It’s a common misconception that modern-day journalism’s obsession with celebrity and scandal is a new thing, according to national press cartoonist, author and amateur historian Adrian Teal.
He claims that British journalism has changed very little since its “golden age” – the 18th century.
Teal, who has had his work published in The Sun, Sunday Telegraph, Scotsman and Time Out, has spent the last three years putting together a book, which aims to put across this message.
The Gin Lane Gazette is a fictional newspaper book, which cherry-picks the biggest and most controversial stories from the latter half of the 18th century.
The product of months of researching, writing, proof-reading and cartooning is, in Teal’s words, a “Georgian Heat magazine”.
“The nice thing about the 18th century is it was the first golden age of newspapers. And it was a golden age of caricature. So I’m bringing them together in, I hope, an original form,” he says.
“We’re making it bawdy – because we want to reflect the era as much as possible.”
The book is aimed at bringing all of the best, most scandalous, stories between 1750 and 1800 together into 120 pages, illustrated to look like a paper of the time.
So, is it just illustrated Edwardian pornography? “It’s not wall to wall sex, but there is quite a lot of bawdy stuff in it,” explains Teal.
“London was a sexual theme park in the 18th century – it really was. Literally on every street corner there was a prostitute. London was the centre of the sex industry. There’s no avoiding it. But it’s good fun – it’s such a good laugh.”
But he insists: “It’s not just sex. It’s oddities, advertisements, lonely heart pages and sports reports – and most of the elements of a modern newspaper. But these existed in the 18th century. All those elements we consider to be a modern newspaper were there in the 18th century. So, in that sense, it’s pretty authentic to the age.”
All the stories Teal uses are factual, with the information collected from history books and old newspaper clippings. While the old newspapers look unusual – they are smaller and less picture-based – Teal again insists the content has remained similar.
“The point I’m trying to make by a rather round-about route is that nothing really changes. And most of the things that we think of as characterising the modern world were already in place in the 1700s.
“Actresses and courtesans were every bit as lauded and celebrated and reviled as they are today. When you get people like Jodie Marsh and Katie Price turning up with their knockers hanging out at a premier or something – that was happening 250 years ago.”
But it wasn’t just celebrities that were defining newspapers. Teal says: “The guy who sums up what Georgian newspapers were all about was an editor called Reverend Henry Bate. He makes Paul Dacre look like Cliff Richard. He was an amateur pugilist.
“He once got in an affray at Vauxhall gardens when his sister-in-law was harangued by a bunch of fashionable young men, shouting lewd comments. He took them and their bodyguard – a professional prize fighter – and he beat the crap out of him and made his name as a man not to be trifled with.”
Bate, during his career, edited the Morning Herald and, after fighting one of his colleagues in a duel, set up a new newspaper called the Morning Post.
Teal says: “So newspaper editors in those days were quite punchy, bombastic fellows. To me he kind of sums up the newspapermen of the age.”