Foreword, by Geoffrey Goodman
Barnes & Noble (New York)
The Cudlipp classic
By Geoffrey Goodman
There are moments, nowadays, when I fantasise about what would happen if by some ultra-super supernatural force it might be possible to re-instate Hugh Cudlipp onto the 9th floor of the old Daily Mirror building in Holborn Circus. Of course one huge snag is that the building no longer exists; true to the times we live in it is now the headquarters of supermarket emperors J Sainsbury plc. The old Mirror castle was razed to the ground to be rebuilt for Sainsbury’s.
‘Symbolic, my boy,’ I feel sure Cudlipp would adjudicate were he still around to update his superb classic on old Fleet Street – which , in my view, remains one of the finest books ever written on our capricious trade and which is now finally republished.
Along with this ‘Symbolic, my boy’ gruffly-edged Cudlippian retort would come a huge guffaw of laughter as he began to lay out the dummy for his 21st century Daily Mirror. Journalism always meant fun as much as anything else for Hugh Cudlipp.
OK then, fantasy.
The conventional wisdom would have us believe that Cudlipp’s popular journalistic genius has had its day. That we now live in a different era, a different ethos of popular culture and, to be sure, an almost entirely different mantra of journalistic values. I am far from persuaded. Especially after re-reading this remarkable book which first fascinated me more than fifty years ago as a young reporter on the News Chronicle.
The book is strictly about what its sub-title says: the astonishing story of the Daily Mirror. But of course it is far more than the history of a single national newspaper.
It is as much concerned with the social, political and cultural development of a nation and its people from early in the 20th century [the Mirror was launched on November 2 1903], through two world wars, poverty , wealth, power, mass unemployment of the twenties and thirties plus the rise of Hitler and European fascism. Across this canvas of history Cudlipp’s book describes the power struggle of newspaper moguls from Northcliffe onwards as this single newspaper, the Daily Mirror, began to emerge from a mish-mash of experiment and failure climbing to astonishing success as an international journalistic phenomenon.
In the fourth Cudlipp Memorial Lecture at the London Press Club, circa 2001, I described Hugh Cudlipp as the greatest popular journalist of 20th century British journalism; I do not withdraw a single word of that. Yet Cudlipp himself would have brushed it aside – not from modesty, which was not one of his chosen virtues – but because he was selflessly objective about the Mirror’s origins and success.
The paper was founded by the visionary Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, as a daily paper for ‘gentlewomen’. It was then almost sunk by his brother Harold, the first Lord Rothermere, who disregarded its potential while he concentrated on building the financial power of the Daily Mail group which then owned the Daily Mirror. Finally the Mail group sold out and the paper was rescued by Harry Guy Bartholomew – ‘Bart’ – who prompted the title of the book with a quote borrowed from the Duke of Wellington.
Cudlipp describes Bartholomew as ‘brilliant, truculent, mercurial’ with an exceptional instinct for understanding ‘the pulse of the masses’. Cudlipp always insisted that the foundation of the Mirror’s success came from Bart, who was a Northcliffe protégé. Maybe. But it was Cudlipp himself who picked it up from a cantankerous, fractious and failing Bart to turn the Mirror into the ‘biggest daily sale on earth’. All this, and far more, is contained in this extraordinary classic on the Fleet Street we recognised.
Far more of what?
Brilliant profiles on Beaverbrook, Cecil Harmsworth King, Bill [Cassandra] Connor, as well as the Rothermere family: a riveting account of how the Daily Mirror was twice almost banned by Churchill’s war-time Government for its insolent criticism of the great war leader’s style in conducting his war-time Government. Winston objected to Cassandra’s column and the carpingly critical editorials written by Richard Jennings. Despite the paper’s fundamental support for Churchill’s own war leadership qualities the Mirror constantly challenged the early military strategy.
Then came a second threat to stop the paper – this time via Herbert Morrison [Home Secretary in Churchill’s war cabinet and a former Mirror contributor]. In March 1942 Philip Zec, the paper’s famed cartoonist, produced a cartoon which is still argued over between politicians and journalists: it showed a torpedoed sailor adrift on a raft in a black, angry ocean with this caption; ‘The Price of Petrol has been increased by One Penny [official]’. It was Zec’s – and the paper’s – response to stories of a wartime black market in petrol. The cartoon raised thunderous protest from Government – ‘treasonable propaganda’ some called it – though it won glowing support from many Mirror readers. Zec and the Mirror had accurately tested the popular pulse, always its supreme secret until recent years.
The whole account as told in this book, including wartime correspondence between Churchill and the paper, remains riveting history. And these are but epic snatches from a dramatic, colourful and uniquely historic journey.
So how much is relevant to modern journalism? There are, of course, some inescapable time-induced flaws in the book: but frankly these are minor compared with its overall commanding relevance to anyone entering, or who is already in, contemporary journalism.
Without hesitation I reckon Cudlipp’s book rates around 200-plus per cent relevance – not least his descriptions of what makes great newspaper journalism tick. They alone should be MUST texts for all media schools and their professorial experts as they emerge from web sites. It is a pleasure for me to see Publish And Be Damned! re-issued as a paperback after too many years out of print.
Geoffrey Goodman is a former industrial editor, columnist and assistant editor of the Daily Mirror. He previously reported for the Daily Herald, the Odhams Sun, the News Chronicle and the Manchester Guardian, and was founding editor of the British Journalism Review, where he remains the emeritus chairman and where a version of this critique originally appeared. He was awarded the CBE in 1998 for his services to journalism and is the author of From Bevan to Blair (2003), a memoir of 50 years of political reporting.
Go by the book
By Revel Barker
Whenever two or three of us are gathered together there is one book that will almost inevitably be mentioned. And, if not the book, at least its title: Hugh Cudlipp’s Publish And Be Damned! will somehow find its way into the conversation. Even by people (the majority, these days) who haven’t read it.
If the Fourth Estate had a coat of arms – crossed quills for journalism, an open book to represent printing, and maybe a bottle and glass thrown in somewhere – those words would be its motto, written on a curling scroll beneath it.
Perhaps even in Latin: EDE SED VAE TIBI, Publish, but woe to you! (There was no concept of hell or damnation in Ancient Rome).
In fact they didn’t originate from a journalist but from a soldier; the first recorded use of the phrase was as the response of the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) to a discarded mistress who threatened to circulate the love letters he had sent her.
Writing about Lord Northcliffe (publisher) and Harry Guy Bartholomew (editor and editorial director), Cudlipp said:
News to Northcliffe was a commodity no true journalist could possibly think of ignoring, whatever its source and however it was come by. If it fulfilled the one and only condition, truth, the journalist’s duty was to publish it whatever the pleasure, pain, satisfaction or annoyance it might induce.
Bartholomew held similar views. A man of few words, he expressed the creed succinctly: ‘Publish and be damned’.
This was the only occasion on which he quoted the Duke of Wellington. Or any other duke.
Cudlipp needed to look no further for a title for his book – written mainly, he says, while he was employed by the Express – which was subtitled The Astonishing Story of the Daily Mirror.
It became an instant success. Published in September 1953 it required a second run of printing before the month was out. This was not surprising; the public could hardly miss it.
For a start, the (then) eleven million readers of the Mirror were smacked full in the face by a whole-page review from Cassandra on publication day. It was also advertised in the paper, and it should be remembered that in those days the Mirror readers seemed actually to love their daily paper; it was part of their lives; it was like family.
Other newspapers – notably the ‘heavies’ – and news magazines also reviewed the book. Like the Mirror it was difficult to ignore.
Not only did it promise to take readers ‘behind the scenes of the newspaper that shocked conventional Britain’, it revealed the inside story of the wartime government’s threat to suppress the Mirror, plus what happened when Winston Churchill sued for libel.
There were pen-portraits of famous people:
lord northcliffe: How the greatest figure who ever strode down Fleet Street launched the Mirror and lost £100,000. The genius who found Napoleon's hat too small for him – and died insane.
the first lord rothermere: ‘In finance a titan to reckon with and fear. In other spheres his touch was less certain. For misjudgment marred his activities, and occasionally he scaled the peak of folly. Ruthlessness alone was not enough.’
harry guy bartholomew: ‘Brilliant, truculent, mercurial. He was the incandescent flame: his executives were moths who flew at a respectful distance, singed their wings, or burned to death according to the talents, cowardice, or courage with which nature had endowed them.’
lord beaverbrook: ‘For two decades he has preached the gospel of Empire with all the fervour and ferocity his battery of indoctrinated leader-writers can command. But the campaign failed, and he confessed his failure to his readers.’
winston churchill: ‘It has given me much pain,’ he wrote, ‘to see that newspapers with whom I have had such friendly relations, and from whom I have received in the past valuable support, should pursue such a line. It is because of our past relations that I write thus plainly.’
the duke of windsor: ‘His erroneous account [of the abdication crisis] can only be attributed to naivety, to a defective memory, or to a curious sense of ingratitude to the few British newspapers which did demand a fair hearing for a King in torment.’
william randolph hearst: ‘He was not the rich uncle. He was the impecunious nephew.’
herbert morrison: In 1942 he accused the Mirror of ‘scurrilous misrepresentations, distorted and exaggerated statements, and irresponsible generalisations.’ In 1945 he praised the Mirror's ‘fine work’.
Not to mention Cassandra, Noel Whitcomb, Philip Zec, Godfrey Winn, Sylvester Bolam, Audrey Whiting, Donald Zec… and Jane, Garth, Buck Ryan, Useless Eustace and the Flutters.
Sales of the book received an unexpected – but, at least for the defendants in the High Court, unwelcome – boost six years later when Gilbert Beyfus QC waved his copy of Publish And Be Damned! at the jury when Liberace sued the Daily Mirror and Cassandra for libel.
‘Oh that my enemy would publish a book,’ said Beyfus. He said he thought ‘somebody had once said that’. And he was right, sort of, for he was slightly misquoting the Book of Job (chapter 31, verse 35).
Beyfus continued: ‘Well, any prayer to that effect has been abundantly answered in this case.’
Cassandra had said in cross-examination that it would be ‘quite wrong’ to describe the Mirror as a ‘sensational’ newspaper.
But the barrister had about 30 references marked for him in Publish And Be Damned! – mainly claiming with pride that the paper was sensational –and he reeled them off. What he missed – suggesting that perhaps he read the highlighted paragraphs but didn’t actually read the book – was that there was even a chapter entitled ‘Sensationalism’. Connor, as both a contributor and a reviewer, must have been aware of that. Perhaps he had forgotten.
Beyfus asked Connor: ‘Do you think it would be wrong to call you a violent and vitriolic writer?’ And Connor told him: ‘It would indeed.’
Back to the book… And there was a letter sent in 1941 to Churchill, then Prime Minister, from Cecil H King, a Mirror director who by the time of the trial had become chairman. King had written: ‘Cassandra is a hard-hitting journalist with a vitriolic style.’
It was left to Cudlipp, when his turn came to give evidence, to explain that Cassandra was allowed to write – vividly – about anything he liked (or didn’t like) and that sensationalism didn’t actually mean what Beyfus said it meant: publishing anything at all calculated to increase circulation. He preferred the definition of Silvester Bolam (a former editor who had gone to jail for what had been described as sensational journalism). This was also quoted in the book:
Sensationalism does not mean distorting the truth. It means the vivid and dramatic presentation of events so as to give them a forceful impact on the mind of the reader. It means big headlines, vigorous writing, simplification into familiar everyday language, and the wide use of illustration by cartoon and photograph.
The trial cost the Daily Mirror £35,000 – about half a million pounds in modern terms. But Cudlipp’s verdict was that it had been money well spent – and not simply because world-wide coverage of the trial had increased sales of his book. Beyfus never actually mentioned the title in court, but everybody knew what book he was talking about.
The newspaper emerged from court briefly poorer financially but with its reputation for sensational (vivid and vigorous, forthright, strongly opinioned) journalism intact and its already world-beating circulation continuing to increase.
And they’d had fun fighting, even if the witness box experience of the Mirror team had been at times frustrating, and some of the argument seemingly perverse.
And the readers shared in the fun.
And, as the book explained, more than anything, the people at the Mirror had fun and supplied fun inside a spectacularly caring and campaigning newspaper, sometimes against seemingly insurmountable opposition.
It was what they did best.
Revel Barker spent 27 years – from reporter to managing editor – with the Mirror group of newspapers. He wrote Crying All The Way To The Bank (Liberace v the Daily Mirror and Cassandra) and now publishes books about newspapers and journalism.
Cudlipp in the mirror
By Anthony Delano
The tale of how Hugh Cudlipp came to join the Daily Mirror, the paper with which his name is inseparably linked, gives a heady whiff of the way things were in the turbulent 1930s, when popular journalism was being recalibrated.
The seriously strange features editor Basil Nicholson advertised in the Telegraph for a ‘bright assistant features editor with ideas, able to take charge’. Cudlipp, 25, and spinning his wheels at the Sunday Chronicle, applied and during the interview asked about the ‘take charge’ part.
‘Can you start today?’ Nicholson asked. ‘Otherwise I might be fired before you get here.’
It was actually six months before Nicholson went and the equally weird editorial director Guy Bartholomew gave Cudlipp the job. Only then did the reason behind Nicholson’s departure emerge. He had persistently refused to tone down the playfully sensational headlines that Cudlipp had been slipping into the paper, letting the editor and directors who hated them think they were his own work.
Take the job, Nicholson urged Cudlipp. ‘Or everything we’ve done will be wasted.’ Nicholson, who had come into journalism from advertising, inspired Cudlipp to think about some of the questions that regularly came up in their 2am decompression sessions in the Gargoyle Club. Newspapers, Nicholson, insisted, did not know their business. Did newspapers really care what their customers wanted to read? What was the use of bothering readers about an obscure revolution in Bolivia if they were kept awake at night by indigestion?
Cudlipp set out to assemble a team that knew how to produce the brief and punchy articles and the colourful stunts he sensed that the customers did want.
Behind the barking and the tinsel… was a closely reasoned scheme. The plan which these young men evolved was simply this – to get under the readers’ skin and to stay there. They were all, in their way, lay psychologists. Most of them had come from working-class or middle-class families in the provinces; they really knew and had personally experienced the aspirations and setbacks, the joys and the heartaches of the millions of ordinary people whom they set out to entertain and instruct. The down-to-earth feature pages became more and more like a letter home to the family, and that was their secret.
There were, of course, a few women around, too – eventually. The ineffable Marje Proops of course, and Felicity Green, whom Cudlipp was perspicacious enough to make the first female director of any national newspaper.
I can’t say – as more than one of my old colleagues is able to – that Publish And Be Damned! made me decide to be a journalist. I was one already when I came across it. But the Cudlipp blend of showmanship and political pamphleteering was irresistibly persuasive. It did make me decide to be a certain kind of journalist; to see that my work could have a populist as well as a popular function. It led me to the Daily Mirror.
When I re-read the book a few years ago it seemed to me that it had not really held up; that newer generations of journalists would find it dated and tedious. I’ve changed my mind, however, in the light of the sweeping tabloidisation of virtually all our media. What is now put forward as ‘tabloid values’ often reflects the worst use of the techniques; hardly ever that crucial, insightful, skilled Cudlippian blend of ‘entertainment and instruction’, of which there are indelible reminders here.
Additionally – as Geoffrey Goodman picked up on in a new Introduction – this is more that ‘the astonishing story of the Daily Mirror’. It is an impressive testament of social history, a prismatic peek into the lives of ordinary people not only in the Cudlipp years, which petered out in the 1970s, but from the birth of the paper back in 1903.
It has to be remembered that while Cudlipp and his boardroom patron Cecil King did indeed guide the Mirror to the giddying circulation peak of 5million a day in 1964, they were standing on the shoulders of an earlier giant. When the egregious genius Bartholomew joined the paper in 1904 its circulation was 25,000. By 1951, when Cudlipp succeeded Bart as editorial director, it was already 4.3million.
Cudlipp’s view of King here is shamelessly sycophantic, something he must have recalled with a wince years later, when he helped organise his mentor’s defenestration and took his place as chairman. He was less gushing but generous to Bart – whose job he had earlier succeeded to – considering what he had to thank him for. Considering also that Cudlipp shared little of the Mirror’s epic wartime role of which Bart was the mastermind, although he got quite close to the action himself as a soldier, producing the army’s own newspaper, Union Jack.
Contrary to widespread impression, Cudlipp was never editor of the Mirror but, under King, effectively editor in chief of all the group’s publications, a title he refused to use because he thought it too American. He had been editor of the Sunday Pictorial before the war, taking that paper’s circulation from 1million to 4million. Nevertheless, the rampaging, irreverent, monstrously successful Mirror of the 1950s and 1960s was his in content and spirit.
Geoffrey is also right to draw attention to the close-up accounts of the clashes between the Mirror and the government, including that other great journalist Winston Churchill, who would like to have seen the paper suppressed.
The Mirror had the last word there. It campaigned against the Conservative party in the crucial 1945 ‘khaki’ election, insisting that despite his achievements in the war Churchill was not the right man to shape post-war Britain. It was estimated that but for the campaign the Labour Party would have been at least 100 parliamentary seats short of victory.
It was the Mirror wot won it.
Tony Delano enjoyed a lengthy career as a foreign correspondent before turning to academic life and writing a PhD thesis, The Formation of the British Journalist 1900-2000. He is now a visiting professor at the London College of Communication, part of the University of the Arts London, a frequent contributor to BBC History Magazine and the author of several books, including Slip-Up: how the Daily Express found Ronnie Biggs and Scotland Yard Lost Him. Another book about Fleet Street, Joyce McKinney and the Case of the Manacled Mormon, was published by Revel Barker last month.
Orphans of the storm
Sept 7, 1953
I have been in the middle of a typhoon for eighteen years. It roars. It howls and the rain comes in horizontal spears. The surrounding scenery rolls up in a ball and disappears down the street. The gale shrieks, the sky goes black in the face, there is the crash of falling masonry and the barometer sways on the quivering wall pointing with tipsy scorn to ‘Set Fair’.
The only time in nearly two decades of this that I ever got a bit of peace and quiet was with the Army in World War Two.
The bangs were more gentlemanly.
Then it all started again. The tiles peeled off the roof upwards, the windows were blown in and once again it wasn’t necessary to lock the front door. It was lodged in what remained of the upper branches of the old elm tree next door.
The name of this unending hurricane, this non-stop cyclone, is a tempest of a business called the Daily Mirror.
It first blew up exactly half a century ago – in 1903. It went down like a flat tyre immediately. The circulation of the Daily Mirror on the first day was 265,217 copies. The figure after three months was a horrible, thin, dispiriting drizzle of only 24,000 puzzled readers.
What happened afterwards, in half a century of trouble, fame, ill-fame, fortune, misfortune, good luck, bad luck, fair weather and foul weather, has been charted by one of the most violent orphans of the storm. His name is Hugh Cudlipp. And he has written a book about it all which is called Publish And Be Damned!
If you, who have paid three-halfpence to read the Daily Mirror, want to see the stitching behind the seams, then it is all here for you in this book.
The first issues of the Daily Mirror were designed by gentlewomen for gentlewomen.
It was soon found that there were plenty of gentlewomen to run it, but not enough gentlewomen to read it. So the gentlewomen who ran it for the gentlewomen who didn’t read it had to go.
To Hamilton Fyfe fell the horrible task of getting rid of these well-bred, cultured girls.
‘They begged to be allowed to stay.’ he recalled. ‘They left little presents on my desk. They waylaid me tearfully in corridors. It was a horrid experience, like drowning kittens.
The Mirror stumbled, ran, galloped, dawdled, cantered, and finally trotted into the middle nineteen thirties. The trot slowed up into a stroll, and the circulation fluttered feebly down and around the 750,000 mark. From then on the lash was laid across the beast, and a strange, mercurial, violent, talented character named Harry Guy Bartholomew took charge:
‘The outcome of most of the operations of this thickset, sawn-off shotgun of a man,’ records Cudlipp, ‘was resounding success. The paper which had only 25,000 readers when he joined it in 1904 was selling 4,350,000, the highest daily circulation in the world, when he retired in 1951.’
How this was done was by an invincible and sometimes largely uncontrolled combination of impudence that merged into courage, damned cheek, honest anger, irreverence, red-hot discourtesy and the age-old practice of putting the banana skin of criticism in front of the bishop of pomposity.
The readers devoured the Mirror. The Mirror in turn devoured its staff – including its editors. Few of these distinguished gentlemen willingly retired to the gentle slippered arts of stamp collecting, bridge or the placid delights of the suburban greenhouse. Some of them were fired – just like many of the ordinary people who read the paper.
And more furiously. The sack, disillusionment, wounded astonishment and even imprisonment were the lot of those who rode this bucking nag. Hugh Cudlipp himself, who has written this immensely candid account of the Daily Mirror, was himself briskly and brusquely fired. He was as startled as the rest. Although he has returned to the storm-racked fold, it is probable that, like the man who was due to be hanged (as Dr. Johnson observed) the experience cleared his mind wonderfully. The frankness about the fifty years of fury and fun that is the life of the Daily Mirror is part of the great value of the book for in its long chronicle of wonderful escapades and battles, both good and bad, lost and won, there is no humbug in the blistering, and often self-critical tale.
The candour rubs off the paint and pride not only of the public whose follies and feats it describes, but also of the people who produce the paper.
The book sparkles and flashes like a welder’s arc. It has everything, even the damned impudence to include disrespectful and distressing tales in the worst possible taste about myself.
‘Cassandra’, says the uninhibited author, ‘is the guest who is seldom invited twice.’
There is the staggering inside story of how Winston Churchill, aided by his temporary bedfellow, Herbert Morrison, came within an ace of shutting the whole paper down in the early years of the war. There is also reference to one of the most remarkable and fastest inside loops of journalism and politics ever accomplished. It ended up with Bartholomew and Morrison sitting inside the same cockpit of the same aeroplane in which the one was jauntily flying and the other desperately trying to shoot down only a year earlier. A grotesque aerial honeymoon if ever there was one.
Mr Churchill, in private letters now published for the first time, tells how he considered that the Mirror was trying to ‘set class against class’ and attempting to ‘rock the boat’ at a time of national peril. You can read them and you can judge for yourself who was right and wrong – for this chronicle is no tendentious tale.
You can read about anything from prancing politicians to how Jane helped to win the war. Round Up ,the US paper in the Far East, under the heading ‘Jane Gives All,’ commented: ‘Well, sirs, you can go home now. Right smack out of the blue and with no one even threatening her, Jane peeled a week ago. The British 36th Division immediately gained six miles and the British attacked in the Arakan. Maybe we Americans ought to have Jane, too.’
A rather pompous lady by the name of Margaret Miller once remarked to Carlyle: ‘I accept the universe.’ To which the crabby old sage retorted: ‘By God, madam, you’d better.’
I accept the Daily Mirror. I’d better. For one thing I take their money. For another I know the Daily Mirror universe very well indeed. In Publish And Be Damned! you will see this frenzied firmament at close quarters.
Do I like it? I do. Do I dislike it? I do. Do I admire it? I do. Do I despise it? I do. It is scintillating and clodhoppitty. It is sensible and silly. It is kind and cruel. It is warm-blooded, cold hearted, resolute, undetermined, shrewd, stupid, gentle and rough. I have seen it do things that in our compassion would do credit to a saint.
But I have also heard it speak when a flash of silence would have improved our conversation.
It is all these things at one and the same time for a very simple reason. It is produced by people who are sentimental, hard-headed, thin-skinned, thick-skinned, tender, tough, wise, foolish, genial, wayward, amiable, cantankerous, merciful, proud and humble.
Just like you are. Just like all people are – a wonderful, ludicrous mixture of virtues and vices that must set the Creator laughing at His children. This scintillating, self-critical book shows how close we are to our readers. No better. No worse. If you do not like us you do not like them – all eleven million who read us every day.
AND IF YOU DO NOT LIKE ELEVEN MILLION PEOPLE YOU DO NOT LIKE THE HUMAN RACE.
We do and if you challenge us of being guilty of liking ourselves – including our faults – then that’s true too. This book tells why.
By Liz Hodgkinson
There are certain newspaper men around whom there clings an ineffable, unfading glamour. Harold Evans is one and Hugh Cudlipp was certainly another.
Both of these men were physically small, from unremarkable working-class backgrounds yet with such big personalities and unshakeable self-confidence in themselves that between them they changed the face of national journalism, at either end of the market.
Evans will always be remembered as editor of the Sunday Times and Hugh Cudlipp as the editorial director of the Daily Mirror, so at the same time as Evans is going round the country promoting his latest book, it is a real pleasure to welcome the reissue of Cudlipp’s classic, Publish and Be Damned!, first issued in 1953.
This book tells the explosive story of the first 50 years of the Daily Mirror, charting its shaky, uncertain start as a daily paper for gentlewomen to its gradual evolution into the highest circulation and most popular paper of its time, embedding itself in the nation’s consciousness.
In its heyday, the Mirror pioneered just about every aspect of popular journalism we now take for granted: strip cartoons, big-name outspoken columnists, readers’ letters, huge headlines, clever puns, the need for a daily dose of fun, plus tough issues simplified and explained for the masses, and sympathetic features on subjects close to readers’ hearts, such as marriage, adultery and childbirth, low pay, cruelty to animals and the need for decent housing.
It also, unlike other newspapers of the time, never forgot the potential readership value of half the country’s population: women.
In many ways, Cudlipp was a man ahead of his time, a visionary who foresaw the emergence of the working classes as a powerful political force, and also acknowledged the growing emancipation of women as people in their own right. Women getting the vote, Cudlipp reckoned, was liable to change everything. He wrote about the 1920s: ‘A new relationship was evolving between the sexes but Rothermere (owner of the rival Daily Mail) did not notice it.’
Yet for all that he saw himself as a champion of women, and promoted female journalists such as Audrey Whiting and Marje Proops, Cudlipp’s views on what he saw as the fairer sex now come across as old-fashioned, patronising and sexist. And although Jean Rook described him as ‘the sexiest man I have ever known, who ever made a woman draw heavy breath’ and reckoned he had a voice ‘like a Welsh harp’ Cudlipp never saw women as equals. He may have championed the female cause up to a point, but he never missed an opportunity to sneer at them in print.
He had a good old laugh at the naivety and innocence of the early female journalists employed on the paper when it was aimed at gentlewomen. Two famous actors got married and the copy, written by a woman, read: ‘the usual performance took place in the evening.’
Cudlipp is too mealy-mouthed to write the actual heading which appeared over the daily despatch about French affairs; he merely states that it was quickly changed to ‘Yesterday in Paris.’ Obviously the unacceptable heading chosen by the women journalists was ‘French Letter’.
Also included is the now legendary comment by Hamilton Fyfe, the man who succeeded launch editor Mary Howarth after the gentlewoman’s paper turned into a miserable failure. Fyfe said that when he sacked all the women, it was a horrid experience, ‘like drowning kittens’ as they waylaid him tearfully in corridors, begged to be allowed to stay and left little presents on his desk.
Then Cudlipp draws attention to his paper’s take on a ‘section of citizens’ much neglected by newspapers of the time: working girls, ‘hundreds of thousands of them, toiling over typewriters and ledgers and reading in many cases nothing more enlightening than Peg’s Paper. How were they persuaded to become readers of a live daily newspaper?’
The way to get these ‘girls’ going, was to mount an attack on their working conditions and the fact they earned much less for the same job than men. Yes, but according to Cudlipp, they first needed to hear a few ‘home truths’:
You do most things in an office rather less efficiently than men. Deny it if you will but it is true. Take a simple thing like filing and indexing. You would not think that men could do this job better than you? Well, they can. Quite a lot better. Their minds are more orderly. They move more quickly. Ask the people who install and instruct on the use of these filing systems. They plump for men every time. Then even a thing like being a telephonist. Men again. In newspaper offices, where time is short, there are men on the switchboards. They are quicker – more effective. But – and here is the whole point – YOU COST LESS. You do things a shade worse, but you do them for a whole lot less.
‘No newspaper,’ opined Cudlipp, ‘had addressed itself to large sections of the community in quite this manner before.’ Well – one would hope not!
But against this it must be remembered that equal pay did not exist in those days in any job or profession. It was considered part of the natural order that women should be paid less than men, even for the same job, as Felicity Green was to discover when she was appointed to the board of Mirror Group Newspapers as its first woman, in the 1970s. She received £14,000 – admittedly a very handsome salary in those days, but when Mike Molloy was appointed to the board at about the same time, he was paid twice as much, simply because he was male.
Although Cudlipp may come across as quaintly chauvinistic when reading this book 56 years after its first publication, at least he recognised that women had to be wooed – and even sometimes insulted – as readers, but never ignored.
At least, I have to say before my blood boils over at his condescension, we have to be grateful for that.
Liz Hodgkinson is author of Ladies Of The Street, also published by Revel Barker Publishing, at £9.99.
His man in the blue velvet suit
By Colin Dunne
Hugh Cudlipp had invited everyone who’d worked on a special Shock Issue up to his ninth-floor palace for congratulatory drinks. This was deeply worrying. For a start, no-one was more important than Hugh Cudlipp – he wasn’t God, that’s true, but he had given God a couple of subbing shifts on The People. What’s more, office legend insisted that on these meet-the-lads occasions, someone always caught Cudlipp’s eye, and that someone was soon emptying his desk. What caught his eye was anything out of the usual which was why my colleagues were grinning.
They’d received their invitations as soon as they’d arrived in the morning so they’d had all day to ensure that they presented a picture of bland conformity… Sensible haircuts, dark suits, smart shirts, silk ties, shining shoes. Similarly, the men were immaculately coiffed and sober suited. You simply couldn’t fault them.
On the other hand…
This was in my ageing hippy period. Certainly I was an arresting sight. My hair at that time touched my shoulder-blades. My suit was a sort of electric blue colour, with wide lapels and flared trousers. It was velvet. No tie, but a huge collar that flopped like bunny’s ears. Dark glasses completed the look which was of Little Lord Fauntleroy posing as a drug dealer.
‘Well, old man,’ said Sid Williams, in his kindliest tone. ‘Cudlipp likes to have a victim – good of you to volunteer.’ Sid often suspected there was a conspiracy afoot from which he was excluded. It was clear on this occasion that if there was a conspiracy here, he was on the inside and I was on the outside. This appeared to be causing him no distress.
Paula James, another soft-hearted sweetie, looked at her watch. ‘Got to go,’ she snapped. ‘We mustn’t be a minute late. You know what darling little Hughie is like – we don’t want to attract attention, do we?’
Williams, James, Evans, Hughes, Gomery, Sear, Hellicar, Walker, the whole damn lot of them swept me up and headed for the lift. I’d done human interest, but this was the first time I’d done human sacrifice.
There wasn’t a lot of cover on the ninth-floor but I did the best I could, retreating between a tallish filing cabinet and a tropical plant, as far as I could from our noble leader. Cudlipp had a lovely time delivering one of his bitter-witty speeches, taking the mickey out of Murdoch (‘this amateur Ned Kelly’) and the Express (‘a burnt-out case’), and praising to the skies this assembly of astonishing talent. The pix, the layout, the writing, the headlines, all in the finest traditions of the Mirror at its best.
Boy, was he proud of us all. With people like this, the Mirror had nothing to fear. Not a damn thing. Then – oh God – he began to move around among his talented, and in one case terrified, team. He stopped here and there. A word with Walker. A bit of a letch with Evans. Coming nearer and nearer. I was just wondering what jobs were open to a man with the Attlee gene (which, as distinct the Churchill gene which allows you to drink all day, means that after a couple of glasses you start speaking in Pitman’s) when I looked up and there he was, right in front of me. I tried to slide further behind the filing cabinet. Too late. He’d spotted me. What was worse, he’d spotted the suit.
His hand came out and touched it. He took the lapel between finger and thumb. ‘Velvet?’ he inquired, his sharp eyes driving into mine and quite possibly six inches out of the back of my head. ‘Mmmmm,’ I gulped, trying to avoid confirmation or denial. Was there time, I wondered, to sink two g-and-t’s quickly and reply to him in fluent Pitman’s? Could I have three and die of alcoholic poisoning before he fired me?
He stepped back. ‘Blue velvet.’ It was barely audible. It didn’t need to be. He was talking to himself. He was talking to himself to see if he liked what he was saying.
‘Blue velvet,’ he repeated, slightly more loudly. ‘Yes, I rather like that.’ He cocked his head on one side. What he really liked was the sound of himself saying it. ‘Yes, I think that’s good. No, it’s great. No it isn’t, it’s absolutely bloody marvellous.’ The more he said it, the more he liked it. He wasn’t some old stick-in-the-mud afraid of new styles and fashions. Not a bit of it. Scared of change? Not me, sunshine.
Then he turned to address his editorial team. He did so at a volume pitch that would’ve been sufficient to address the entire British Army assembled on Salisbury Plain. ‘That’s what newspapers need,’ he thundered, in his rasping voice. ‘A bit of fun, a bit of colour, a bit of bloody daring – that’s what newspapers are all about.’
He ran his eyes over the astonished throng. With contempt he looked at the neat partings and the blade-sharp creases in the trousers. ‘What we don’t want,’ he said, dropping his voice to a low growl, ‘is little grey men in their little grey suits… with their little grey minds.’
The little grey men shifted about uncertainly and wondered what to do. Start a fist-fight perhaps? Unzip their trousers? It was too late. Bloody daring had passed them by.
‘People who’re like that – people who wouldn’t know excitement if it bit them on the leg – shouldn’t be in journalism. I don’t want them on my newspapers. I want to see them behind the counter in the bloody bank where they belong. What I want is people with guts and courage who don’t give a damn what anyone thinks. That’s what we need in Fleet Street.’
He turned back to me. ‘Tell my secretary where you got it. I want two.’
It was a quiet ride down in the lift. I couldn’t seem to catch anyone’s eyes. They were all looking down, closely examining their brilliantly polished toes.
I did tell Cudlipp’s secretary. She wrote it down too. ‘Lord John, Carnaby Street,’ she repeated. Then I reverted to my heads-down policy, and avoided speaking to anyone who was more important than myself. This eliminated nine-tenths of the people in the building.
I saw him occasionally over the next few years. Not once was he wearing flyaway lapels and flares. And this stunning bit of luck didn’t advance my career one jot.
Cudlipp was never once heard to shout: ‘Bring me my man in blue velvet.’ Not once.
But it did earn me the respect of Sid Williams. It proved that he was right all along. Clearly there was a conspiracy afoot, and equally clearly I was in on it. ‘Just one thing, old man,’ he used to whisper to me, when we met in the corridor. ‘Who told you that he liked velvet? You can trust me.’
A longer version of this article was originally published on the GentlemenRanters site as How To Be A Toady.
What every journalist should know:
a lively text book
Reading a pre-publication copy of this welcome republication of an out-of-print classic book I was struck by how relevant to modern journalism it remains, even 56 years on.
The author was one of the more important young rebels of “the tabloid revolution” in newspapers, creating styles and adopting attitudes that the rest of the industry would follow, throughout the world. In a word, what he invented was Sensationalism. But this didn’t mean publishing just anything that increased circulation, it also depended on truth and accuracy. He borrowed the definition of a former editor of the London Daily Mirror (who had been jailed for sensational journalism), thus:
“Sensationalism does not mean distorting the truth. It means the vivid and dramatic presentation of events so as to give them a forceful impact on the mind of the reader. It means big headlines, vigorous writing, simplification into familiar everyday language, and the wide use of illustration by cartoon and photograph.”
He built a team of reporters and writers whose technique, he says, was simple: “to get under the readers’ skin and to stay there. They were all, in their way, lay psychologists. Most of them had come from working-class or middle-class families in the provinces; they really knew and had personally experienced the aspirations and setbacks, the joys and the heartaches of the millions of ordinary people whom they set out to entertain and instruct. The down-to-earth feature pages became more and more like a letter home to the family, and that was their secret.”
It worked. Under Hugh Cudlipp’s stewardship the circulation of the Daily Mirror soared from a miserable few thousand to more than five million – the highest daily sale on earth. (When he suggested putting “Largest daily sale in the universe” under the title his boss vetoed it, saying “How do we know?” How’s that, for a stickler for accuracy?)
In addition to being the inside story of the paper that rocked conventional stick-in-the-mud English complacency, the book reveals the hitherto unreported attempts by the British wartime cabinet to suppress the paper for attacking the government, as well as what happened when Winston Churchill (by this time no longer prime minister) sued it for libel. The Mirror often campaigned against seemingly impossible odds. But it also explains the fun the journalists had in creating this new form of newspaper. Fun, in fact, abounded among the campaigns and the compassion. The Mirror led the field in strip cartoons, including a bright but naïve young lady with a penchant for losing her clothes in embarrassing situations during the war. An American forces newspaper, under the heading “Jane Gives All,” commented: “Well, sirs, you can go home now. Right smack out of the blue and with no one even threatening her, Jane peeled a week ago. The British 36th Division immediately gained six miles and the British attacked in the Arakan. Maybe we Americans ought to have Jane, too.”
While newspaper circulations everywhere plummet alarmingly, this is the book that every journalist – and every aspiring journalist – should be reading. It’s a lively text book on how mass sales were achieved the first time round. If they follow this book they could do it again. And have fun doing it.