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Shock! Horror! Probe!

The Art and Artifice
of Fleet Street

Report of the lecture
given by Dr Geri Parlby
on April 23rd 2014

Although we know the Fleet Street of the Twentieth Century well, there was much new to learn from Geri’s detailed and evocative talk.  Scurrilous titbits, sex, crime and sensationalism... all these were the mainstay of the press from its earliest years in Fleet Street, from the eighteenth century on.  And before there were photographs, the press splurged with caricatures and prints to illustrate the dastardly deeds they portrayed. The illustrations that Geri showed us proved just how depraved the villains were, and conveyed their message more clearly than present day air-brushed photos.

The famous names who wrote or illustrated earlier journals were dazzling:   Wilde, William Howard Russell, Sir George Hayter, Samuel Johnson, Dickens, William Cobbett, John Tenniel, James Morton Stanley, of Dr Livingstone, I presume fame, Hansard, Sassoon, and I have to mention the first woman editor of a National, Rachel Beer, née Sassoon,
who edited the Observer and unveiled the dastardly Esterhazy forgeries which cleared Dreyfus’ name in 1906.

And have you ever wondered why Gordon Bennett should be an expletive?
Well, he was the editor of the New York Herald, renowned for publishing salacious stories, so much so that his name became a cry of amazement!

But Geri firmly stresses that the press carried an important role in publicising social issues.  In the eighteenth century, William Cobbett of Farnham campaigned in his Weekly Political Register for the working classes.

And so it has continued.  For, as Geri emphasises, despite all the gossip, the press has as its most important duty, to report events as accurately as possible. In her illuminating talk, Geri has maintained this cardinal rule of the press, for our huge enjoyment.

Lesley Austin

Related Link (opens in new window):

Geri Parlby's website

Dr Geri Parlby
our entertaining guide to this history of journalism