The Sun sells more copies than any other daily newspaper in the United Kingdom and at its peak in the mid-1990s, the Sun regularly sold over 4,000,000 copies a day. Original copies of the newspaper can be found in the Sun archive, letting you read about past news events from the date of your choice.

Early History: The Daily Herald Years

The forerunner of the Sun newspaper was the Daily Herald, launched on 25th January 1911. The Daily Herald was initially an independent left wing paper, printed periodically during strike periods to offer its unconditional support to the strikers. The Daily Herald was printed in Manchester daily between January and April in 1911 and then from 15th April 1912 until 1914. The newspaper was printed weekly for the next five years before resuming daily production from 1919.

The Daily Herald became the official newspaper of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in 1922 and thus supported the Labour Party. In 1930, the TUC sold 51% of the Daily Herald to Odhams Press, publisher of The People. The Daily Herald subsequently became the first UK paper to sell over two million copies daily, making it the biggest selling newspaper in the world at that time.

Odhams was acquired by Daily Mirror Newspapers Ltd in 1961 and formed the International Publishing Corporation (IPC) on 31st December 1962. This became the world’s largest publishing enterprise. The TUC sold their remaining forty-nine percent shareholding in 1964, allowing IPC to re-launch the Daily Herald as ‘The Sun‘.

daily herald original newspaper archive

The Daily Herald front page, the forerunner to the Sun

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The Emergence of The Sun

The first edition of the Sun was printed on 15th September 1964. This was the first time that a new daily paper had been published in the UK for 34 years. The newspaper was printed in broadsheet format with an orange logo, emerging during the rapidly changing world of the 1960s. Thus the front page announced:

“The Sun is politically free. It will not automatically support or censure any party or any Government. It is an independent paper designed to serve and inform all those whose lives are changing, improving, expanding in these hurrying years.”

the sun newspaper 1964

The Sun newspaper, September 15, 1964
Image: Needpix

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Rupert Murdoch

On 15th November 1969, the newspaper was acquired by Rupert Murdoch, following an unsuccessful bid by Robert Maxwell. Two days after purchasing the paper, Murdoch re-launched the Sun in tabloid format. He also installed the Sun as the sister paper to the News of the World, which was printed on Sundays. The two newspapers maintained their link up until the closure of the News of the World in 2011, and remained owned by the News Corporation Group under Rupert Murdoch until this time. 

When the Sun was acquired by Rupert Murdoch, the Sun’s layout and use of colour copied its rival the Daily Mirror, with a red and white masthead and change in format. The first glamour model appeared on page 3 on 17th November 1970, along with other taboo features that sparked reactions of distaste in parliament. 

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The Sun Today

The Sun newspaper moved to full colour production for the first time on 28th January 2008 with the opening of three new printing plants. In 2012, the Sun began printing a Sunday newspaper which replaced the recently-closed News of the World newspaper.

Some journalists who worked for the News of the World were employed to run the Sunday edition. Its average circulation in January 2019 reached 1,178,687. Today, the Sun is definitely recognisable with its use of colour and large inclusion of photos. The paper focuses on sensational journalism with celebrity stories and real-life issues, intending to shock readers with its content.

The Sun is part of News Group Newspapers, which is a subsidiary of News International. This company is owned by the News Corporation Group, headed by world media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. The newspaper is printed from Monday to Saturday in tabloid format.

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Political Stance

The paper has a record of supporting the governing party in the UK, although traditionally it is generally considered to have a centre-right political allegiance. The Sun supported the centre-left Labour Party during Tony Blair’s last three General Election wins, changing allegiance to him on 18th March 1997.

In 1978, the Sun switched allegiance to the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher. This was a sensational move for the newspaper given its old background as the Daily Herald. It continued to support the Conservative Party under John Major and on the day of the General Election (9th April 1992) the front page of the Sun featured the headline: 

“If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights.”

The Sun’s campaign is widely credited with helping John Major to win the election and thus on 11th April 1992, the newspaper ran with the headline: “It’s the Sun wot won it.” 

the sun original newspaper archive

The Sun newspaper front page 

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Reporting of the Hillsborough Disaster

The Sun has also been involved in many controversies, in particular its coverage of the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster. Due to its claim that Liverpool fans had pick-pocketed victims of the incident, many newsagents and readers in Liverpool boycotted the newspaper. This led to a 75% decrease in sales in the city, and the newspaper never fully recovered from this incident. In turn, the Sun was forced to apologise for its negative portrayal of Liverpool fans.

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Circulation of The Sun

Date Circulation
1966 1,238,000
1976 3,708,000
1980 3,741,000
1987 3,993,000
1992 3,570,562
1997 3,877,097
2000 3,557,336
2005 3,382,509
2010 3,006,565
2015 1,978,702
2020 1,206,595

From 2000-2009, the Sun was the top circulating newspaper in the UK, but since 2010 has been taken over by the Metro. The newspaper reached peak circulation in 1987 and began steadily declining after this year, with a 1,027,863 drop between 2010 and 2015.

Despite circulation numbers dropping, the Sun reached its largest-ever online audience in 2019, with 33.9 million unique visitors in July. In 2018, it overtook the Mail Online to become the largest newsbrand online in the UK. 

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