The Christiansen Chronicles

Arthur Christiansen, seated at desk, at work in the Express offices in Fleet Street,1949. The man on Christiansen’s immediate left, in the jumper with the sleeves rolled up, is Harold Keeble, who went on to edit the Sunday Express from 1952 to 1954 when he was replaced by John Junor
(Photo by Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Arthur Christiansen was editor of the Daily Express during its greatest years, from 1937 to 1953. During this time he increased circulation from less than two million to more than four million. 

Each day he wrote a bulletin, commenting on that day’s newspaper, which was compulsory reading for members of editorial staff.

These fascinating bulletins will now be reprinted in the Drone, a new one every day, latest at the top.

letter to the editor

SIR — Excellent bulletin stuff. I can’t identify the hangers-on in your 1949 Christiansen picture but I recognize the desk, behind which sat many other editors I encountered. I wonder if the soppy socialist Gary Jones is using it? Retch has probably flogged it off. 

RICK McNEILL

One thing in particular drives me frantic in newspapers. It is the misplaced crosshead or the misplaced decorative drop letter. Example: On today's first-class leader page there is an enormous drop letter in Jaffa's article right in the middle of a letter from a reader. (December 12, 1951)
*****
I have been pondering this week-end the question of the overall look. Nothing particularly new, but maybe worthwhile as a reminder… 

If Page 1 is heavily illustrated in a six-page paper, then pack pages 2 and 5. 

If Page 3 is heavily illustrated or featured, then pack Page 2, even to the extent of cutting out illustrations altogether. 

In an eight-page paper there is room to deviate from these generalisations, but in a six-page paper the balance of features (including pictures) against news should always be carefully sustained (June 23, 1952).

*****
The Page One story headed 'Wall-street slump' — I would avoid the use of the word 'slump' unless it is done with the full co-operation and authority of the City Editor. This was a fall, or a setback, and nothing like a slump (January 11, 1951).

*****
We do not like sentences beginning with the word 'Because...' because such sentences confuse the readers. I think we might avoid beginning sentences with the word 'so' (August 17, 1951).
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We must avoid toughness in our telling of the news. The ending of the Admiral Simpson story is a first-class piece of Fleet Street writing. Absolutely admirable in that respect. But so tough as to make the Express appear to be without human sympathies (January 7, 1952).
*****
Avoid inverted sentences such as, 'Pleased by the success of the experiment to produce electric power from atomic energy, American scientists are going ahead with bigger experiments.' (December 31, 1951)

*****
We are in such trouble with collective nouns. I do not like the sentence, 'How much money does a young couple need?' Opinion column says, 'British Overseas Airways have the right '. But if you say, 'BOAC' the use of the singular becomes clearly correct (May 6, 1952).
*****
We have a rule in the office, which I thought everyone knew, that football clubs are the one exception to our rule that collective nouns take the singular (May 1, 1952).

*****
Has anybody ever wondered why indecent offences are called "certain" incidents? Why the word "certain"? Is it necessary? Sometimes it probably is, but all generally accepted journalistic phraseology should be examined from time to time. (April 24, 1952)

*****
In Frank Rostron's piece from Hove the ugly phrase "Sussex's" occurs twice. In a message from Pat Marshall last week the phrase "Notts's" occurs. Can we avoid these cumbersome possessives? You don't say "Notts's " or "Sussex's," so why print such phrases? (May 13, 1952)

*****
I don't believe that Mr. Gulbenkian's secretary talks about Mrs Gulbenkian "throwing a party" and having "top society" invited.

I believe these things get into newspapers when reporters telephone and say, 'Will Mrs Gulbenkian be throwing a party? or 'Will the top society of Paris be invited?’ 

To each of these questions the secretary would say, 'Yes' and then it becomes a first-person quote. If I am am wrong, correct me. But in any case, bar the phrase 'Throw a party.' Bar such expressions as 'She thought it up.' (June 13, 1952)

*****
We call the British Embassy "our" embassy in the 4.30 a.m. fudge. That is wrong. (May 27, 1952)

*****
I see that we used the phrase "charged with" in police court cases. R.D.B.* used to bar the phrase in his "Do's and Don'ts" and I suggest that we keep to his rule. 

*****
He took the view that a man was charged with liquor but ACCUSED of an offence. "Accused of" is a much stronger term and most utilitarian in that it covers criminal charges as well as summonses. (June 24, 1952)

*****

See on Page 3 the phrase "together with." The word "with" does the work. The introduction of "together" is tautologous. R.D.B*. banned "together with" years ago and the ban is herewith renewed. (June 18, 1952)

*Pen name of Ralph Blumenfeld, who edited the Daily Express from 1902 to 1929.

*****
"Once Britten twice shy" is a pun that will amuse some people and irritate others. We should rigorously, vigorously, ban puns in headline and text (June 17, 1952).

*****

There is a story here which starts: "Mr. Grigg was at Bodmin yesterday granted a deree nisi." Why not, Mr. Sub-editor, obey the style of the paper and say "was granted a decree nisi at Bodmin yesterday"? (July 8, 1952)

*****
I make a recommendation to the reporting staff of the utmost importance. It can be summed up in one sentence: BE FRANK WITH THE EXECUTIVES. 

When stories contain snags which require executive consideration, the smallest concealment of essential evidence may affect publication in the most dramatic way. A piece of news may, on the surface, warrant a splash story on Page One, whereas if all the facts were known the spike might be the appropriate place. 

It is not the duty of reporters to build up news for the purpose of securing publication, but to present an honest, reliable and complete appraisal of the news they are sent to investigate.

A typical example occurred last night when a piece of news that was nine months old was submitted…

Beware of the cart-before-the-horse journalism. Malan's announcement of the General Election was more important than the tapping of the telephone wires. I am all for angles, but there are many occasions when the main facts must take precedence. (April 21, 1952) 

*****
Mr Hearst* says that his ideal newspaper is one that causes the following reaction: "When the reader looks at Page One, he says, 'Gee-whiz.' When he turns to the second page, he says, 'Holy Moses.' And when he turns to the middle page, he says, 'God Almighty.' (July 11, 1952)

*Newspaper publisher Randolph Hearst owned the largest chain of American newspapers in the late 19th century, and was particularly known for sensational "yellow journalism”.
*****
Don't dateline foreign stories from obscure places. (September 10, 1952)

*****

One or two stories recently have assumed what might be called the "My, oh my" school of journalism in their introductions. The idea presumably is to give the world the impression that there is something surprising coming if you read on. Drop it. If you tell the news dramatically the reader will make up his own mind whether he is interested or not. (September 10, 1952)
*****

I see that Mr Randolph Churchill is described without the prefix in the story about Tito. The rule of this office is that famous men, such as Winston Churchill and Lloyd George, or men of that eminence may appear without the prefix, but not the sons of famous men. (September 22, 1952)

*****

Let us make war on adjectives. The first edition Diary today says that Miss Bridge is "a well-known flower painter." There is no need for the adjective. If she is not a well-known flower painter, then the adjective is a lie. (December 23, 1952)

*****
I see on Page 5 that the Acton Council decided last night not to allow its tenants to ‘purchase’ their homes. Why not the shorter word, ‘ uy'? There were a lot of good rules of this sort introduced by RDB (Blumenfeld, a former editor) and some of them should survive. Example: Never use ‘commence,’ always ‘begin’. In other words, avoid words of Latin or French derivation and try to find the Anglo-Saxon word which does the job. (October 22, 1952).

*****

A story starts "Remember the story. .." The word" story " should not be used because it is a journalistic phrase. "Remember the news" is correct. Our readers do not talk about stories but "articles" or "pieces" in the paper. (October 24, 1952)

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We must always assume that the bulk of our readers "go shopping" for their news and do not read every word as thoroughly as journalists are expected to. In theory every story should re-cap on the previous day. It is difficult but the effort ought to be made. (December 1, 1952)

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Ban the word "exclusive" in the Express. Our aim is to make everything exclusive. Therefore we have no need to boast. (January 27, 1953)

*****

I was glad to see the interview with the Foreign Office being conducted by the Q. and A. system. This formula is not only factually helpful but typographically attractive. (January 6, 1953)

*****

Good stories flow like honey. Bad stories stick in the craw. What is a bad story? It is a story that cannot be absorbed on the first time of reading. It is a story that leaves questions unanswered. It is a story that has to be read two or three times before it can be comprehended. And a good story can be turned into a bad story by just one obscure sentence. (April 29, 1953)

*****

Now here is a perfect Express intro :

"Mr. Roland Beaumont was sitting beside the fire last night, recovering from flu, when he heard a radio announcement that he had been awarded the Britannia Trophy for the best air performance of 1952." (January 30, 1953)

Christiansen wrote later: (Note: In fact, it is not a perfect intro, as I pointed out on my first day at the Express — Roly Beamont spelled his name without the 'u'. There was nothing clever about my knowledge: we were members of the same aero club.)

Peace in his time

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