During the autumn of 1999, I took a phone call from an emissary of Paul Dacre, the commanding editor of the Daily Mail.
Robin Esser, in the glorious tradition of the newspaper, invited me to join him for a glass of champagne at the Howard Hotel on the Embankment in central London.
He told me that Andrew Alexander, who had been the Daily Mail’s astringent City Editor, would be retiring from full-time duty in May 2000 and would I be interested in the job?
Historic: The Royal Exchange (right) and Bank of England (left) at the turn of the century
For the previous decade, I had been the Financial Editor of the Guardian and in political terms would be making the longest journey in journalism, from left to right. I also understood that if I were to land the post, I would be stepping into the footsteps of giants.
On most papers, city and business editors come and go but at the Mail it is a vocation.
My most famous predecessor, Sir Patrick Sergeant, who is now aged ’97 not out’, said this weekend: ‘Soon after I became City Editor in 1960, Lord Rothermere [Esmond Harmsworth] asked me if I was happy there.
‘I said, ‘Very happy, thank you, sir.’ He replied, ‘Good, because you will find that City Editors go on for a long time here, whereas managers come and go.’ I was City Editor for 24 years and my predecessor for 25 years.’
As a neophyte financial journalist in the early 1970s, Sergeant’s commentaries on the Mail City pages were my first port of call.
Not only had he reinvented financial journalism, so that it appealed to the ordinary reader not just the City’s money men, but he could single-handedly move a share price or markets.
He had the ear of the nation’s bosses, successive governors of the Bank of England and Number 11.
One of his enduring legacies was the paper’s personal finance section, Money Mail, the first on any national newspaper.
He put a team together which focused on the everyday issues confronting readers: best buys in savings, mortgages, insurance and much more.
The section’s editor Margaret Stone was famed for her sage advice and ‘ask Margaret’ letters still arrive in the City Office today, now ably answered by her immediate successor Tony Hazell.
The memory of Sergeant’s glorious reign and the ability of his successor Andrew Alexander to rally the troops around the flag of Thatcherite laissez-faire economics was legendary.
Enduring legacy: Sir Patrick Sergeant reinvented financial journalism during his 24 years as City Editor
Alexander was a Eurosceptic long before Brexit came over the horizon. Among his great scoops was the revelation in 1989 that Lord Hanson had acquired a strategic stake in Britain’s biggest industrial group ICI.
It set off a train of events which saw ICI’s pharmaceutical arm Astrazeneca split off as a separate company leading, in the age of Covid, to the people’s vaccine.
Charles Duguid, whose time as City Editor began in 1906, is another who deserves to be well-remembered.
Duguid’s status stemmed from his authorship of How To Read The Money Article, a best-seller which helped to popularise investment by private citizens.
On the eve of the First World War, the London Stock Exchange (LSE) was closed amid a deep recession, chaos on the markets and a debacle over the issue of the War Loan.
Amid great disgruntlement among the 5,000 members of the London Stock Exchange, Duguid stepped into the breach.
On August 1, 1914, he took out half page advertisements in the Financial Times and Financial News announcing that with the LSE shut, ‘sellers who desire money for securities they hold, and buyers who desire securities at the present low prices’ could buy and sell shares on the Daily Mail Exchange for two shillings and six pence for each deal.
The Daily Mail Exchange was hugely busy until August 1915. Trading was eventually suspended ‘owing to war conditions now prevailing, the stagnation in the stock and share dealing and the pressure of war news on our space.’
Helping hand: Renowned Money Mail editor Margaret Stone was famed for her sage advice
For a year, the Daily Mail Exchange was the primary venue for share dealing in Great Britain!
The timing was particularly important because of the economic disruption in the period leading up to the war.
Former governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King says this was the greatest British financial crisis until it was surpassed by the banking meltdown of 2007-09 nearly a century later.
The golden legacy of the Mail’s City, economic and personal finance coverage lives on.
I and my colleague, Business Editor Ruth Sunderland, along with Victoria Bischoff and her Money Mail reporters, all write for you, the reader.
We care about you, the private investor, whether you chose to directly dive into the stock market or save through an ISA, trust or a pension fund.
But we also care about the future of Britain. That is why over the last two decades we have campaigned against financially driven overseas takeovers with some remarkable successes.
If it were not for us taking sides, our biggest defence company BAE might have ended up as part of Airbus, Astrazeneca an offshoot of Pfizer and Unilever swallowed by Kraft Heinz or hiding away in Rotterdam.
The City pages are strident believers in the magic of the markets, free enterprise, wealth creation and aspiration.
But we also believe in fairness, less greed and a better deal for women and minorities in the nation’s boardrooms and business more broadly.
We have learned from our illustrious forebears. Hopefully, future generations of City reporters, whether on the printed page, in the broadcast studios and online, can learn something from us.
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.