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Fleet Street road sign

Fleet Street is a street in London, England, named after the River Fleet, a London stream that now flows underground. It was the home of the British press until the 1980s. Even though the last major British news office, Reuters, left in 2005, the street's name continues to be used as a metonym for the British national press.

Contents

History and location

Fleet Street in 1890

Fleet Street began as the road from the commercial City of London to the political hub at Westminster. The length of Fleet Street marks the expansion of the City in the 14th century. At the east end of the street is where the River Fleet flowed against the mediæval walls of London; at the west end is the Temple Bar which marks the current city limits, extended to there in 1329.

To the south lies an area of legal buildings known as the Temple, formerly the property of the Knights Templar, which at its core includes two of the four Inns of Court: the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple. There are many lawyers' offices (especially barristers' chambers) in the vicinity. Nearby, on Strand, are the Royal Courts of Justice and the Old Bailey is also only a few minutes walk from Ludgate Circus.

Publishing started in Fleet Street around 1500 when William Caxton's apprentice, Wynkyn de Worde, set up a printing shop near Shoe Lane, while at around the same time Richard Pynson set up as publisher and printer next to St Dunstan's church. More printers and publishers followed, mainly supplying the legal trade in the four Law Inns around the area. In March 1702, London's first daily newspaper, The Daily Courant, was published in Fleet Street from premises above the White Hart Inn.

At Temple Bar to the west, as Fleet Street crosses the boundary out of the City of London, it becomes the Strand; to the east, past Ludgate Circus, the route rises as Ludgate Hill. The nearest tube stations are Temple, Chancery Lane, and Blackfriars underground/ mainline stations and the City Thameslink station. Chancery Lane and Fetter Lane are at the western end of the street.

Fleet Street is a location on the London version of the Monopoly board game.

Fleet Street is also famous for the barber Sweeney Todd, traditionally said to have lived and worked in Fleet Street (he is sometimes called "the Demon Barber of Fleet Street"). An early example of a serial killer, the character appears in various English language works starting in the mid-19th century. Neither the popular press, the Old Bailey trial records, the trade directories of the City nor the lists of the Barbers Company of the City mention any such person or indeed any such case.

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A4 Road

The A4 road historically began at Ludgate Circus and the whole of Fleet Street was part of the route. However the A4 route today begins at Holborn Circus, runs down Fetter Lane and then the western part of Fleet Street. The A4 then continues west into Westminster.

Present day

Fleet Street in 2005

Fleet Street is now more associated with the law and its inns and barristers' chambers, many of which are down alleys and around courtyards off Fleet Street itself, almost all of the newspapers thereabouts having moved to Wapping and Canary Wharf. The former offices of The Daily Telegraph, drawn upon as a source by Evelyn Waugh in his comic novel Scoop, are now the London headquarters of the investment bank Goldman Sachs. C. Hoare & Co, England's oldest privately owned bank, has had its place of business here since 1690. An informal measure of City takeover business employed by financial editors is the number of taxis waiting outside such law firms as Freshfields at 11pm: a long line is held to suggest a large number of mergers and acquisitions in progress.[1]

The French-owned international news and photo agency Agence France Presse is still based in Fleet Street, as is the London office of D.C. Thomson & Co., creator of The Beano. The Secretariat of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association is also an important Fleet Street address. Since 1995 Fleet Street has been the home of Wentworth Publishing, an independent publisher of newsletters and courses. In 2006 the Press Gazette returned to Fleet Street, albeit only briefly. The Associated Press and The Jewish Chronicle remain close by. The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph have recently returned to the centre of London after exile downriver in Canary Wharf, but are still a few miles away, near Victoria Station.

St Bride's Church, just off the eastern end of Fleet Street, remains the London church most associated with the print industry. A plaque in the church records the vigils held for journalists held hostage in Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s, including John McCarthy and Terry Anderson.[2] In the adjacent, St Brides Lane, is the St Bride Library, specialising in the type and print industry.

Child & Co Bankers, one of the country's oldest private banks and owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc, is based at 1 Fleet Street.

The Office of Fair Trading, the UK government's competition law regulator, is based on Salisbury Square, just off Fleet Street.

Culture

The City's Dragon 'supporter' atop the present Temple Bar

The term Fleet Street is also used to indicate that a journalist is a member of the generation that worked on newspapers prior to their move away from its vicinity, and is synonymous with a bibulous, collegial tradition characterised by such figures as Paul Callan and Brian Vine. Gossip was exchanged over liquid lunches at such hostelries as El Vino's. Liquid dinners were equally familiar, editors often dining in the Grill of the Savoy Hotel, returning about 10pm to see the first editions of their papers roll off the presses. These were then transported by road to railway stations to catch the night mail expresses to far-flung corners of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

A significant mythology has accreted around Fleet Street, its characters, their scoops – and imaginative expense accounts. The most durable, however, concern stories that were not printed, usually on account of Britain's strict libel laws. Few of the novels referenced below constitute exaggerations, the truth being, in the cliché of the sub-editors on the back benches, "stranger than fiction". According to journalistic lore it was not editors who constituted the heart of Fleet Street but diary writers and gossip columnists, whose stories would often make the front page: the exploits of Diana Princess of Wales provided frequent examples of diary stories transmuted into news and even news features.

Journalists

The content of a Fleet Street newspaper is influenced by its proprietor, editor, journalists and columnists. Many of the owners achieved notoriety, notably Lord Northcliffe, Lord Beaverbrook and Robert Maxwell, all of whom used their papers to support their political agenda, an approach still employed by some present day proprietors. Generally newspapers are run on more business-like lines today, with some expectation of profit, or at least manageable losses. Ownership was long considered an honour for which the proprietor was expected to pay: with it came influence, and if exercised responsibly, an honour usually followed.

A number of great editors are still recalled and their dictates followed long after being summoned to the "great newsroom in the sky" as one obituarist put it. They include Arthur Christianson of the Daily Express and Sir John Junor of the Sunday Express. Of living editors the brief reign of Janet Street-Porter at the Independent on Sunday is still the subject of many anecdotes, some of them true. Each editor is supported by department heads such as the foreign editor, news editor, picture editor and chief sub-editor, all of whom attend the morning conference to determine the day's news agenda. Rule number one of Fleet Street journalism is that "The Editor's decision is final". Unless, of course, the proprietor intervenes, as Rupert Murdoch is recorded by his biographers as doing on a number of occasions.

By consent the elite of journalists are its foreign and war correspondents, of whom there are many fewer than formerly. There is also a highly paid category of experienced writers, the "firemen", who are dispatched to crisis venues to report, these days often via satellite telephones. The stock of political editors stands lower than hitherto, having been the subject of both political and academic criticism for becoming too close to government press officers, notably Alastair Campbell. The latter are accused of manipulating the political news agenda - "spinning" - by feeding stories, sometimes slanted, to certain favoured newspapers and sympathetic correspondents thereon. Some of the most highly paid journalists are the diary editors and show business reporters, whose contacts are highly valued. Crime correspondents rank lower in the hierarchy along with sports reporters, and are remunerated accordingly.

Certain reporters have achieved legendary status, their adventures still recounted admiringly. They include Bill Deedes, immortalised by Evelyn Waugh, the Calcutta-born gossip columnist Nigel Dempster, who purported to be an Australian, fellow diarist Jan Reid who claimed to be the grandchild of Queen Victoria, the Daily Express's New York correspondent Brian Vine, known as "El Vino", showbiz interviewer Paul Callan who slept, inter alia, with his little black book containing the private telephone numbers of Cary Grant and the Pope, and profiler Geoff "The Hatchet" Levy.

Fleet Street was the home of heavyweight sports columnists who often had pens dipped in poison, carrying huge clout in the sports world until usurped by opinionated television pundits. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s every newspaper had a columnist who helped shape the views and opinions of not only readers but the sports establishment. Giants of the genre included Peter "The Man They Can't Gag" Wilson of the Daily Mirror, the "Man in the Brown Bowler" Desmond Hackett, of the Daily Express, Geoffrey Green and John Woodcock, of The Times, J.L. Manning and Ian Wooldridge Daily Mail, Hugh McIlvanney The Observer and, later, Patrick Collins Mail on Sunday. The first of the post-war 'personality' sports columnists was Henry Rose, Manchester-based writer with the Daily Express. He was killed in the 1958 Munich Air Crash that wiped out the Busby Babes of Manchester United, and also cost the lives of eight football writers. Henry Rose was so revered that on the day of his funeral 1,000 Manchester taxi-drivers took mourners free of charge on the six-mile drive to the cemetery.

Columnists are not necessarily journalists, some being TV personalities like Terry Wogan, retired police chiefs, or politicians who have failed to achieve the highest office. Examples of the latter would be the self-confessed "Champagne Socialist" Woodrow Wyatt and the unsuccessful Conservative leadership candidate Michael Portillo. Each newspaper will also usually have as columnists one perky blonde housewife, and a polemicist tasked to take a contrarian view on the week's events, plus an agony aunt to advise readers on their sexual problems, preferably in explicit detail.

There is a Fleet Street tradition of retaining a corpus of outside experts to pontificate on major issues. Among the most frequently employed are military historians like Corelli Barnett and Nigel West whose speciality is security and intelligence. Leading academics like the historian Niall Ferguson and the philosopher Roger Scruton are valued for their ability to summarise both sides of an argument and reach a persuasive conclusion compatible with newspaper's standpoint - all within a thousand words.

Editorial policy

Unlike the United States where national newspapers do not exist in the European sense, and the liberal or conservative perspective of some major newspapers is not openly declared, Fleet Street has enjoyed the diversity of over a dozen national daily and Sunday newspapers with differing political stances. Indeed these newspapers are quite open about their biases: a reader of The Guardian would be well aware of the liberal sympathies of its editorials, that of the Daily Telegraph of its support for Conservative policies. Other right-leaning papers include the Daily Mail and more recently the Daily Express, whereas The Independent is considered to follow a more politically correct line. The Daily Mirror aligns itself with the trades unions and Labour Party-supporting working classes. The positions adopted by the Times and, more surprisingly, the Financial Times have in recent years been centre-left and generally supportive of New Labour. The policy of the Daily Sport was characterised by one commentator as "pro-nipple".[3] The Sunday versions of these papers follow the editorial line of their daily sister.

Fiction and drama about Fleet Street

Non-fiction

  • Fritz Spiegl: Keep Taking the Tabloids. What the Papers Say and How They Say It (1983).
  • A. N. Wilson: London: A Short History (2004).
  • Alan Watkins: A Short Walk Down Fleet Street.

See also

External links

Notes

  1. ^ Financial Times magazine
  2. ^ Heart of Fleet Street (St Bride's Church) accessed 5 June 2008
  3. ^ Attributed to Brian MacArthur, media correspondent of the Sunday Times. Such matters are tracked with care, a running nipple count being maintained by competing tabloids.

Coordinates: 51°30′51″N 0°06′32″W / 51.51417°N 0.10889°W / 51.51417; -0.10889


Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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Wikipedia

English

Etymology

From the (now underground) River Fleet, over which much of Fleet Street runs.

Proper noun

Singular
Fleet Street

Plural
-

Fleet Street

  1. a street in Westminster that runs from Ludgate Hill to the Strand, formerly the centre of English journalism
  2. English journalism or journalists as a group

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