The Sunday Telegraph at 50: a passion for quality, truth and freedom
Telegraph View: The world has changed considerably in the past 50 years - but The Sunday Telegraph's values remain as relevant as ever.
Fifty years ago on this Sunday, when the first edition of The Sunday Telegraph rolled off the presses, Britain was a very different country from the one in which we live today. The war with Hitler that had threatened the nation's very survival had ended only 16 years earlier. The British Empire was melting away. We were a more ethnically homogeneous nation, but one in which class and other social distinctions were much more rigid. The roles of men and women in family life – men out at work, women at home looking after the children – seemed immutably fixed. Divorce was rare, and crime was, by contemporary standards, extraordinarily low. The social changes epitomised by rock and roll music and Cabinet ministers who drop their aitches had yet to happen.
Although many things have changed during the past 50 years, some for the better, some for the worse, we believe that the core values that sustain this newspaper and the journalists who produce it have stayed the same. First among them is a commitment to telling the truth clearly and honestly to our readers. The basic duty of The Sunday Telegraph has always been the same, and always will be: to record what has happened and predict what will happen as accurately as possible, and not to bend or compromise in order to benefit those in power.
Crucially important, however, is explaining that truth in an intelligible and, where appropriate, entertaining way: we cannot inform you if we cannot persuade you to read what we write. That is why high-quality writing has always been, and always will be, so important to this newspaper, along with the expert broadsheet design and world-class photography that allow that writing to be displayed to best advantage. When you finish an edition, we hope you have found out things that you did not know before. But we also hope you have been amused, diverted and entertained. From the start, The Sunday Telegraph employed writers of considerable literary eminence and stylistic elegance, and wit and the sheer pleasure of good writing have been an essential part of its appeal. Although the news is often grim, we try to ensure that reading our pages is an uplifting experience. Hope is a precious commodity, and we try to keep it alive.
This newspaper has always been conscious of its connection, and its duty, to its readers, whether in cities, suburbs or countryside. Their values, and ours, have sometimes been called old-fashioned – but for proof of their continuing relevance, you need only study the world around us. Behind many of our favoured causes and successful campaigns has been the principle that Britain's tradition of political independence and autonomy must be preserved, and that our system of parliamentary sovereignty needs to be protected from the many attempts to subvert it. Christopher Booker, for example, who has been writing for this newspaper since 1961, was one of the first to identify the extent to which both the European Union, and the European Court, have undermined the sovereignty of Parliament. More and more people now recognise – as we always have – that you can admire European culture without thinking that our laws ought to be made by European institutions. More recently, as Britain has developed into a society of diverse ethnicities and religions, Andrew Gilligan has investigated the corrosive effects of Islamic extremism, and the ways in which the uncritical adoption of the ideology of "multiculturalism" has undermined the cohesion that it seeks to create. A host of other writers and reporters, past and present, have written equally powerfully and persuasively.
The Sunday Telegraph is a conservative newspaper, but we have never given the Conservative Party our uncritical support: when we think it has erred, we have been unstinting in our criticism. A current example is the plan to sell off England's forests, which we were the first to reveal. In common with many of our readers, we think it a policy whose effects have not been adequately thought through. Yet we share basic conservative values with the party of that name: we believe that individual and communal freedom is the source of our nation's prosperity, vitality and happiness, and that this can too often be vitiated by an interfering state; we have an instinctive distrust of change for its own sake; we think that good manners and respect for other people's convictions and traditions are an important element in any civilised community. We believe in high standards: some ways of doing things are better than others, and the better ways should be cherished and encouraged rather than denigrated as "elitist". Cynicism is often the default setting for commentary on the state of the nation: it is not ours. We believe that there is a great deal about British society that is worth preserving.
Over the past few years, the rate of change in the world around us has palpably accelerated. That transformation has been reflected in the newspaper industry: the electronic version of the Telegraph is now read all over the world, on devices such as iPads and mobile phones as well as laptop or desktop computers, allowing an ever closer engagement with readers of all stripes. We do not know how it will be read in 50 years' time. We are sure, however, that the values that will animate the paper in the future will be the same as the ones that animate it today: a passion for the truth, and for revealing and writing about it in a manner that absorbs, challenges and entertains.