''The Observer'' is a British newspaper published on Sundays. In the same place on the
political spectrum A political spectrum is a system to characterize and classify different political positions Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions In psychology, decision-making (also spelled decision makin ...

political spectrum
as its sister papers ''
The Guardian ''The Guardian'' is a British daily newspaper. It was founded in 1821 as ''The Manchester Guardian'', and changed its name in 1959. Along with its sister papers ''The Observer ''The Observer'' is a British newspaper published on Sun ...

The Guardian
'' and ''
The Guardian Weekly ''The Guardian Weekly'' is an international English-language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually become the World langu ...
'', whose parent company
Guardian Media Group Limited
Guardian Media Group Limited
acquired it in 1993, it takes a
social liberal Social liberalism (german: Sozialliberalismus, es, socioliberalismo) also known as New liberalism in the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Brita ...
social democratic Social democracy is a Political philosophy, political, Social philosophy, social, and economic philosophy within socialism that supports Democracy, political and economic democracy. As a policy regime, it is described by academics as advocatin ...
line on most issues. First published in 1791, it is the world's oldest Sunday newspaper.



The first issue, published on 4 December 1791 by W.S. Bourne, was the world's first
Sunday newspaper A newspaper is a Periodical literature, periodical publication containing written News, information about current events and is often typed in black ink with a white or gray background. Newspapers can cover a wide variety of fields such as po ...
. Believing that the paper would be a means of wealth, Bourne instead soon found himself facing debts of nearly £1,600. Though early editions purported editorial independence, Bourne attempted to cut his losses and sell the title to the government. When this failed, Bourne's brother (a wealthy businessman) made an offer to the government, which also refused to buy the paper but agreed to subsidise it in return for influence over its editorial content. As a result, the paper soon took a strong line against radicals such as
Thomas Paine Thomas Paine (born Thomas Pain; – In the contemporary record as noted by Conway, Paine's birth date is given as January 29, 1736–37. Common practice was to use a dash or a slash to separate the old-style year from the new-style year. In th ...

Thomas Paine
Francis Burdett Sir Francis Burdett, 5th Baronet (25 January 1770 – 23 January 1844) was an English politician and Member of Parliament (United Kingdom), Member of Parliament who gained notoriety as a proponent (in advance of the Chartism, Chartists) of univ ...
Joseph Priestley Joseph Priestley (; 24 March 1733 – 6 February 1804) was an English chemist A chemist (from Greek ''chēm(ía)'' alchemy; replacing ''chymist'' from Medieval Latin Medieval Latin was the form of Latin Latin (, or , ) is a cla ...

19th century

In 1807, the brothers decided to relinquish editorial control, naming
Lewis Doxat Lewis Doxat (1778, Kolkata, Calcutta, India - 4 March 1871, London, England) was an England, English newspaper editor. Biography Born in India, Doxat came to England as a young boy. He settled in London, where he found work with the ''Morning C ...
as the new editor. Seven years later, the brothers sold ''The Observer'' to
William Innell Clement William Innell Clement (15 January 1780 – 24 January 1852) was an English newspaper proprietor. Biography Clement was born in the parish of St Clement Danes (parish), St Clement Danes and baptised at St Anne's Church, Soho. Starting as a newsage ...
, a newspaper proprietor who owned a number of publications. The paper continued to receive government subsidies during this period; in 1819, of the approximately 23,000 copies of the paper distributed weekly, approximately 10,000 were given away as "specimen copies", distributed by postmen who were paid to deliver them to "lawyers, doctors, and gentlemen of the town." Yet the paper began to demonstrate a more independent editorial stance, criticising the authorities' handling of the events surrounding the
Peterloo Massacre The Peterloo Massacre took place at St Peter's Square, Manchester, St Peter's Field, Manchester, Lancashire, England, on Monday 16 August 1819. Fifteen people died when cavalry charged into a crowd of around 60,000 people who had gathered to d ...

Peterloo Massacre
and defying an 1820 court order against publishing details of the trial of the
Cato Street Conspirators
Cato Street Conspirators
, who were alleged to have plotted to murder members of the Cabinet. The woodcut pictures published of the stable and hayloft where the conspirators were arrested reflected a new stage of illustrated journalism that the newspaper pioneered during this time. Clement maintained ownership of ''The Observer'' until his death in 1852. During that time, the paper supported Reform Act 1832, parliamentary reform, but opposed a broader franchise and the Chartism, Chartist leadership. After Doxat retired in 1857, Clement's heirs sold the paper to Joseph Snowe, who also took over the editor's chair. Under Snowe, the paper adopted a more liberal political stance, supporting the North during the American Civil War, and endorsing universal manhood suffrage in 1866. These positions contributed to a decline in circulation during this time. In 1870, wealthy businessman Julius Beer bought the paper and appointed Edward Dicey as editor, whose efforts succeeded in reviving circulation. Though Beer's son Frederick became the owner upon Julius's death in 1880, he had little interest in the newspaper and was content to leave Dicey as editor until 1889. Henry Duff Traill took over the editorship after Dicey's departure, only to be replaced in 1891 by Frederick's wife, Rachel Beer, of the Sassoon family. Though circulation declined during her tenure, she remained as editor for thirteen years, combining it in 1893 with the editorship of ''The Sunday Times'', a newspaper that she had also bought.

20th century

Upon Frederick's death in 1903, the paper was purchased by the newspaper magnate Lord Northcliffe. After maintaining the existing editorial leadership for a couple of years, in 1908 Northcliffe named James Louis Garvin as editor. Garvin quickly turned the paper into an organ of political influence, boosting circulation from 5,000 to 40,000 within a year of his arrival as a result. Yet the revival in the paper's fortunes masked growing political disagreements between Garvin and Northcliffe. These disagreements ultimately led Northcliffe to sell the paper to William Waldorf Astor in 1911, who transferred ownership to his son Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor four years later. During this period, the Astors were content to leave the control of the paper in Garvin's hands. Under his editorship circulation reached 200,000 during the interwar years, a figure which Garvin fought to maintain even during the depths of the Great Depression in the United Kingdom, Great Depression. Politically the paper pursued an independent Conservative Party (UK), Conservative stance, which eventually brought Garvin into conflict with Waldorf's more liberal son David Astor. Their conflict contributed to Garvin's departure as editor in 1942, after which the paper took the unusual step of declaring itself non-partisan. Ownership passed to Waldorf's sons in 1948, with David taking over as editor. He remained in the position for 27 years, during which time he turned it into a trust-owned newspaper employing, among others, George Orwell, Paul Jennings (UK author), Paul Jennings and C. A. Lejeune. Under Astor's editorship ''The Observer'' became the first national newspaper to oppose the government's Suez crisis, 1956 invasion of Suez, a move which cost it many readers. In 1977, the Astors sold the ailing newspaper to US oil giant ARCO, Atlantic Richfield (now called ARCO) who sold it to Lonrho, Lonrho plc in 1981. It became part of the Guardian Media Group in June 1993, after a rival bid to acquire it by ''The Independent'' was rejected.Michael Leapman
"New editor chosen for 'Observer': 'Guardian' deputy to succeed Trelford"
''The Independent'', 14 May 1993, accessed 22 January 2018.
Farzad Bazoft, a journalist for ''The Observer'', was executed in Iraq in 1990 on charges of spying. In 2003, ''The Observer'' interviewed the Iraqi colonel who had arrested and interrogated Bazoft and who was convinced that Bazoft was not a spy.Ed Vulliamy
"Writer hanged by Iraq 'no spy'"
''The Guardian'', 18 May 2003, accessed 4 April 2007.

21st century

In 2003 the editorial supported the Iraq war, stating "Military intervention in the Middle East holds many dangers. But if we want a lasting peace it may be the only option." On 27 February 2005, ''The Observer'' BlogObserver blog
accessed 27 February 2007.
was launched, making ''The Observer'' the first newspaper to purposely document its own internal decisions, as well as the first newspaper to release podcasts. The paper's regular columnists include Andrew Rawnsley and Nick Cohen. In addition to the weekly ''Observer Magazine'' colour supplement which is still present every Sunday, for several years each issue of ''The Observer'' came with a different free monthly magazine. These magazines had the titles ''Observer Sport Monthly'', ''Observer Music Monthly'', ''Observer Woman'' and ''Observer Food Monthly''. Content from ''The Observer'' is included in ''
The Guardian Weekly ''The Guardian Weekly'' is an international English-language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually become the World langu ...
'' for an international readership. ''The Observer'' followed its daily partner ''
The Guardian ''The Guardian'' is a British daily newspaper. It was founded in 1821 as ''The Manchester Guardian'', and changed its name in 1959. Along with its sister papers ''The Observer ''The Observer'' is a British newspaper published on Sun ...

The Guardian
'' and converted to Berliner (format), Berliner format on Sunday 8 January 2006.Claire Cozens
"Observer announces relaunch date"
''The Observer'', 19 December 2005; accessed 27 February 2007.
The archive – summary of holdings
accessed 27 February 2007.
''The Observer'' was awarded the ''National Newspaper of the Year'' at the British Press Awards 2007. Editor Roger Alton stepped down at the end of 2007, and was replaced by his deputy, John Mulholland (journalist), John Mulholland. In early 2010, the paper was restyled. An article on the paper's website previewing the new version stated that "The News section, which will incorporate Business and personal finance, will be home to a new section, Seven Days, offering a complete round-up of the previous week's main news from Britain and around the world, and will also focus on more analysis and comment." In July 2021 it was announced that ''The Guardian'' continued to be the UK's most widely used newspaper website and app for news, according to Ofcom and had increased its audience share by 1% over the preceding year. 23% of consumers, who used websites or apps for news, used ''The Guardian'', which also hosts ''The Observer'' online content. This compared to 22% for the ''Daily Mail'' website.

Supplements and features

After the paper was rejuvenated in early 2010, the main paper came with only a small number of supplements – ''Sport'', ''The Observer Magazine'', ''The New Review'' and ''The New York Times International Weekly'', an 8-page supplement of articles selected from ''The New York Times'' that has been distributed with the paper since 2007. Every four weeks the paper includes ''The Observer Food Monthly'' magazine, and in September 2013 it launched ''Observer Tech Monthly'', a science and technology section which won the Grand Prix at the 2014 Newspaper Awards. Previously, the main paper had come with a larger range of supplements including ''Sport'', ''Business & Media'', ''Review'', ''Escape'' (a travel supplement), ''The Observer Magazine'' and various special interest monthlies, such as ''The Observer Food Monthly'', ''Observer Women monthly'' which was launched in 2006, ''Observer Sport Monthly'' and ''The Observer Film Magazine''.

The Newsroom

''The Observer'' and its sister newspaper ''The Guardian'' operate a visitor centre in London called The Newsroom. It contains their archives, including bound copies of old editions, a photographic library and other items such as diaries, letters and notebooks. This material may be consulted by members of the public. The Newsroom also mounts temporary exhibitions and runs an educational programme for schools. In November 2007, ''The Observer'' and ''The Guardian'' made their archives available over the Internet. The current extent of the archives available are 1791 to 2000 for ''The Observer'' and 1821 to 2000 for ''The Guardian''. These archives will eventually go up to 2003.


The paper was banned in Egypt in February 2008 after reprinting Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, cartoons allegedly insulting Muhammad, Muhammed.


* W. S. Bourne & W. H. Bourne (1791–1807) *
Lewis Doxat Lewis Doxat (1778, Kolkata, Calcutta, India - 4 March 1871, London, England) was an England, English newspaper editor. Biography Born in India, Doxat came to England as a young boy. He settled in London, where he found work with the ''Morning C ...
(1807–1857) * Joseph Snowe (1857–1870) * Edward Dicey (1870–1889) * Henry Duff Traill (1889–1891) * Rachel Beer (1891–1904) * Austin Harrison (1904–1908) * James Louis Garvin (1908–1942) * Ivor Brown (1942–1948) * David Astor (1948–1975) * Donald Trelford (1975–1993) * Jonathan Fenby (1993–1995) * Andrew Jaspan (1995–1996) * Will Hutton (1996–1998) * Roger Alton (1998–2007) * John Mulholland (journalist), John Mulholland (2008–2018) *Paul Webster (journalist), Paul Webster (2018–present)


* Jane Bown (resident from 1949 until her death in 2014) * Stuart Heydinger (1960–1966) * Antonio Olmos (freelance) * Harry Borden (freelance) * Michael Peto (freelance) * Colin Jones (photographer), Colin Jones (freelance) * Dean Chalkley (freelance) * Don McCullin (freelance) * Philip Jones Griffiths (freelance) * Giles Duley (freelance)


''The Observer'' was named the British Press Awards ''National Newspaper of the Year'' for 2006.''Press Gazette''
Roll of Honour
accessed 24 July 2011
Its supplements have three times won "Regular Supplement of the Year" (''Sport Monthly'', 2001; ''Food Monthly'', 2006, 2012). ''Observer'' journalists have won a range of British Press Awards, including * "Interviewer of the Year" (Lynn Barber, 2001; Sean O'Hagan (journalist), Sean O'Hagan, 2002; Rachel Cooke, 2005; Chrissy Iley (freelance for ''Observer'' and ''Sunday Times'' magazine), 2007) * "Critic of the Year" (Jay Rayner, 2005; Philip French, 2008; Rowan Moore, 2013) * "Food & Drink Writer of the Year" (John Carlin, 2003) * "Travel Writer of the Year" (Tim Moore, 2004)

See also

* * * Anthony Howard (journalist), Anthony Howard * Cambridge Apostles * John Smith Memorial Mace, ''Observer'' Mace debating competition – now known as the ''John Smith Memorial Mace''


* Richard Cockett (1990), ''David Astor and The Observer'', André Deutsch, London. 294 pp. with index. . Has endpapers that are facsimiles of ''The Observer'', with other black-and-white photographic plates of personnel linked to the newspaper. * Jane Bown (2015), ''A Lifetime of Looking'', Faber & Faber Ltd.. Contains the most iconic photos she took for ''The Observer'' from 1949 to the last photo she took a few months before her death in December 2014. Photos include The Beatles, Mick Jagger, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, the Queen, John Betjeman and Björk. * ''Guardian Monthly''


External links

Information about The Newsroom Archive and Visitor Centre

''DigitalArchive'' paid-for service
* History of Guardian Media Group 1990–1999, Guardian Media Group website; as of 2 March 2003
(link requires Adobe Flash Player, Flash Player to view timeline)
''Observer'' timeline

History of the ''Observer''
{{DEFAULTSORT:Observer The Observer, 1791 establishments in England Guardian Media Group National newspapers published in the United Kingdom Publications established in 1791 Republicanism in the United Kingdom Sunday newspapers published in the United Kingdom