ASSOCIATED NEWSPAPERS LTD
On 1 October 1929, S. Bennett Ltd merged with Sun Newspapers Ltd to form Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL). The former company contributed the Evening News, the Sunday News, Woman’s Budget and Sporting and Dramatic News; the latter contributed the Sun, the Sunday Sun, the Daily Telegraph Pictorial, the Sunday Pictorial, the Newcastle Sun, World’s News and Wireless Weekly. The tobacco manufacturer (Sir) Hugh Denison (1865–1940), who had founded Sun Newspapers, was to chair ANL until his death.
In January 1930, the rapacious Sydney-based chain purchased the Daily and Sunday Guardians from the proprietors of Smith’s Weekly. In return, Smith’s Newspapers Ltd contracted not to publish a morning, afternoon or Sunday newspaper for 21 years. But ANL itself published competing titles, a near-catastrophic business model coinciding with the Great Depression. A rise in cover prices for the daily newspapers could not arrest the slide. By December 1930, the £1 preference shares of ANL were worth just 10 shillings. In 1931, the Evening News and the Sunday Pictorial were discontinued; the Daily Guardian and Daily Telegraph Pictorial were merged into a new Daily Telegraph; and the Sunday Guardian was merged with the Sunday Sun.
Controversy dogged the group. To protect his shareholding in ANL, R.C. Packer moved from Smith’s Newspapers to become managing editor of ANL’s remaining papers. In 1932, Premier J.T. Lang introduced a Bill—ostensibly designed to protect preference shareholders in Smith’s Newspapers—that would, if pursued, have bankrupted Packer. That same year, Packer authorised ANL to pay £86,500 to his son, (Sir) Frank, and E.G. Theodore not to publish an afternoon newspaper for three years. The extraordinary manoeuvre preserved the Sydney monopoly of the Sun, the jewel in ANL’s crown, but provided Frank Packer and Theodore with the capital to launch the Australian Women’s Weekly.
In 1935, as the end of the agreement with ANL approached, the pair’s company, Sydney Newspapers Ltd, began to consider producing a daily newspaper. Alarmed, Denison’s empire— aptly described in a 1949 book on Theodore as a ‘tame and copious milch cow’—again came to the aid of Packer and Theodore. In early 1936,the two companies formed Consolidated Press Ltd, majority-owned by Packer and Theodore, but with ANL representation on the board, to publish the Daily Telegraph and the Women’s Weekly. Agreements to contain competition protected the Sun and Sunday Sun on one side, and the Women’s Weekly on the other. Sun Newspapers was liquidated and its assets were transferred to ANL.
There were other consolidations. In 1936, the United Cable Service (run by the Sun and the Melbourne Herald) and the Australian Press Association merged to create Australian Associated Press. In 1936, ANL sold the Newcastle Sun to the publishers of the Newcastle Herald. Two years later, ANL launched Pix.
On Denison’s death in 1940, he was succeeded as chairman by an engineer, Sir John Butters. ANL’s advertising manager, Eric Kennedy, was promoted to CEO in 1942. Two of Denison’s sons were involved with ANL: Reginald Ernest as a director and Leslie Arthur as production manager. The company also had interests in 2UE Sydney and Australian Newsprint Mills Pty Ltd.
ANL’s refusal of the request from the Sun chapel for a 40-hour week and four weeks’ annual leave triggered a Sydney newspaper strike in October 1944. The industrial demands were resolved in agreements in 1945 and 1947.
When Consolidated Press converted to a public company in 1948, it acquired ANL’s shares for £170,000. The following year, ANL formed a subsidiary, Sungravure Limited, to take over rotogravure printing. People was launched in 1950, and merged with Pix in 1972.
By the 1950s, ANL was short of liquid capital, partly because the Sun had been overtaken by Ezra Norton’s Daily Mirror (est. 1941). In 1951, it lost court cases against cartoonist Jimmie Bancks, creator of ‘Ginger Meggs’. Two years later, both Consolidated Press and John Fairfax & Sons offered to buy the ordinary shares in ANL. Each company wanted to be in a position to utilise idle printing capacity by publishing an afternoon as well as a morning newspaper. ANL’s board, remembering how two generations of the Packer family had exploited their fears about competition in the 1930s, accepted the Fairfax offer. Frank Packer spent three years unsuccessfully challenging the validity of the merger.
R.A.G. Henderson displaced Kennedy at the helm of ANL, and retrenchments were made. The fledgling Sunday Herald was merged with the Sunday Sun in October 1953, producing the popular Sun-Herald. ANL’s investment in 2UE, and its keenness to move into television, helped to propel the formation of Amalgamated Television Services Pty Ltd, which in 1956 was awarded one of Australia’s first commercial television licences (for ATN7).
As part of a public company floatation by John Fairfax & Sons in 1956, Fairfax rapidly increased its holding of ordinary shares in ANL to 98 per cent. In 1957, all directors other than Henderson and Sir Warwick Fairfax resigned, with vacancies filled from within John Fairfax Ltd. ANL, which for more than two decades had played such an important role in the fortunes of Australia’s major media groups, was henceforth primarily an investment company, owning shares in Australian Newsprint Mills, Sungravure (which went into partnership with London’s International Publishing Corporation Limited in 1970–78) and the Sun (which ceased publication in 1988), and a one-third interest in the Sun-Herald.
REFs: G. Souter, Company of Heralds (1981); R.B. Walker, Yesterday’s News (1980).