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How 'Stop the presses' saved Britain from a newspaper tycoon revolution

Things are different in America - still. Despite all the togetherness of the internet and super-easy air travel, you can even today be surprised (for good or ill) at what's going across the Atlantic. This blog, borrowing its title from the legendary Alistair Cooke, aims to keep you in the picture about things you might not otherwise know.

Tycoons go hand in hand with newspapers. And it's no surprise that the American newspaper industry has - after the initial shock - welcomed the two new billionaires on the block: Jeff Bezos of Amazon and John Henry of the Red Sox.

Cecil King

These two tycoons will give some confidence back to the business, after years in which it has been bleeding cash and losing faith in the future.

The big surprise was the Post sale. As the New York Times put it, "The shock was shared in newsrooms across the country as "one of the crown jewels of newspapers was surrendered by one of the industry’s royal families. "

Which is a bit rich as they themselves had just flogged the Boston Globe.

Both the Bezos and Henry stories are awash with speculation that somehow not a lot will change. And that the new bosses will not get into editorial. Even if that's what is being said, it defies reason that they will not have a huge influence these two great newspapers.

The very fact that they are there will have journalists striving harder than ever to impress the new boss with big stories and new initiatives.

Everything is up for grabs and quite the most intriguing suggestion is that The Washington Post could became a real national rival to the New York Times. One idea: even deliver the Post with some of Amazon's fast mail packages (But won't that make the news a bit, er, ancient?).

Bezos and Henry have delivered a real shot of adrenaline to the industry. It is a great confidence boost, even if a bit scary.

My contact with tycoons in the past has been limited to a few: Cecil King on the Mirror, Beaverbrook briefly on the Glasgow Citizen , and Robert Maxwell on the Mirror. That was probably enough. Softly, softly was not their way of doing business .

King and his sidekick Hugh Cudlipp were the driving force between many of the Mirror's great campaigns. But it was left to King to commit the tycoon gaffe to end all gaffes.

With Harold Wilson's government faltering in the early 70s, King decided that the rot had to be stopped. He even consulted luminaries such as Louis Mountbatten (his idea for a substitute

PM) and it was clear he had revolution in mind.

A leader was penned with the striking headline "Enough is Enough". But in London, wiser counsel prevailed and the incendiary leader was dumped on the board's orders after warnings that it was treasonous.

In Glasgow though - where the Daily Record then ran Mirror policy leaders, press time was more than an hour ahead of London. And the presses were already running with "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH."

Night editor Pat McKenna, alerted by London, phoned production to stop the presses. "Are you sure?" production boss Neil Currie asked him."It was the only time it ever happened in my career, " said Pat.

I myself was sent downstairs to the press hall to add my "Stop the Presses" yell. The papers were already trundling towards despatch. To my lasting regret I never grabbed a copy.

The treacherous paper never saw the light of day. And King left the company.

Maxwell was another tycoon whom the new bosses would do well to avoid emulating. From the dark days when he cowed the old Reed bosses into selling out to him to his final big splash when he went overboard from his yacht with hundred of millions in pension fund assets missing, there was never a dull moment.

He did drive the Mirror into colour - ahead of the Sun. He showed his commitment to the Record in Scotland by having a messenger fly down with a Maxwell tartan tie to make a TV commercial for the Scots.

He came on the phone one Saturday when I was editing the Sunday Mail for frequent updates on the unfolding Hillsborough tragedy . At one one point I told him (correctly as it tuned out) that the police had a lot to answer for.

But as the years went by, things soured. The Record once made more money than the Mirror but Maxwell manufactured a "survival plan" that saw barbed wire at Anderston Quay and a (totally bogus) plan to produce an alternative Daily Record out of Manchester. He knew it was bogus, put poor old British Rail, charged with laying on the trains, didn't.

Thank goodness, no such nonsense is likely to emanate from our new US tycoons. What we are about to witness could be the dawn of the new tomorrow.