Comet 50: Celebrating five decades of your local newspaper

The Comet is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month

The Comet is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month - Credit: Archant

It's May 1971. Currency has just been decimalised, The Two Ronnies have made their BBC debut, and the first edition of this newspaper is soon to hit the printing press and land on doormats across Stevenage and North Herts - but not as you know it. 

Five decades ago today, the first Stevenage Sun was published - along with Hitchin and Letchworth editions.

The paper was published by Home Counties Ltd as the successor to the long-established Hertfordshire Pictorial, a paid-for weekly dating back to the 1920s. 

The Sun was free, and householders got to flick through the pages for the first time on May 13, 1971. Of course, the name wasn't to last, but here's how the title was introduced: 

The front page read: "A rip-roaring welcome... to your new paper.


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"Today you have a new local newspaper - the Stevenage/Hitchin/Letchworth Sun.

"It replaces the pictorial, which has been the town's newspaper for 45 years.

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"Why a new paper? Because times change and reflect the community as it is, not as it was 20 or 30 years ago. 

"What is our policy? We want to tell the people of Hitchin about the important issues in the town.

"There will be lively features' reporting in depth' and expert interpretation of local affairs. There will be sport. And pictures. 

"All these aspects of modern journalism will be presented in forceful, tabloid newspaper style.

"The Sun's title is appropriate; you'll find it has warmth in its concern for people - but that at times it can positively blaze against injustice."

It was a bright start, but the Sun moniker was dropped after the May 20 edition as the national publication with the same name - that launched seven years previously - threatened legal action. The rest, as they say, is history.

Our May 20 edition featured the heading 'why next week we'll be the Comet'

It read: "Because of an objection raised by the national daily newspaper entitled The Sun it has been decided to rename Stevenage/Hitchin/Letchworth's new weekly paper.

"As from next week it will be called the Comet. 

"Home Counties Ltd, the proprietors of the town's new paper, have chosen the alternative name because it conveys a similar feeling of a lively trailblazing tabloid.

"Certainly, the editorial policy will not be changed. 

"It will continue to put people first: to inform its readers honestly and in depth of important local issues."

The Comet's home has changed several times over the years. In Hitchin the title spent several years at 24 and then 41 Bancroft - now the Brickyard Bar and Lloyds Pharmacy respectively. In later years the title moved to Bank House in Stevenage Old Town and now based at the town's Business and Technology Centre in Bessemer Drive. 

In the pre-computer days, reporters used typewriters and their stories were transported between the four towns in parcels via bus or van. Fortunately these days we have the benefit of a Content Management System - and our website had its latest revamp just last year. 

The Comet is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month

The Comet is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month - Credit: Dan Mountney

Throughout the month, our reporters will bring you a host of features, special reports and more to commemorate our five decades.

Things to look out for include the return of Sniffer the Comet newshound and trips down memory lane with former editors, community figures, businesses and more. And of course, the Comet would be nothing without it's readers and advertisers so there will be plenty of opportunity for you to get involved in the festivities. 

Current Comet editor Anne Suslak, who took up the post in February last year, said: "I've only been here for a short time, so the majority of the credit for making the Comet what it is today goes to the editors who came before me.

"It's been a strange experience taking charge of the Comet during a pandemic, and the way we have reported on the news has evolved significantly due to changing technology, but I hope we'll continue to represent the communities we represent for many more years to come."

We'd like to hear your memories of the Comet. Maybe you were in the first edition? Or perhaps you have shared something extra special with us in the last 50 years that you'd like to revisit? Send your Comet memories to news@thecomet.net

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