THES - the early years: Ex-editors remember

October 19, 2001

Thirty years ago there were eight of us on The THES editorial staff and we had been given two years to get into profit - which we did much earlier. Still today, when I pick up The THES , instinct takes me to the back of the paper where I count the classified ads: we were going to be safe when we got six and if memory serves, a sale of 15,000 a week.

We had been set up to stave off a threat from Macmillan Magazines, which had decided to plant its tanks on the lawn of The TES and launch Senate, a weekly for higher education. We saw it off fairly quickly.

In our third week, we took the whole staff to Leicester University for a day's visit. At King's Cross I said to Michael Binyon: "You'd better buy the paper in case they haven't got one at Leicester." At the newspaper stall, Binyon requested, "Two copies of The Times Higher Education Supplement ."

The vendor replied: "Ooh, they will be pleased luv, I've never sold one of these before."

Our biggest fight at first was ironically with The TES , which was rather jealous of its upstart sibling and started leading every week with stories from universities and polytechnics rather than schools. There was a huge row and then the silliness stopped.

Our biggest mistake, as the marketing department quickly warned us, was to alienate university readers by pitching too strongly at the polytechnics. That too was quickly corrected. Our biggest early opportunity - and success - was the publication of the James Report on teacher training in November 1971. I was innocent then and knew nothing about copyright. We published the report in full, saving readers at least £5.00, and sales shot up. There was a pained call from the Stationery Office and Denis Hamilton, who was then our chairman, rapped my knuckles - but with a twinkle in his eye.

Our staff didn't do badly either. Peter Scott became a vice-chancellor, Peter Hennessy a professor, David Hencke wins awards on The Guardian , Christopher Hitchens, the first polytechnic correspondent, thunders from America, at least four of us still work for The Times - and the diarist who has been on the paper as long as anybody, Laurie Taylor, started his stint on our watch.

At the launch of a newspaper, the choice for the editor and staff is stark - you succeed or you fail, and failure is always shaming. We succeeded and it has been a great joy to see The THES do still better under Peter Scott and Auriol Stevens.

Brian MacArthur


When I began work, with Brian MacArthur and (eventually) four other colleagues, on a new higher education weekly in the summer of 1971, I never thought that 30 years later The THES would still be compulsory reading for me every Friday. And, most of the time, pleasurable reading - except when it supports tuition fees or misses Kingston out of league tables!

It is always dangerous to claim unique experience - but I have been associated with The THES (or Times Higher, or the Higher - memo to marketing department: it really is time after 30 years to decide what the paper should be called) from the very beginning - although there is always a beginning before the beginning, of which only Brian is aware.

As deputy editor I was a member of the small team that first produced it. I returned as editor for 16 years, and now as a vice-chancellor I have the same obligatory love-hate relationship with the paper as do other vice-chancellors.

Much has changed. In 1971, the Robbins report was a recent memory; the new universities were very new; and the polytechnics were still being formed.

Today, post-Dearing, higher education is a different world with a different language. The THES has been a key element in these great changes. Almost single-handed it has written that new language. Without it the transformation of British higher education would have been far more difficult to understand - and, perhaps, more difficult to accomplish.

Peter Scott

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