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Alfred Charles William Harmsworth Edit Profile

entrepreneur , journalist

Alfred Charles William Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe was a British newspaper and publishing magnate. As owner of the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror, he was a pioneer of popular journalism, and he exercised vast influence over British popular opinion. Lord Beaverbrook said he was "the greatest figure who ever strode down Fleet Street."

Background

Alfred Harmsworth was born in Chapelizod, near Dublin, on July 15, 1865, the son of a barrister.

Education

Alfred Harmsworth was educated at Stamford School in Lincolnshire, England, from 1876 and at Henley House School in Kilburn, London from 1878. A master at Henley House who was to prove important to his future was J. V. Milne, the father of A. A. Milne, who according to H. G. Wells was at school with him at the time and encouraged him to start the school magazine.

Career

In 1887 he formed a general publishing business in London for several journals, most notably Answers. Harmsworth's Amalgamated Press soon tallied annual profits of £50,000, which he used to purchase newspapers: in 1894 the Evening News, 1896 the Daily Mail for the "man in the street," 1903 the Daily Mirror, and in 1905 the Observer. He even began his own logging and papermaking enterprise in Newfoundland to supply his press with paper. Harmsworth was created a baronet in 1903 and two years later was raised to the peerage as Baron Northcliffe, of the Isle of Thanet in each case upon the recommendation of Arthur James Balfour. He reached the zenith of his ambitions in 1908 when he became the chief proprietor of The Times, designed for those of "quality." It is estimated that the Northcliffe stable accounted for half the circulation in London during the Great War.

The First World War thrust "King Alfred," as many called him, into the public limelight. He had for some time predicted that war would break out on the Continent, and in December 1914 the Daily Mail crowed that it was "the paper that foretold the War." Northcliffe generally championed the cause of the generals against the politicians, whose careers he claimed he had made. In August 1914, his press clamored for the immediate dispatch of the British Expeditionary Force to France; the following year it incited the public outcry that forced the resignation of Lord Haldane from the government. Through The Times Northcliffe raised about £ 17 million for the care of the sick and the wounded. Although,in August 1914, he had demanded the appointment of Lord H. H. Kitchener as secretary of state for war, early in 1915 Northcliffe turned his newspapers against the venerable soldier, bitterly attacking him for supplying deficient and obsolete shells to the armies in France. Dictatorial, capricious, and distrustful, Northcliffe supported, and then denounced, the coalition governments of Herbert Asquith in May 1915 and of David Lloyd George in December 1916. He campaigned for the introduction of compulsory military service and visited the western front several times, most notably at Verdun in March 1916.

Prime Minister Lloyd George dispatched Northcliffe to the United States from June to November 1917 as head of a British war mission. The press lord mainly toured the Midwest, as well as Canada, but managed to send off occasional advice on how to deal with Washington: "Nothing can be gained here by threats, much by flattering and self-abnegation." Upon his return, Northcliffe was created a viscount, but he turned down an offer of secretary of state for air. In February 1918 Lloyd George, who viewed the great press lords as modern day equivalents of the great territorial magnates of the eighteenth century, appointed Northcliffe director of enemy propaganda, thereby bringing the Northcliffe press over to his side.

After the war, the Daily Mail engaged in vituperative attacks against the former secretary of state for war, Alfred Lord Milner, and against Lloyd George, who had refused to take King Alfred to Paris as an official member of the British peace delegation. At home, Northcliffe demanded that the kaiser be brought to trial for war crimes and that the Germans be made to pay for the war. He viewed himself as the principal director of the empire's destiny and in 1921 set out to visit the various far-flung British possessions. Although he returned a sick man, early in 1922 he visited Germany and promptly declared that his former enemies had poisoned him. Northcliffe died in London on August 14, 1922. He had been the undisputed press lord of Fleet Street for nearly two decades, but, as one critic aptly put it, "he never quite understood the rooted objection of his countrymen to the exercise of power without responsibility."

Politics

By 1914 Northcliffe controlled 40 per cent of the morning newspaper circulation in Britain, 45 per cent of the evening and 15 per cent of the Sunday circulation.

Northcliffe's ownership of The Times, the Daily Mail and other newspapers meant that his editorials wielded great influence over both "the classes and the masses". In an era before TV, radio or internet, that meant that Northcliffe dominated the British press "as it never has been before or since by one man".

Northcliffe's editorship of the Daily Mail in the run-up to the First World War, when the paper displayed "a virulent anti-German sentiment", led The Star to declare, "Next to the Kaiser, Lord Northcliffe has done more than any living man to bring about the war." His newspapers especially The Times reported the Shell Crisis of 1915 with such zeal that it helped to bring down the Liberal government of Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith, forcing Asquith to form a coalition government (the other triggering event was the resignation of Admiral Fisher as First Sea Lord). Lord Northcliffe's newspapers led the fight for creating a Minister of Munitions (a post first held by David Lloyd George) and helped to bring about Lloyd George's appointment as prime minister in 1916. Lloyd George offered Lord Northcliffe a post in his cabinet, but Northcliffe declined and was appointed director for propaganda.

Such was Northcliffe's influence on anti-German propaganda during the First World War that a German warship was sent to shell his house, Elmwood, in Broadstairs, in an attempt to assassinate him. His former residence still bears a shell hole out of respect for his gardener's wife, who was killed in the attack. On 6 April 1919, Lloyd George made an excoriating attack on Northcliffe, calling his arrogance "diseased vanity". By that time his influence was on the wane.

Interests

  • Sport & Clubs

    In 1903, Harmsworth founded the Harmsworth Cup, the first international award for motorboat racing.

Connections

father:
Alfred Harmsworth

mother:
Geraldine Mary Maffett

Brother:
Cecil Harmsworth

Brother:
Harold Harmsworth

Brother:
Leicester Harmsworth

Brother:
Hildebrand Harmsworth