Yelland, the first Sun editor to have a university degree, was appointed editor of the paper in 1998 after a spell as deputy editor of the New York Post. Before that he was business editor of the Sun.
He took over from Stuart Higgins who had succeeded Kelvin MacKenzie at the paper. Yelland oversaw a key period in the paper's history as it swung its political allegiance fully behind Tony Blair's New Labour government, which began as a process under Higgins's editorship prior to New Labour coming to power in 1997.
In comparison to MacKenzie, famous for his 'Gotcha' headline following the sinking of the Belgrano in the Falklands War, Yelland is largely viewed with having been a more responsible editor of the UK's most influential tabloid newspaper.
News International staff were told the shock news in an email from chairman Les Hinton. It read: "David Yelland announced today that he was resigning as editor of the Sun. He is to take up a role in the management of the company and will be entering business school in the United States. Rebekah Wade, editor of the News of the World, becomes editor of the Sun, effective Tuesday, January 14."
During his time as editor Yelland scored some notable firsts including the story of Prince Edward's and Sophie Rhys-Jones's engagement. Subsequently he published a topless photograph of Rhys-Jones, which caused a storm.
One thing that might change under pro-New Labour Wade is the topless page three slot. Wade is understood to have lobbied Yelland in the past to dump this page, but he stuck by it. It remains to be seen whether Wade, who is married to actor Ross Kemp, will make dumping this one of her first goals.
Earlier this year Yelland was named by Campaign as the Media Achiever of the year. According to the judges: "Yelland has shown that he can respond when necessary but everyone has been impressed by the calm and measured way he has carried himself. Across much of this year it has indeed seemed like a man against boys where the cut and thrust of the newspaper market is concerned. In a difficult year for the newspaper industry, one man stood head and shoulders above the rest."
Yelland has kept a relatively low profile compared to his counter part at the Daily Mirror, Piers Morgan. Characterised by breaking strong stories and adhering proudly to The Sun's fun heritage, Yelland's editorship has succeeded by following the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" formula.
Yelland presided over the Sun's famous price war with the Daily Mirror earlier this year, effectively ruining the relaunch of its rival as a serious newspaper.
Last year, in an interview in the Financial Times' Creative Business supplement, Yelland was bullish about the Sun's dominant position in the market. At the time he said: "I think that after 33 years I can, on behalf of all Sun men and women, declare total victory over the Mirror. We can not relax, but we can pause a second to say what is obvious."
In the latest ABC figures for the six months to December, the Sun posted an average monthly circulation of 3,615,397 against the Daily Mirror's 2,104,251.
News International is set to release a full statement later this afternoon. It is thought that it will contain details of who is to replace Wade as editor of the News of the World.
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