War

Copyright: John Frost Newspapers

The newspaper: The Sun

The date:May 4, 1982

The news event:Argentine cruiser attacked by British submarine

What you see

This is one of the most controversial front pages in recent history. The Sun was using the power of its front page to celebrate the successes of the British army during the Falklands War. The headline uses the language of a football crowd, or a game show. It is the language of winners and losers. The headline outraged many members of the public, and as soon as Kelvin MacKenzie, the Sun's editor, realised this the front page was pulled. This kind of language, it was soon clear, could create a scandal, and scandals are bad for business. Only a few thousand copies of this design were actually issued.

Background

This front page was printed on May 4, 1982, just over one month after Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a small British territory in the South Atlantic. The islands, which are situated off the coast of Argentina, had been claimed by Britain in 1833. Now the Argentines were claiming them back. Having invaded the islands, the Argentine army rapidly put up their flag over Government House in the islands' capital, Port Stanley. Britain immediately assembled a naval force and set out to re-capture the islands. The war that followed cost the lives of 655 Argentine and 255 British servicemen, most of whom were sailors killed during attacks on warships. Many saw this as a pointless war, an arrogant show of old fashioned British imperialism, which cost too many lives. After all, the British had already been in negotiations to return control of the Islands to Argentina. However, it is generally accepted that Margaret Thatcher's popularity was greatly bolstered by the war. The war ended on June 14 when the Argentines surrendered to British troops.

The front page

Early in May news came through to London that Argentina's only cruiser (a big naval ship), the General Belgrano had been hit by torpedoes fired from a British nuclear submarine. Of the approximately 1000 men on board the Belgrano, 368 died. When the news of the attack came through, the first British newspaper to go to press was The Sun. One of the news executives said 'Gotcha' when she heard about the incident. It seemed to The Sun editors just the right headline to use for the story. Below this are similarly cartoon-like words and phrases: 'crippled', 'a devastating double punch', 'wallop', 'The navy had the Argies on their knees'. Many believe the front page was tasteless and sensationalist, given that hundreds had died. In fact MacKenzie hadn't realised that so many lives had been lost when he agreed to the front page - but it was too late. Thousands of issues had already been circulated. Despite the scandal, The Sun continued to report the war in this tone.

Design

The massive headline dominates the front page. It was designed to be visible from far away - for many people it would have provided the first insight into what had happened in the South Atlantic. Once the headline had been 'blown up' or expanded, the rest of the puzzle was put into place. The pictures of the gunboat that had been sunk, and the cruiser that was holed by torpedoes would have come from 'stock' - a collection of photographs kept in the newspaper library. At the top of the page there is 'ragout', or cut-out of a headline and story previously used about the QE2 liner being brought in to carry British troops to the war. Next to it is a typical tabloid device to get readers to think their newspaper is the best - a small story saying The Sun told readers first about the story, not other newspapers. Underneath the sub-heading: 'Our lads sink gunboat and hole cruiser' is a 'logo' (Battle for the islands) which the newspaper would have used throughout their reporting of the war.