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Best days of my life: Ed Curran looks back on the birth of the Sunday Life and what made it better than all the rest

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Mission of Peace 23rd October 1988 - Sunday Life front page

Mission of Peace 23rd October 1988 - Sunday Life front page

Mission of Peace 23rd October 1988 - Sunday Life front page

Simply the best. Better than all the rest. The new Sunday Life staff swiftly adopted Tina Turner's signature song 32 years ago even though the paper was entering the most crowded weekend market-place in Europe.

When it hit the newsstands for the first time in October 1988, the Life was surrounded by 20 other Sunday papers from Britain and Ireland. Three years later, as the launch editor, I had the privilege of receiving the UK Regional Newspaper of the Year award from the late Sir David Frost at a glittering ceremony in London before 1,500 guests.

I still recall his words of introduction: "And now the winner -- the pride of Belfast -- the Sunday Life." I also remember the looks of bewilderment on the faces of the elite of the newspaper industry, owners, directors and editors, as Frost opened the envelope in his hand and revealed which paper had won the premier award.

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Ed Curran was launch Editor of the Sunday Life

Ed Curran was launch Editor of the Sunday Life

Ed Curran was launch Editor of the Sunday Life

Sunday Life was so new hardly anyone outside Northern Ireland had heard of it. The paper had come from nowhere to eclipse others which had been in existence for more than a century. It was as if a non-league team had just won the FA Cup.

My attachment to Sunday Life goes back to the early 1980s when I was Deputy Editor of the Belfast Telegraph and the idea of launching a Sunday paper was gaining more interest.

A small team of Telegraph staff worked on various designs until eventually, in the spring of 1988, the paper's then proprietor, the Canadian-born Lord Thomson and his international board agreed to launch three new Sunday papers, in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast during a conference on the idyllic island of Bermuda. The president of the Thomson publishing group wrote the word 'yes' on the page of a notebook and to this day that page, now framed, hangs in the Sunday Life editor's office.

Sunday Life set out to appeal to a new generation of reader. It had colour on every page at a time when many papers were still strictly black and white. The design was tabloid for handy reading and the style was brash and in your face or, in the words of the paper's motto, "racy but responsible."

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An injured man is aided by mourners, including Sinn Fein vice president Martin McGuinness, left, at Milltown Cemetary (PA)

An injured man is aided by mourners, including Sinn Fein vice president Martin McGuinness, left, at Milltown Cemetary (PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

An injured man is aided by mourners, including Sinn Fein vice president Martin McGuinness, left, at Milltown Cemetary (PA)

Northern Ireland was coming out of a long conflict but it was still far from over. The year 1988 saw the SAS killings of three IRA members in Gibraltar, followed by the Milltown Cemetery attack by Michael Stone and the murders of two Army corporals in west Belfast a few days later.

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Michael Stone during the Milltown Cemetry attack in 1988

Michael Stone during the Milltown Cemetry attack in 1988

Michael Stone during the Milltown Cemetry attack in 1988

As the first editor, I spent much of that summer in the Europa Hotel interviewing the journalists who would go on to make the Sunday Life a national success story. Most came from weekly and daily papers and many have made their mark since in print journalism and broadcasting.

It was an exciting and challenging time. Each week, as more staff were hired, dummy issues of the paper would be printed and assessed in the run-up to the actual launch date.

A major advertising campaign was planned for television and radio. Everything was state of the art from the office furniture to the computers on the desks. Sunday Life was a new paper for a new era and so it proved to be.

Of course it was nothing like what it is now. The paper has grown from the original 48 page tabloid divided into three sections -- news, features and sport -- to become the hugely comprehensive platform it is today.

How far, too, has the Life and its tens of thousands of readers travelled from October 1988 when the first front page headline was "Mission of Peace" referring to a tentative initiative by the Protestant and Catholic archbishops of Armagh.

The launch was not without difficulty. On the opening night, as we all congratulated ourselves, a glitch stopped the press for a worrying time before it re-started and the new paper hit the streets.

I would tour the news vendors around Belfast on Sunday mornings apprehensive as to how well the paper was selling and there were nail-biting moments when the first circulation figures came through.

However, Sunday Life was soon a success. In the eyes of its readers it lived up to being simply the best, better than all the rest. No paper in Northern Ireland could equal it for its unique combination of local news, sport, features and advertising. That is still so today.

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