The bulldog loses its bark

17.10.01: THE CRUSADER will ride again, but this time under the German flag. The Express, the newspaper that was once the most powerful voice in Britain, and the very embodiment of the bulldog spirit, has been bought by Axel Springer Verlag, the German publishing giant.

"We believe the future lies in the English language and that within the Express Group we have acquired some of the finest exponents of the language," ASV said in a statement. Cynics said this was either an example of the German sense of humour, or that something had been lost in the translation. Nevertheless, the Express is to form the basis of ASV's London-based English language operation.

For the Express, this marks a new era. The once arch-Conservative newspaper, with its sister, the Sunday Express, enjoyed an enormous circulation in the mid-20th century under the ownership of Lord Beaverbrook, a minister in Churchill's war cabinet.

Under Beaverbrook's command the Express hit 4m sales, and announced itself the standard-bearer of the Empire; its pages reinforced an ageing readership's suspicions of all things beyond the English Channel. By the 1990s, circulation was plummeting, and it nosedived to 200,000 this year. The paper tried turning left with the swing to Labour in the mid-1990s, and even hired a feminist editor in favour of legalising cannabis.

The task of the new owners is to recapture former glories. The first editorial following the takeover began: "Think of us as a cross between a bulldog and a rottweiler..." DS