In the fall of 1999, I took a call from an envoy from Paul Dacre, the commanding editor of the Daily Mail.
Robin Esser, in the glorious tradition of the newspaper, invited me to have a glass of champagne with him at the Howard Hotel on the Embankment in central London.
He told me that Andrew Alexander, who had been the astringent city editor for the Daily Mail, was retiring full-time in May 2000 and I would be interested in the job?
Historical: The Royal Exchange (right) and the Bank of England (left) at the turn of the century
For the past decade, I’ve been the Guardian’s finance editor, and politically, I’d make the longest left-to-right journey in journalism. I also understood that if I landed the post, I would be following in the footsteps of giants.
City and business editors come and go in most newspapers, but with Mail it’s a calling.
My most famous predecessor, Sir Patrick Sergeant, who is now 97 years old, said this weekend: “Shortly after I became city editor in 1960, Lord Rothermere [Esmond Harmsworth] asked me if I was happy there.
“I said,” Very happy, thank you sir. “He replied,” Good, because you will find that the city editors have been here for a long time while the managers come and go. “I was the city editor for 24 years and my predecessor for 25 years. ‘
Enduring Legacy: Sir Patrick Sergeant reinvented financial journalism during his 24 years as city editor
As a financial journalist in the early 1970s, Sergeant’s comments on the Mail City pages were my first stop.
Not only had he reinvented financial journalism so that it could not only appeal to the city’s financiers, but also move the stock price or the markets single-handedly.
He had the ear of the nation’s chiefs, successive governors of the Bank of England, and number 11.
One of his lasting legacies was the newspaper’s personal finance department, Money Mail, the first in a national newspaper.
He put together a team that focused on readers’ everyday problems: making the best purchases in savings, mortgages, insurance, and more.
The editor of the section, Margaret Stone, was famous for her wise advice and the question about Margaret, which still reaches the city office today and is cleverly answered by her immediate successor Tony Hazell in his “Ask Tony” column.
The memory of Sergeant’s glorious reign and the ability of his successor Andrew Alexander to rally troops around the flag of the Thatcherite laissez faire economy was legendary.
Alexander was a Eurosceptic long before Brexit came over the horizon. His great accomplishments included the discovery in 1989 that Lord Hanson had acquired a strategic stake in Britain’s largest industrial group, ICI.
It sparked a series of events that saw ICI’s pharmaceutical division, Astrazeneca, spin off as a standalone company that led to the vaccine for people in the age of Covid.
Helping Hand: Renowned Money Mail editor Margaret Stone was famous for her wise advice
Charles Duguid, whose tenure as city editor began in 1906, is another who deserves fond memories.
Duguid’s status was based on his authorship of How To Read The Money Article, a bestseller that helped promote private investment.
On the eve of World War I, the London Stock Exchange (LSE) closed in a deep recession, chaos in the markets and a debacle over the issuance of war credit.
Amid great anger among the 5,000 members of the London Stock Exchange, Duguid stepped into the breach.
On August 1, 1914, he took out half-page advertisements in the Financial Times and Financial News, announcing that when the LSE was closed, “sellers wanting money for stocks they hold and buyers getting stocks at the current low prices wish to “buy and could buy selling stocks on the Daily Mail Exchange for two shillings and six pence for every deal.
The Daily Mail Exchange was very busy until August 1915. Trading eventually ceased “because of the war conditions now prevailing, the stagnation in stock and stock trading, and the pressure of war news on our space”.
For a year the Daily Mail Exchange was the main venue for stock trading in the UK!
Timing was especially important because of the pre-war economic disruption.
Former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King said this was Britain’s biggest financial crisis until it was surpassed by the 2007-09 banking crisis almost a century later.
Mail’s City’s golden legacy of economic and personal financial reporting lives on.
Myself and my colleague, Business Editor Ruth Sunderland, are writing for you, the reader, with Victoria Bischoff and her Money Mail reporters.
We take care of you, the private investor, regardless of whether you dive directly into the stock market or want to save through an Isa, a trust or a pension fund.
But we also care about the future of the UK. It is for this reason that we have campaigned against financially motivated overseas acquisitions with some notable success over the past two decades.
If we hadn’t taken sides, our largest defense company, BAE, might be part of Airbus, Astrazeneca, an offshoot of Pfizer and Unilever that was swallowed up by Kraft Heinz or hid in Rotterdam.
The City Pages firmly believe in the magic of markets, free enterprise, wealth creation and pursuit.
But we also believe in fairness, less greed and better offerings for women and minorities in the boardrooms and in business in the country in the broader sense.
We learned from our famous ancestors. Hopefully future generations of city reporters, whether on the print, in the broadcast studios or online, can learn something from us.
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