123… not quite as easy as ABC

Neil Murray, chief sub-editor from 1969-70, wrote the following explanation of the paper’s issue numbering in the official archive book, kept in the Courier office:

MISC 1970-71 bookToday the office archives only go back to the 1962 with a few odd issues from a few years prior to this. Presumably in 1970, the year of the great renumbering, the collecting was more complete, and Murray’s note is remarkably accurate.

In 1949 a new academic year meant a new Courier volume, and the issue count was reset at the start of every year more or less until 1963.

The volume numbers fell out of sync with academic years in the mid-1950s; in the days before sabbatical editors the role often changed part-way through a year, and some editors started a new volume when they took over, while others didn’t. So volume 13 lasted from October to December 1960, while volume 14 went from January to December 1961.

As Murray explains, the birth of the new university warranted a complete break from all things Durham (according to legend, even graduation mortar boards were thrown in the Tyne), and the Courier started again from issue 1.

Volume numbers
Spot the difference

Four years later volume numbers were quietly reintroduced for each academic year (starting, for some reason, from volume 3), although the issue numbers kept on counting up rather than starting at one for each new volume, making the volume numbers redundant except, as Murray points out, to make it look “as if the paper was only 6 or 7 years old”.

So in 1970 he recounted the Courier issues and renumbered, starting from 442. If the Courier had been published weekly since it started this number would indeed have been “as near as makes to difference”, but Murray presumably didn’t realise that until 1960 the Courier was a fortnightly paper, and so his estimate is actually about 100 issues out.

Indeed, various numbers have been skipped or duplicated. There were two issue 607s, for example, and for many years the Freshers’ issues had no issue number at all. Five issues were misnumbered in the heady 1960s. Scandalous.

The paper celebrated 900 issues in 1994 and 1000 issues in 1999, but these celebrations were apparently several years premature. Does this matter? To the ultra-pedantic, perhaps it does, but then the Courier is not a calendar, counting off the weeks that have passed since November 1948. It is the work of many, many individuals over nearly 70 years, and the fact that 100 extra issues have been slipped in surreptitiously is part of the magic of this.

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