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Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe.
Alfred Charles William Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe (15 July 1865 – 14 August 1922) rose from childhood poverty to become a powerful British newspaper and publishing magnate, famed for buying stolid, unprofitable newspapers and transforming them to make them lively and entertaining for the mass market. During his lifetime, he exercised vast influence over British popular opinion. Megalomania contributed to a nervous breakdown shortly before his death.


Early life and financial success

Although born near Dublinmarker, Harmsworth was educated at the Stamford Schoolmarker in Lincolnshiremarker, Englandmarker. He was the elder brother of Harold Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere, Cecil Harmsworth, 1st Baron Harmsworth, Sir Leicester Harmsworth, 1st Baronet, and Sir Hildebrand Harmsworth, 1st Baronet.

Beginning as a free-lance journalist, he founded his first newspaper, Answers (original title: Answers to Correspondents), and was later assisted by his brother Harold, who was adept at business matters. Harmsworth had an intuitive sense for what the reading public wanted to buy, and began a series of cheap but successful periodicals, such as Comic Cuts (tagline: "Amusing without being Vulgar") and the journal Forget-Me-Not for women. From these periodicals, he built what was then the largest periodical publishing empire in the world, Amalgamated Press.

Photo of Harmsworth in his car, circa 1903
Harmsworth was an early pioneer of tabloid journalism. He bought several failing newspapers and made them into an enormously profitable chain, primarily by appealing to the popular taste. He began with The Evening News in 1894, and then merged two Edinburghmarker papers to form the Edinburgh Daily Record. On 4 May 1896, he began publishing the Daily Mail in Londonmarker, which was a hit, holding the world record for daily circulation until Harmsworth's death; taglines of The Daily Mail included "the busy man's daily journal" and "the penny newspaper for one halfpenny". Less kindly, but more famously, Prime Minister Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury, said it was "written by office boys for office boys". Harmsworth then transformed a Sunday newspaper, the Weekly Dispatch, into the Sunday Dispatch, then the highest circulation Sunday newspaper in Britain. In 1899, Harmsworth was responsible for the unprecedented success of a charitable appeal for the dependents of soldiers fighting in the South African War by inviting Rudyard Kipling and Arthur Sullivan to write The Absent-Minded Beggar. Harmsworth also founded the The Daily Mirror in 1903, and rescued the financially desperate Observer and Times in 1905 and 1908, respectively. In 1908, he also acquired The Sunday Times.

Ennobled: the World War I home front

Harmsworth was created a baronet, of Elmwood, in the parish of St Peter's, Thanetmarker, in the County of Kentmarker, in 1904. In 1905, Harmsworth was elevated to the peerage as Baron Northcliffe, of the Isle of Thanetmarker in the County of Kent, and in 1918 was raised to Viscount Northcliffe, of St Peter's in the County of Kent, for his service as the head of the British war mission in the United Statesmarker.

Lord Northcliffe was also involved in politics. For example, his newspapers — especially The Times — reported the Shell Crisis of 1915 with such zeal that it brought down the wartime government of Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith, forcing him to form a coalition government. Lord Northcliffe's newspapers led the fight for creating a Minister of Munitions (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 propaganda over the Germans in WWI, German battleships were sent to shell his house 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.

In 1903, Harmsworth founded the Harmsworth Cup, the first international award for motorboat racing. He was a close friend of Claude Johnson, Commercial Managing Director of Rolls-Royce Limited, and in the years preceding the First World War became an enthusiast for the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.

Blue plaque

Lord Northcliffe lived for a time at 31 Pandora Road, West Hampstead - this site is now marked with an English Heritage blue plaque.

Promotion of Group Settlement Scheme

Lord Northcliffe, through his newspaper empire, promoted the ideas which led to the Group Settlement Scheme. The scheme promised land in Western Australiamarker to British settlers prepared to emigrate and develop the land. A town founded specifically to support the new settlements was named Northcliffe to recognise the role of Lord Northcliffe in bringing about the Group Settlement Scheme.


  1. Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 1975
  2. Cannon, John. "The Absent-Minded Beggar", Gilbert and Sullivan News, March 1987, Vol. 11, No. 8, pp. 16–17, The Gilbert and Sullivan Society, London

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