LONDON, July 9 (Reuters) - No scandal, no royal drug bust, no shock revelation of match fixing. In what must be one of the lowest-key headlines in News of the World's 168-year history, Sunday's last ever newspaper simply read "Thank You & Goodbye".
The words were emblazoned on a montage of some of the tabloid's most famous front pages over the years, underlining the sense of pride among its staff who must now look for new jobs.
News of the World, Britain's best selling Sunday newspaper, fed the British public a weekly diet of scurrilous headlines about the rich, famous and depraved as well as news scoops.
But claims of illegal hacking into the voicemails of stars, royals, families of soldiers killed in combat and a kidnapped girl later found to be murdered have engulfed its parent company in scandal and prompted its closure.
Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corp which owns News of the World as well as the Sun, Times and Sunday Times newspapers, flies to London this weekend to try to contain the fallout, fearing it could jeopardise his bid to buy British broadcaster BSkyB.
Staff at News of the World, where some 200 people have lost their jobs, have voiced anger and disbelief at Thursday's sudden decision to close it down, believing they were ruthlessly sacrificed to save the prized BSkyB deal.
"I feel very, very sad. It's a terrible day for us all. It hasn't been easy putting together the final paper," Harry Scott, News of the World associate editor, told reporters outside the paper's offices in east London.
Galling for many was the fact that Rebekah Brooks, a key Murdoch executive who was editor of News of the World when an investigator working for the paper hacked into the voicemail of missing schoolgirl Milly Dowler, remained in her post.
She has denied any knowledge of the Dowler hacking case.
The print run for the last ever News of the World has been bumped up to five million copies, nearly double the normal number, in anticipation of a spike in demand for the historic edition.
Rival titles in the cut-throat world of British tabloid journalism will be looking to exploit the demise of the market leader, with the Mail on Sunday and Sunday Mirror seen as most likely to benefit in the short term.
In the longer term, many News of the World journalists expect a new title to replace the closed newspaper, possibly a Sunday version of the daily Sun.
"It would be foolish for the company to let 2.6 million readers go," political editor Ian Kirby told Reuters on Friday before heading into the News of the World newsroom to help consign it to history.
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