THE HOUSE OF NORTHCLIFFE: The Harmsworths of Fleet Street by Paul Ferris

THE HOUSE OF NORTHCLIFFE: The Harmsworths of Fleet Street

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Ferris has dug deep and scanned wide to produce this wily and marvelously readable portrait of Northcliffe, born Alfred Harmsworth, who rose from lowly beginnings to become the greatest newspaper magnate of Edwardian England, carrying on his shoulders the rest of his large, loud, and generally undistinguished family. Like William Randolph Hearst, Iris American counterpart, Harmsworth cashed in on the public's appetite for cheap, vigorous, sensational journalism with a newspaper empire that began with cheap funnies, lowbrow boys' magazines and handkerchief wringers for the ladies, quickly expanded by adding the yellow journalistic Daily Mail and Illustrated Mirror, and culminated in the acquisition of the august Times. Harmsworth's genius lay in his instinctual rapport with the enthusiasms and prejudices of the newly literate lower middle class -- ""Alfred realized the age of cheapness was coming""; like Lever, Lipton, and others who cleaned up in the new mass market he was an innovator in advertising and promotion gimmicks; ""simplicity, cheek, topicality and repetition"" made papers sell; gadgets and novelties cleverly packaged, guilt-free imperialism, and ""English grit"" made him a tycoon. Ferris has culled the family papers as well as official sources to flesh out the devious, volatile, secretive man behind the public figure. His crusades from the trumpeting of standard (unbleached) bread to military preparedness, his uncanny prescience of the coming war with Germany's Huns (an epithet coined by the Northcliffe press), his sincere hatred of smut (despite four illegitimate children), his appetite for crime and gore, his anti-intellectualism and indifference to social reform -- all meshed perfectly with the smug and showy age he lived in. His biography is a splashy chunk of popular English history on the eve of the Great War as well as a psychologically astute study of a vulgar and able parvenu.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1972
Publisher: World