sun from IPC, the company that owned the Mirror, it was a moribund broadsheet with a circulation of 850,000. No one imagined he would turn it into a tabloid, not least because the Mirror had that market sewn up — it sold more than five million copies a day.
The dominant figure at the Mirror was Hugh Cudlipp, a Welshman who had edited the paper from 1952-63, then was promoted to chairman of the Mirror Group and, eventually, of IPC.