The daily dose of bare breasts on page three has been viewed by many as sexist and archaic, and its demise will delight more than 215,000 campaigners who signed an online petition calling for the feature to be dropped.

But The Sun’s decision to give in to the knockers means breakfast will never be quite the same for millions of lusty male readers who enjoyed sneaking a couple of perfectly formed twin peeks along with their morning cornflakes.

It was a case of “titter ye not” as page three of Monday’s Sun featured model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in lingerie, while Hollyoaks actresses Jennifer Metcalfe and Gemma Merna were photographed in bikinis on a beach on Tuesday.

The end of the traditional page three girl was confirmed by The Times – a fellow News UK newspaper – which said The Sun had decided to “quietly drop” one the most controversial traditions in British journalism.

The move has been on the cards for some time, and the paper had already stopped featuring topless models at weekends. It is understood that the decision was approved by parent company chairman Rupert Murdoch. However, topless models will continue to titillate in The Sun’s online publication, and The Guardian claims the decision could even be reversed if it causes a dramatic slump in sales.

The topless page three girl first appeared in The Sun in November 1970, a year after Murdoch bought the then-struggling title. It is credited with helping the newspaper to dramatically increase its circulation, and launched the careers of famous models including Sam Fox and Linda Lusardi. Photographer Beverley Goodway was also hailed for the quality of his work. The Sun sided with its readers when they ruled that ‘boob jobs’ were not permitted, and its ‘News in Briefs’ column – in which the day’s model purported to make a weighty comment on serious world issues – caused further controversy.

Shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman, one of page three’s biggest critics, said The Sun was finally “moving into the 21st century”. She told the Daily Telegraph: “We do think that in a newspaper that is about news, the idea of a girl standing there in her knickers with some sort of pseudo-political quote really is not the representation of women’s role in the country that I want to see.”

But Northern Ireland glamour model Laura Lacole told the Belfast Telegraph: “This is a blow to an entire industry that affects women. That is not in aid of the feminist movement, that is regressing something, it is taking away a right of women to express their sexuality. It is about celebrating and expressing that side of people and people appreciating that.”