Abstract: Monopoly, Power, and Politics in Fleet Street: The Controversial Birth of IPC Magazines, 1958-1963

Howard Cox and Simon Mowatt


Britain's newspaper and magazine publishing business did not fare well during the 1950s. With leading newspaper proprietors placing their desire for political influence above that of financial performance, and with working practices in Fleet Street becoming ungovernable, many leading periodical publishers were on the verge of bankruptcy by the decade's end. The chain of enterprises controlled by Roy Thomson provided a notable exception. Having established a base in Scotland in 1953 through the acquisition of the Scotsman newspaper publishing group, the Canadian entrepreneur brought a new commercial attitude and business strategy to bear on Britain's periodical publishing industry. In 1959 Thomson bought a place in Fleet Street through the acquisition of Lord Kemsley's chain of newspapers, which included the prestigious Sunday Times. Early in 1961 Thomson came to an agreement with Christopher Chancellor, the recently appointed chief executive of Odhams Press, to merge their two publishing groups and thereby create a major new force in the industry. The deal was never consummated, however. Within days of publicly announcing the merger, Odhams faced an improved offer from Cecil King, chairman of Daily Mirror Newspapers, Ltd., which the shareholders duly accepted. The Mirror's acquisition of Odhams was deeply controversial, mainly because it brought under common ownership the two left-leaning British popular newspapers, the Mirror and the Herald. Our paper utilizes archive sources from the Cabinet Office to explore the political dialogue that enabled the controversial takeover to proceed unopposed by the regulatory authority of the Monopolies Commission. It analyzes the implication of the successful prosecution of the King-led deal for magazine publishing in Britain: namely, the creation of a virtual monopoly through the formation of the Mirror-controlled IPC Magazines.

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