The Evening Standard: is it still London's paper?

From January, my old newspaper, the Evening Standard, will be more genuinely an evening. It is to drop its 9am edition, using the presses vacated by London Lite to print all its 600,000 copies in the afternoon. I always thought the Standard should focus more on the end of the day. That early edition essentially went to press before anything had happened – but now every Standard reader will get fresher news, and the hacks won’t have to get up at 4am. As well as saving money, there’s a lot to be said for giving people something whose content is completely different from their morning read.

But there are downsides, such as up to 20 job losses. And the move to afternoons can only accelerate one unfortunate side-effect of the Standard’s change to free. It’s in danger of becoming, not London’s newspaper, but central London’s newspaper. I live in Greenwich, only three miles from the printworks, but it’s almost impossible to find the Standard any more – and I miss reading it, as do a lot of my neighbours. Steadfastly ignoring my change of employer, my newsagent, Raj, gently chides me when I go in his shop – he had plenty of customers for the Standard.

Various boring Standard-haters would always claim that no one outside Chelsea read the paper. But in the real world, the sense of loss, as the BBC recently found, seems quite widespread, with a lot of people in places like Walthamstow and Palmers Green who’d been taking it for years deprived overnight. That’s no way to treat your loyal readers. The moneymen say that it costs too much to deliver to far-flung suburbs. But the counter-argument is this. For a paper now entirely dependent on ad revenue, it is crucial to get yourself into the hands of not just any old 600,000 readers – but the right 600,000 readers. Readers who live in London; readers with money to spend; and readers who actually want to read the paper.

What they’re doing at the moment is giving a fair proportion of those 600,000 copies to tourists and visitors; to people who probably won’t be interested in the houses, cars and clothes advertised; and to people who only take it because it is thrust into their hands, people who may glance through it briefly, then throw it away.

I think there’s a lot of demand – and a lot of ad revenue – in places like Greenwich, many of them rather prosperous. They should divert some of those 600,000 copies to us, or even sell it to us while keeping it free in the centre. At the very least, they should make strenuous efforts to make sure that Zones 2-6 know about the excellent (and now also free) full-paper PDF download. I think we’d repay the attention.


A historic anniversary: 35 years since the opening of Britain's first McDonald's

As a resident of the London Borough of Greenwich, I am proud to live in a place stuffed with historic landmarks – buildings around which has swirled the eddy of Our Island Story.

Such as, for instance, the McDonald’s in Woolwich. Forget the Royal Naval College. It was the rather humbler environs of Powis Street, SE18, that witnessed – on November 13, 1974 – an event of far more importance in the shaping of modern Britain, the opening of the UK’s very first Golden Arches.

As you can see from the first menu, it was actually pretty expensive – 43p for a burger and 97p for a Quarterpounder With Cheese was quite a lot of money in 1974. But nothing, nothing could stop grease-starved Brits’ stampede for the Big Mac.

Thirty billion discarded plastic drink cups later, the restaurant is holding a special 35-year birthday celebration today to mark the historic event. Woolwich’s MP Nick Raynsford, the Mayor of Greenwich and someone even wackier and more famous than either of those two characters – Ronald McDonald himself – will be dropping in to the party.

It’s all here on the excellent Twitter feed of the restaurant’s manager, Taimoor Sheikh.  Share and enjoy!

Boris Johnson's end of an error

Buses on London's route 38 are to be liberated of the bendy bus (Photo: Daniel Jones)
Buses on London's route 38 are to be liberated of the bendy bus (Photo: Daniel Jones)

In the Friday the 13th movies (all eight of them – or possibly nine, I lose count) this is traditionally the day for mass teenage slaughter at high-school summer camps across America. London, however, is killing off something altogether more deserving.

Today, surely co-ordinated by some higher power, sees the long-awaited demise of two small things that made the capital just that bit more tiresome, that bit more dumbed-down. Just after noon, the very last Amy Winehouse and Peter Andre stories will appear in the very last issue of London Lite. Only the cat-litter trays will miss it. How can anyone else mourn a publication that cannot even spell its own name?

And just after 1am tonight, no doubt with memorial-issue Lites swilling around each of their floors, fifty or so bendy buses will die lonely, late-night deaths in parking bays somewhere near Hackney. Weeping crowds will not gather to mourn the historic event. Tickets for the last run will not change hands for large sums on eBay. A special bendy heritage service will not be operated for tourists.

The buses are from route 38, the first major service to be liberated from bendies and a key beachhead in Boris Johnson’s jihad to clear London of the invaders by 2011. There have already been two (entirely trouble-free) conversions of shorter routes, the 507 and 521.

In its new, double-deck guise, the frequency of route 38 will increase dramatically from tomorrow, and the number of seats on the route will more than double. But I predict that a few misguided nostalgics will still try to resist the march of progress. Much as certain Right-wing newspapers hark back to a 1950s golden age which never really existed, some Londoners still yearn for their own imaginary, vanished Arcadia – Ken Livingstone’s mayoralty. Moaning about the death of Ken’s bendies is the North London Left’s equivalent of complaining that the rot set in when women started wearing trousers in public.

The rest of us, however, can simply appreciate the rare spectacle of a politician, Boris Johnson, honouring a promise on which he was elected.