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D C Thomson

This page considers the DC Thomson newspaper group, unrelated to global giant Thomson profiled elsewhere on this site.


It covers -

  • introduction
  • the founder
  • Leng
  • studies
  • landmarks

Introduction

Dundee-based and family-controlled DC Thomson has gained attention for its political and editorial conservativism (the Dundee Courier placed news, rather than advertisements, on its front page as late as 1992) and publication of comics.

The founder

Thomson was founded by David Couper Thomson (1861-1954), son of a Dundee shipowning family.

After education at Dundee high school and apprenticeship to a marine engineer in Glasgow he went into partnership by his father in 1884. Two years later Thomson left the shipping business to manage W. & D.C. Thomson, established up by his father William to hold the Dundee Courier, Argus and Weekly News acquired by the family. He was joined by younger brother Frederick in 1888, buying the My Weekly newspaper, lucratively converted into a weekly magazine for the local proletariat and launching the Dundee Evening Post in 1900. In 1905 the trio established D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd, taking a stake in competitor John Leng & Co.

During 1913 that company opened a printing operation in Manchester, followed by one in Glasgow two years later. At that time it launched the Glasgow Sunday Post. The deaths of William and Frederick in 1917 saw full control of the papers pass to David.

Thomson appears to have decided that the high road to success lay downmarket. In 1920, building on My Weekly, he launched The Adventure as a regional (later national) boys' paper. Six years later he acquired the rest of John Leng & Co and bought The Scots Magazine (founded 1739) in 1927. As one of the hard-faced men who had done well out of the war, Thomson's pieties about free enterprise froze into a caricatural conservativism. Dundee MP Winston Churchill, not yet Prime Minister, complained that Thomson was "narrow, bitter, unreasonable, eaten up with his own conceit, consumed with his own petty arrogance", guilty of "ceaseless detraction, spiteful, malicious detraction". Churchill lost his seat; Thomson increasingly subsided into a crusty seclusion that would have delighted schlerotic US counterparts such as Copley and Hoiles.

Nephew Harold Thomson took day by day responsibility during the mid-1930s, launching the Hotspur for boys in 1933, followed by Rover, Wizard, Vanguard and Skipper. Thomson released the popular children's comics The Dandy in 1937 and Beano in 1938 (now remembered largely in a wry appreciation by George Orwell). Women's magazines included Secrets (launched in 1932). The Sunday Post, as a Scottish version of the Mirror, became one of the largest Scottish newspapers (at its peak reportedly being read by 4 out of 5 Scots), albeit one that would have horrified John Knox and David Hume.

By the early 1950s the group published over twenty downmarket newspapers, women's magazines, and children's comics. It was known for tight family control (often described as "secretive"), parochial views and a vehement opposition to unionism. Employees were required to sign a commitment that they were not members of a union and would not join one, a requirement somewhat undermined by recurrent industrial disputes and an official inquiry in 1952. By that stage it had quietly abandoned the founder's refusal to employ Roman Catholics.

Leng

Sir John Leng (1828-1906) was the younger brother of Sir William Christopher Leng (1825-1902). At Hull grammar school Leng showed what one biographer described as "a precocious interest in journalism" (co-editing a magazine with fellow pupil Charles Cooper, later editor of The Scotsman) although many schoolboy authors do not go on to build a newspaper group.

Leng abandoned his job as assistant master at a private school when the editor of the Hull Advertiser, responding to letters for publication, urged him to learn shorthand and then appointed him as a reporter and sub-editor's assistant. Leng replaced the sub-editor ("lazy and too fond of drink) within a short time of his appointment in 1847, becoming chief reporter, sub-editor, music critic and drama critic. In 1851 he became editor of the ailing Dundee Advertiser, whose resuscitation was rewarded with partnership of that title's owners in 1852. By the mid-1850s the newspaper was published by John Leng & Co, which invested heavily in new technology such as the telegraph ( a London office was opened in 1870) and zincography for illustration.

During the late 1850s Leng expanded and diversified, with the weekly People's Journal, gaining a circulation of 250,000 (in ten local editions) and illustrated magazine the People's Friend being launched in 1869. The unsucessful halfpenny Daily Advertiser was replaced by daily publication of the Dundee Advertiser from 1861. An evening newspaper, the Dundee Evening Telegraph (later the Evening Telegraph & Post) was launched in 1877 and Leng expanded into newsprint production through a stake in Donside Paper Mills. He was elected as a Liberal for Dundee in 1889, retiring in 1905.

Leng & Co was absorbed by DC Thomson in 1926

Studies

There have been no major studies of DC Thomson.

Landmarks

1884 David Couper Thomson and father William form partnership

1886 David Thomson leaves family shipping business, heads new company of W. & D.C. Thomson

1888 buys My Weekly

1900 launches Dundee Evening Post

1905 D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd established as private limited company

1913 opens office in Manchester

1915 opens office in Glasgow

1915 launches Glasgow Sunday Post

1920 launches The Adventure

1926 absorbs Dundee-based John Leng & Co

1932 launches Secrets

1933 launches The Hotspur

1937 launches The Dandy

1938 launches The Beano

2005 pays £85m for Puzzler Media, publisher of puzzle magazines including Puzzler Sudoku

2006 buys Aberdeen Journals (inc The Aberdeen Press & Journal) of DMGT for £132m