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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Alfred Harmsworth, Newspaper Publisher

alfred-harmsworthAlfred Charles William Harmsworth, Viscount Northcliffe, one of the most successful newspaper publishers in the history of the British press and a founder of popular modern journalism, is born on July 15, 1865 in Chapelizod, near Dublin.

After an impoverished childhood and a few attempts at making a quick fortune, young Harmsworth embarks on freelance journalism as a contributor to popular papers, rises to editorial positions, and starts a paper called Answers to Correspondents. After some difficulty in securing financial backing, he begins publication, soon shortening the name to Answers. As the paper gains public favour, he is joined by his brother Harold, whose financial ability and capacity for attracting advertising, combined with Alfred’s genius for sensing the public taste, make it a success. Answers is followed by many other inexpensive popular periodicals, chief among them Comic Cuts and Forget-Me-Not, for the new reading public of women. These form the basis for what becomes Amalgamated Press, the largest periodical-publishing empire in the world.

In 1894 Harmsworth enters the newspaper field, purchasing the nearly bankrupt London Evening News and transforming it into a popular newspaper with brief news reports, a daily story, and a column for women. Within a year circulation grows to 160,000 copies, and profits are substantial. Conceiving the idea of a chain of halfpenny morning papers in the provinces, he purchases two papers in Glasgow, Scotland, and merges them into the Glasgow Daily Record. He then decides to experiment with a popular national daily in London. The Daily Mail, first published on May 4, 1896, is a sensational success. Announced as “the penny newspaper for one halfpenny” and “the busy man’s daily journal,” it is exactly suited to the new reading public. All news stories and feature articles are kept short, and articles of interest to women, political and social gossip, and a serial story are made regular features. With its first issue, the Daily Mail establishes a world record in daily newspaper circulation, a lead it never loses during Harmsworth’s lifetime.

Next Harmsworth purchases the Weekly Dispatch when it is nearly bankrupt and transforms it into the Sunday Dispatch, the biggest-selling Sunday newspaper in the country. In 1903 he founds the Daily Mirror, which successfully exploits a new market as a picture paper, with a circulation rivaling that of the Daily Mail. He saves The Observer from extinction in 1905, the year in which he is made Baron Northcliffe. In 1908 he reaches the pinnacle of his career by securing control of The Times, which he transforms from a 19th-century relic into a modern newspaper.

Northcliffe’s contributions to the British effort in World War I begin with his early exposure in the Daily Mail of the British army’s shell shortage. His criticisms of Lord Kitchener arouse intense resentment in some quarters, but he also presses for the creation of a separate Ministry of Munitions and for the formation in 1915 of a wartime coalition government. For his service as head of the British war mission in the United States in 1917, he is created a viscount. He acts as the British government’s director of propaganda aimed at Germany and other enemy countries in 1918. By this time Northcliffe’s press empire appears to hold such power over public opinion that he tries unsuccessfully to influence the composition of Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s cabinet. Always unpredictable, he becomes the victim of a megalomania that damages his judgment and leads to the breakdown that precedes his death.

Harmsworth’s health declines during 1921 due mainly to a streptococcal infection. He goes on a world tour to revive himself, but it fails to do so. He dies of endocarditis in a hut on the roof of his London house on August 14, 1922, leaving three months’ pay to each of his six thousand employees. The viscountcy, barony, and baronetcy of Northcliffe become extinct upon his death. His body is buried at East Finchley Cemetery in North London.

Northcliffe’s success as a publisher rests on his instinctive understanding of the new reading public that had been created by compulsory education. Though he wants political power, the effect of his newspapers upon public affairs is generally considered to have been smaller than he believed. His influence lay rather in changing the direction of much of the press away from its traditional informative and interpretative role to that of the commercial exploiter and entertainer of mass publics.

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Birth of James Hanley, Novelist & Playwright

james-hanleyJames (Joseph) Hanley, British novelist, short story writer, and playwright of Irish descent, is born in Kirkdale, Liverpool, Lancashire on September 3, 1897. He publishes his first novel, Drift, in 1930. The novels and short stories about seamen and their families that he writes in the 1930s and 1940s include Boy (1931), the subject of an obscenity trial. He comes from a seafaring family and spends two years at sea himself. After World War II there is less emphasis on the sea in his works. While frequently praised by critics, his novels do not sell well. In the late 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s he writes plays, mainly for the BBC, for radio and then for television, and also for the theatre. He returns to the novel in the 1970s. His last novel, A Kingdom, is published in 1978, when he is 80 years old.

Hanley is born to a working class family. Both his parents are born in Ireland, his father Edward Hanley around 1865, in Dublin, and his mother, Bridget Roache, in Queenstown, County Cork, around 1867. Both are well established in Liverpool by 1891, when they are married. Hanley’s father works most of his life as a stoker, particularly on Cunard Line liners, and other relatives have also gone to sea. He grows up living close to the docks. He leaves school in the summer of 1910 and works for four years in an accountants’ office. Then early in 1915 at the age of 17, he goes to sea for the first time. Thus life at sea is a formative influence and much of his early writing is about seamen.

In April 1917, Hanley jumps ship in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, and shortly thereafter joins the Canadian Expeditionary Force in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He fights in France in the summer of 1918, but is invalided out shortly thereafter. After the war he works as a railway porter in Bootle and devotes himself to a prodiguous range of autodidactic, high cultural activities – learning the piano, regularly attending concerts, reading voraciously and, above all, writing. However, it is not until 1930 that his novel Drift is accepted.

Hanley moves from Liverpool to near Corwen, North Wales in 1931, where he meets Dorothy Enid “Timothy” Thomas, neé Heathcote, a descendant of Lincolnshire nobility. They live together and have a child, Liam Powys Hanley, in 1933, but do not marry until 1947. In July 1939, as World War II is approaching, he moves to London to write documentaries and plays for the BBC. He moves back to Wales during the early years of the war, settling in Llanfechain on the other side of the Berwyn range from Corwen. In 1963, the Hanleys move to North London to be close to their son.

In 1937 Hanley publishes an autobiographical work, Broken Water: An Autobiographical Excursion, and while this generally presents a true overall picture of his life, it is seriously flawed, incomplete and inaccurate. Chris Gostick describes it as “a teasing palimpsest of truth and imagination.”

Hanley’s brother is the novelist Gerald Hanley and his nephew is the American novelist and playwright William Hanley. Hanley’s wife also publishes three novels, as Timothy Hanley. She dies in 1980. James Hanley himself dies in London on November 11, 1985 and is buried in Llanfechain, Wales.