SO THAT WAS the last paid-for Evening Standard yesterday, and with it the end of a little London tradition of newspaper sellers shouting out the title or edition of the paper. Why bother when the papers are free? The existing freesheet distributors don’t make a lot of noise, the bolder ones preferring just to shove a copy under your nose. The cry of West End fiiii-nelll! will go the same way as Starnoostanerrrd!, heard back in the days when London had three different evening papers.
Here’s a short recording I made last year of a newspaper seller outside Whitechapel tube station:
Lively evening paper traditions existed elsewhere in Britain too. Glasgow also enjoyed the attentions of three evening papers in the 1960s, and maybe the competition encouraged a culture of sellers’ cries. Some older Glaswegian friends remembered one seller in particular, a far-gone alcoholic who’d only held onto his pitch thanks to a family connection. He’d always croak Terrible tragedy! Terrible tragedy! – it didn’t matter what the headline was.
There were still plenty of very vocal paper sellers there in the 1980s. One man of barrel-like build had a pitch for the Daily Record in the city centre, and his cry was incubated in some internal Hades of pies and cigarette fumes before bursting to the surface as a baritone Deee-leee-ahhh Reh-caird! You could hear him streets away.
Because the appearance of the city gets a lot more attention than its sounds, the newspaper seller’s cry will probably have a lingering afterlife in films and TV dramas set in present-day London, without being recognised as dated.