Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe

British noble (1865–1922)

Alfred Charles William Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe (15 July 1865 – 14 August 1922), was a British newspaper and publishing magnate. As owner of the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror, he was an early developer of popular journalism, and he exercised vast influence over British popular opinion during the Edwardian era. Lord Beaverbrook said he was "the greatest figure who ever strode down Fleet Street." About the beginning of the 20th century there were increasing attempts to develop popular journalism intended for the working class and tending to emphasize sensational topics. Harmsworth was the main innovator.

Quotes edit

  • I shall leave the Editor unrestricted control unless he should—which is quite incredible—fail to warn the British people of the coming German peril. I insist upon that duty being discharged. Apart from Germany the Editor is free to take any line of policy which commends itself to him.
    • Remarks after his purchase of The Times (1908), quoted in Frederick Harcourt Kitchin, The London 'Times' Under the Managership of Moberly Bell: An Unofficial Narrative (1925), p. 238
  • I do ask our staff to try to make the paper as absolutely impartial as possible. It is very important that so gigantic a power as ours should be used fairly.
    • Remarks to the editorial staff of the Daily Mail (17 July 1909), quoted in Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1959), p. 372
  • When I look back to the newspapers that were in existence before we started the Daily Mail, when I glance back, as I have done lately, at some of them, I feel that even those of us who are concerned in our work do not fully realize what we have done—the enormous variety of new topics that we have introduced into a newspaper. We have increased the size of the newspapers, which may or may not be a blessing; at any rate, it has led to the doubling or trebling of employment for British journalists. In particular, we have enormously increased in newspapers the amount of news from the far distant parts of the world.
    • Remarks to the editorial staff of the Daily Mail (17 July 1909), quoted in Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1959), p. 373
  • I regard my position as that of a public trustee, with immense responsibilities. I do not feel that I have any right to send my undiluted opinions into one out of every six houses in this country every day. I enclose, for example, an article by Philip Snowden [the Labour leader] which appeared in the Daily Mail a few days ago.
  • I think it very essential to the welfare of this Empire that Labour should have a proper newspaper. We have the only representative Parliament in the world. I should like a really representative Press.
    • Letter to Frank Dilnot, the editor of Daily Citizen, the official newspaper of the Labour Party (1912), quoted in Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1959), p. 434
  • This man is asking what I have done in the war. The only claims that I make are, after many visits to Germany and Austria, I persistently warned the public here that the war was coming. I did so also on your side of the Atlantic when I spoke at Winnipeg in 1909 and in the same year at Chicago and San Francisco. I do not suppose that I had more than two or three thousand supporters at that time, but among them was Lord Roberts, who was as violently abused in Canada and the United States as he was here. When I endeavoured to introduce the aeroplane to officials here, again the only support I got was from Lord Roberts. I had to encourage it by huge prizes for flights. Our Government ignored the aeroplane, but the German Government replied to my prizes by a steady stream of premiums awarded to Germans who broke the records of other nations.
    • Letter to T. W. Callender (10 March 1918), quoted in Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1959), p. 625
  • When the war broke out I was silent about things that had gone wrong until, when at the front, I saw the lamentable spectacle of our men fighting the Germans not with shells but with their bare breasts. The public had been lulled into a sense of preposterous optimism by the lies of politicians who thought that the war would be over before the lack of provision was discovered. You will remember that I exposed what I called the tragedy of the shells. The public, thinking that the war was actually won, were greatly incensed and my newspapers were burned all over the country and banned from every club. Their sales fell by 100,000. I received some five thousand abusive letters a day and had to take measures for my personal safety. At that time Mr Asquith had the audacity to go to Newcastle and say that there was nothing wrong with our equipment. The tide speedily turned in my favour because wounded men from the front began to spread the facts throughout the land. As a result of my exposure of the shells tragedy, the Ministry of Munitions came into being.
    • Letter to T. W. Callender (10 March 1918), quoted in Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1959), pp. 625-626
  • A dog biting a man is not news; a man biting a dog is distinctly news.
    • Private letter to The Times (27 May 1919), quoted in Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1959), p. 729

Quotes about Northcliffe edit

  • [Y]ou are to my mind and my convictions one of the great cosmic and world forces for good. It is to you and yr. faith that we owe victory over forces that were evil and without you a patched peace would have come about long ago with another war against Kaiserism.
    Whatever other dangers face mankind today, Kaiserism, thanks to you, is dead and done with forever.
    • Aga Khan III to Northcliffe (31 March 1919), quoted in Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1959), p. 708
  • To all broad principles Northcliffe adhered unflinchingly, once he had fully grasped them. He was absolutely dauntless in his belief in victory, and it was really inspiring to talk to him in bad hours. Nor was this a pose as it was in the case of some of the statesmen.
  • Northcliffe was...a potent force, and proved again and again a powerful factor, compelling the Government to recognise public opinion on war issues. But that was not his ideal. He desired to hold high office, and his associates told him they believed he would attain to a War Premiership.
    Whatever the political world may think of Northcliffe, one fact can never be disputed. He was the greatest figure who ever strode down Fleet Street. He had created the character, type and temper of every newspaper which he owned and there have been few changes of importance in Fleet Street since he left. He established his conceptions of journalism, not only by the direct influence which he brought to bear on that part of the Press he controlled, but indirectly by the example which he set to his competitors.
  • Alfred Harmsworth was a careful and conscientious purveyor of news. I never knew him unwittingly to disseminate inaccurate information.
    • R. D. Blumenfeld, quoted in Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1959), p. 252
  • I have always come away from his office, after seeing him, feeling 150 per cent more vigorous and encouraged. I have a really genuine and deep admiration for Northcliffe and I shall be very glad when he is back.
    • Geoffrey Butler, letter (1917), quoted in Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1959), p. 605
  • [T]here was never a less far-sighted schemer than Northcliffe in the history of the world. His strongest characteristic, and the secret of his success, is that he is so extraordinarily sensitive to the mood of the moment. No one was ever less like a Machiavelli. What he really is, is a master of publicity, and that enables him to associate himself, and to be associated by others, with political movements and events with which in nine cases out of ten he has hardly the remotest connection. If Lloyd George had been wise, he would have asked him to undertake the whole business of foreign propaganda for the nation, and disregarded the jealousy of every other newspaper in the country. He could have justified his choice up to the hilt in that connection. No one would have done it better.
    • Geoffrey Dawson, quoted in Evelyn Wrench, Geoffrey Dawson and Our Times (1955), pp. 162-163
  • Merely to know him, to have the privilege of his companionship, was to be exhilarated. He exhaled a certain tonic quality which, by some—and assuredly by myself—was definitely experienced in his presence.
  • Alfred was never a supporter of the whole programme of any political party.
    • Cecil Harmsworth, quoted in Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1959), p. 289
  • Knowing much that is not known generally, I consider that you more than any other man in this country have really helped conspicuously and decisively towards the great Allied victory.
    • Austin Harrison to Northcliffe (December 1918), quoted in Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1959), p. 687
  • Dear Lord Northcliffe,—At a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Labour Party held to-day to review the situation arising out of the recent general election, I was instructed to tender you the thanks of the Committee on your generous offer of the free and uncontrolled use of the daily column in the Daily Mail during the period of the election. The Committee recognize the value of the opportunity afforded the Labour Party to place its policy before the large section of the public represented by the readers of your paper, and they appreciate the spirit of fair play which prompted you to place the space at the disposal of a party which is at present so seriously handicapped by the non-existence of an official Labour daily newspaper.
    • Arthur Henderson to Northcliffe (3 January 1918), quoted in Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1959), pp. 688-689
  • You do not know how much pleasure those visits gave us, nor how much I miss being in touch with you. I was reading today in our cable despatches from neutral countries nearby Germany, how much they were disturbed by "the propaganda which Lord Northcliffe is directing against us. The English are doing more to defeat us in this way than the armies in the field." This is the greatest tribute one could have.
    • Colonel House to Northcliffe (18 July 1918), quoted in Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1959), p. 656
  • Northcliffe has never received the credit due him in the winning of the war. He was tireless in his endeavors to stimulate the courage and energy of the Allies, and he succeeded in bringing them to a realization of the mighty task they had on their hands. He was among the first to grasp the significance of President Wilson's philippic against the German military autocracy, and the distinction he made between the Junkers and the German people. He caused these utterances of the American President to be sent into Germany by countless thousands, and did more than any single man, other than Wilson himself, to break down the enemy's morale behind the lines.
    • Colonel House, statement after the Paris Peace Conference, quoted in Charles Seymour, The Intimate Papers of Colonel House: Into the World War (1928), p. 87
  • I want you to know I sincerely believe that your being in America during the most trying period of the war, making speeches throughout the country, had more to do with arousing the interest of our people than any other one thing I know of. I don't believe you appreciate what a hold you have on the American people. We did not realize the seriousness of the situation until you presented it to us.
    • Edward N. Hurley to Northcliffe, quoted in Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1959), p. 591
  • In accepting your resignation, I wish to assure you how grateful I am for the great services you have rendered to the Allied cause while holding this important post. I have had many direct evidence of the success of your invaluable work and of the extent to which it has contributed to the dramatic collapse of the enemy strength in Austria and Germany.
    • David Lloyd George to Northcliffe (12 November 1918), quoted in Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1959), p. 670
  • I have met few men who had such a quick comprehension as Northcliffe. It was never necessary to explain anything to him twice. He reminded me more of the higher type of American business executive than any foreigner I have ever known. He was dynamic, his phrases were vivid, his ideas crisp and clear, and he had a way of getting down at once to the vital thought in any question under discussion.―But Northcliffe was not a financier, nor did he pretend to be one. His strong point was in determining how to do things―the shortest and surest road to accomplishment.
  • You will go down to history as one of the great figures of the war.
    • George Riddell to Northcliffe (29 December 1917), quoted in Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1959), p. 605
  • In a sense, he was the only completely convinced democrat that I ever knew. He did really believe that things ought to be decided by the mass-opinion about them. To find out what that was, or what it was going to be, and to express it powerfully, seemed to him not only profitable but right and wise.
    • J. A. Spender, quoted in Reginald Pound and Geoffrey Harmsworth, Northcliffe (1959), p. 287
  • I am my own witness in this matter, for I knew your brother intimately in those years. In his talks with me he was always a Protectionist and we had many arguments on the subject. He always, in those days, attributed what he called the "colossal" success of the U.S.A. to protection.
  • If Northcliffe's unbridled publicity shocked Washington, it did much to make the country understand the meaning and demands of belligerency and without annoying it, for to the American public Northcliffe was not a high official behaving improperly, but a great and friendly English newspaper proprietor talking sense, though sometimes unpalatable sense, in striking phrases. He was thus able to impress upon the popular mind the great part played by the British in the war, a part which the French and the Italians were doing their best to belittle both in official Washington and in the Press, so as to strengthen their claim for American supplies and money.
    • Arthur Willert, The Road to Safety: A Study in Anglo-American Relations (1953), p. 111

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