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Listen to English podcasts are written and produced by Peter Carter, Birmingham, England.
Listen to English podcasts are distributed under a Creative Commons attribution-non-commercial-no-derivatives licence.

The Grauniad

In today’s podcast, we are going to talk about a birthday, and learn the English words for some of the things which you may find in a newspaper.

First, the birthday. 190 years ago, on 5 May 1821, people in Manchester were able to buy the first edition of a new newspaper, the Manchester Guardian. It was a weekly newspaper, though it became a daily a few years later. It had 4 pages, and it cost 7 old pence (see the podcast on Old Money, New Money which explains what “old pence” were.) Seven pence was very expensive, but the high price was because there was a tax on newspapers. In fact, the government took 4 pence in tax for every copy sold.

Coincidentally, 5 May 1821 was also the day when the French Emperor Napoleon died, in exile on the British island of St Helena in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. But the new Manchester Guardian did not report this important event, because the news that Napoleon had died took several weeks to reach Europe. Instead, the front page of the new newspaper carried a notice asking for information about a lost dog.

In fact, until 50 or 60 years ago, it was normal for serious newspapers to have advertisements and notices on their front page, and news stories inside. It was only in 1952 that the Manchester Guardian started to print news stories on the front page. The editor of the paper did not like the change, but the paper’s owners thought that the newspaper needed to be more up-to-date.

As well as news, most newspapers contain editorials – that is, articles where the editor of the paper or his staff tell us what they think about important issues and events. The Manchester Guardian generally supported liberal and progressive policies in its editorials. This was in contrast to most of the other serious newspapers in Britain, which supported moderate or right-wing policies.

The Manchester Guardian became famous for typographical errors – or “typos” as we sometimes call them. Sometimes, there were sentences where the letters were so mixed up that it was impossible to understand them. People made fun of the typos by calling the paper the “Grauniad” (which is “Guardian” with the letters mixed up). Unfortunately, modern technology means that there are many fewer typographical errors today than there used to be, but you can relive the good old days in the quiz attached to this podcast, where there are some typographical errors for you to decipher.

In 1959, the paper dropped “Manchester” from its title and became simply “The Guardian”. And in 1976, it moved its headquarters from Manchester to London. The paper believed that it could not be a proper national newspaper unless it was in London. Nowadays, unfortunately, London dominates the political and cultural life of England, and it seems that few important things happen anywhere else. (Scotland however is different. Scotland has a life of its own!).

I read the Guardian every day. My parents used to read it too, in the days when it was still the Manchester Guardian. I read the news stories, both the national news and the international news. There is also a section of financial news, and of course there are the sports pages. There are advertisements for jobs, and a section called “Lonely Hearts” with little advertisements from people who are looking for partners. (I see that there is a lady who is looking for a charming and mature man in his 40s. I would reply, but I think my wife might object).

Then there is an important section called “Comment and Debate” which contains articles about politics, and a page of letters from readers. There are obituaries, which means articles about the lives of people who have died recently. And of course there are reviews – of new books, films, plays and music. Some people go straight to the crossword. There are in fact two crosswords in the Guardian, an easy one and a cryptic crossword. In a cryptic crossword, the clues are indirect and often play with the different meanings which English words can have. If I can solve two or three of the clues in the cryptic crossword, I think I am doing well.

However, my very favourite bit of the Guardian, the bit that I turn to first every morning, is the Sudoku. Sudoku is a Japanese puzzle where you have to fit the right numbers into a grid of squares. Ten years ago, no-one in Britain had ever heard of Sudoku. Then suddenly, almost overnight, Sudoku arrived. Today, all our newspapers have Sudoku puzzles, but the Guardian Sudoku is definitely the best.

If you have to wait a long time for the next podcast, it will be because I have found a particularly difficult and interesting Sudoku to solve.