Lord Northcliffe was responsible for the tabloid press we enjoy today. Andrew Roberts whose previous subjects have included Napoleon, Churchill and George III now turns his skills to the man who gave Britain the Daily Mail and, indirectly, the world MailOnline.
(among other things such as anti-Semitism, hypocrisy, intimidation and brutality) and Roberts considers it his duty to save the press baron from this vile slander.
Without saying so explicitly, Roberts tends to think that an aversion to
Alfred Harmsworth was born in 1865 (two years after WR Hearst) into a middle class household – of 14 children. younger brother Harold was knighted as Lord Rothermere and is the great-grandfather of the current owner of the Daily mail.
After editing the school magazine, Alfred Harmsworth’s first media success came on June 16, 1888, when he launched Answers to correspondents (later just Answers), in which readers wrote and asked questions (much like our Saturday Briefing).
In 1895 he earned £80,000 (equivalent to £11 million today).
The following year, he launched the Daily Mail, which sold one million copies four years later. For readers accustomed to heavy writing, the Mail’s journalism was a revelation. Historian AJP Taylor called the Mail‘s short and punchy paragraphs, “the greatest advance in communication since the abandonment of Latin for English”.
On November 2, 1903 (not November 1 as Roberts says), Northcliffe launched the DailyMirror, a woman-edited journal for ladies. It was a disaster showing he didn’t always have the golden touch. This flop may be the reason Roberts doesn’t dedicate too much space to the diary. It gets only nine mentions in the index
As good as Mail and Mirrorat various times Northcliffe owned The Observer and The temperature. Such was the money earned by Northcliffe, which Lord Rothermere had to sell The temperature inheritance tax on his brother’s estate.
One of Northcliffe’s proteges was a young Australian called Keith Murdoch whose son is a rather successful media proprietor.
Northcliffe used his power to sway politicians – he didn’t care about HH Asquith, the Liberal leader who took us into World War I and his initial support for David Lloyd George quickly waned.
To get him out of the way, Lloyd George sent Northcliffe to America for help with the war effort. He did a great job although annoyed the British Ambassador as well.
On the home front, his marriage was a sham and he and his wife were serially unfaithful.
A workaholic, Northcliffe took long vacations to recuperate and on one he caught the bacterial endocarditis which would kill him, but not before driving him mad (contemporary belief was that he had contracted the syphilis).
Andrew Roberts has produced a book that will be of interest to social historians as well as media students and political anoraks.