Paul Anderson, review of Stick It Up Your Punter by Peter Chippindale and Chris Home (Heinemann, £14.99), Tribune, 30 November 1990
The Sun is the epitome of everything the left in Britain despises. It is xenophobic, racist, sexist, philistine and mendacious. It trivialises the news, persecutes gays, badgers the innocent, support the Tories. But it is also embarrassingly popular, particularly among the workers whom the left has always claimed to represent. Since 1978, it has been the biggest-selling daily newspaper in the country, from 1981 to 1989 shifting more than four million copies a day.
Rather like Margaret Thatcher's ability to win elections, the Sun's success enthralled much of the left for most of the eighties. Some of those under its spell tried unsuccessfully to muzzle the paper; others attempted, even more unsuccessfully, to emulate it. Peter Chippindale and Chris Horrie were once emulators: they both worked on News On Sunday. And, although the experience cured them of the desire to "do a left-wing Sun" (their last book, Disaster!, was a brilliant expose of the whole News On Sunday fiasco), they are still fascinated by everything about the Sun. In a way, Stick It Up Your Punter is an extended left-wing exercise in what Wendy Henry, the prurient ex-Trotskyist Sun feature editor, dubbed "yuck journalism" the publication of stories chosen deliberately for their titillating tastelessness.
This is not to say that it isn't a compulsive read, just like Henry's most disgusting "scoops". As Chippindale and Horrie tell it, the Sun story is one of monomaniac populist psycopaths running amok, perpetrating sleazy crime after sleazy crime. Kelvin Mackenzie, the paper's editor since 1981, comes across as little less than a rabid fiend, and many of his staff appear almost as dangerous. The litany of journalistic felony is sickening (the lies and jingoism about the Falklands, the hounding of Peter Tatchell, Russell Harty and Elton John, the anti-French and anti-German campaigns, the lies about the Hillsborough stadium disaster) but it's so racy you can't put it down.
Chippindale and Horrie believe that the Sun is now past its peak of circulation and vindictiveness, the victim of its own excess as public opinion has turned against its distortions and invasions of privacy. I'm not so sure. The basic Sun formula – heterosexual sex, television, get-rich-quick escapism, hatred for symbols of authority mixed with the most abject deference towards real power – remains potent and popular, and the left seems to have no real alternative to counter it: the Mirror is giving the Sun a run for its money now only by playing a toned-down version of the same game. Nevertheless, this book is one of the best written on the contemporary British press, and it deserves a wide readership.