|Intro||British newspaper publisher and Viscount|
|A.K.A.||Lord Harold Sidney Harmsworth Rothermere, Lord Rothermere|
|Birth||26 April 1868, London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom|
|Death||26 November 1940, Bermuda, British Overseas Territory (aged 72 years)|
Harold Sidney Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere (26 April 1868 – 26 November 1940) was a leading British newspaper proprietor, owner of Associated Newspapers Ltd. He is known in particular, with his brother Alfred Harmsworth, the later Viscount Northcliffe, for the development of the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror. He was a pioneer of popular journalism.
During the 1930s, he was known to be a supporter of Nazi Germany, purportedly having become convinced that the National Socialist Party would help restore the German monarchy. He cultivated contacts to promote British support for Germany.
Harmsworth was the son of Alfred Harmsworth, a barrister, and the brother of Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe, Cecil Harmsworth, 1st Baron Harmsworth, Sir Leicester Harmsworth, 1st Baronet, and Sir Hildebrand Harmsworth, 1st Baronet.
Harmsworth was educated at St Marylebone Grammar School, which he left to become a clerk for the Board of Trade. In 1888 he joined his elder brother Alfred's newspaper company, and in 1894 he and his brother purchased the Evening News for £25,000.
In 1896 Harmsworth and his brother Alfred together founded the Daily Mail, and subsequently also launched the Daily Mirror. In 1910 Harmsworth bought the Glasgow Record and Mail, and in 1915 the Sunday Pictorial. By 1921 he was owner of the Daily Mirror, Sunday Pictorial, Glasgow Daily Record, Evening News, and Sunday Mail, and shared ownership of the company Associated Newspapers with his brother Alfred, who had been made Viscount Northcliffe in 1918. His greatest success came with the Daily Mirror, which had a circulation of three million by 1922.
When his elder brother died in 1922 without an heir, Harmsworth acquired his controlling interest in Associated Newspapers for £1.6 million, and the next year bought the Hulton newspaper chain, which gave him control of three national morning newspapers, three national Sunday newspapers, two London evening papers, four provincial daily newspapers, and three provincial Sunday newspapers.
In 1926 Harmsworth sold his magazine concern, Amalgamated Newspapers, and moved into the field of provincial newspaper publishing. In 1928 he founded Northcliffe Newspapers Ltd and announced that he intended to launch a chain of evening newspapers in the main provincial cities. There then ensued the so-called "newspaper war" of 1928–29, which culminated in Harmsworth establishing new evening papers in Bristol and Derby, and gaining a controlling interest in Cardiff's newspapers. By the end of 1929 his empire consisted of fourteen daily and Sunday newspapers, with a substantial holding in another three.
Rothermere's descendants continue to control the Daily Mail and General Trust.
Harmsworth was created a baronet, of Horsey in the County of Norfolk, in 1910. He was raised to the peerage as Baron Rothermere, of Hempstead in the County of Kent, in 1914.
Rothermere served as President of the Air Council in the government of David Lloyd George for a time during World War I, and was made Viscount Rothermere, of Hampstead in the County of Kent, in 1919. In 1921, he founded the Anti-Waste League to combat what he saw as excessive government spending.
In 1930, Rothermere purchased the freehold of the old site of the Bethlem Hospital in Southwark. He donated it to the London County Council to be made into a public open space, to be known as the Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park in memory of his mother, for the benefit of the "splendid struggling mothers of Southwark".
Revision of the post-World War I treaties
Rothermere strongly supported revision of the Treaty of Trianon in favour of Hungary. On 21 June 1927, he published an editorial in the Daily Mail, entitled "Hungary's Place in the Sun", in which he supported a detailed plan to restore to Hungary large pieces of territory it lost at the end of the First World War. This boldly pro-Hungarian stance was greeted with ecstatic gratitude in Hungary.
Many in England were caught off-guard by Rothermere's impassioned endorsement of the Hungarian cause; it was rumoured that the press baron had been convinced to support it by the charms of a Hungarian seductress, later identified as the Austrian Stephanie von Hohenlohe, a princess by marriage. Rothermere's son Esmond was received with royal pomp during a visit to Budapest, and some political actors in Hungary later went so far as to inquire about Rothermere's interest in being placed on the Hungarian throne. Rothermere later insisted he did not invite these overtures, and that he quietly deflected them. His private correspondence indicates otherwise. He purchased estates in Hungary in case Britain should fall to a Soviet invasion. There is a memorial to Rothermere in Budapest.
In the 1930s Rothermere used his newspapers to try to influence British politics, particularly reflecting his strong support of the appeasement of Nazi Germany, and his were the only major newspapers to advocate an alliance with Germany. For a time in 1934, the Rothermere papers championed the British Union of Fascists (BUF), and were again the only major papers to do so. On 15 January 1934 the Daily Mail published a Rothermere-written editorial entitled "Hurrah for the Blackshirts", praising Oswald Mosley for his "sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine".
Rothermere visited and corresponded with Hitler. On 1 October 1938, Rothermere sent Hitler a telegram in support of Germany's invasion of the Sudetenland, and expressing the hope that "Adolf the Great" would become a popular figure in Britain.
He was also aware of the military threat from the resurgent Germany, of which he warned J. C. C. Davidson, then Chairman of the Conservative Party, and in the 1930s Rothermere fought for increased defence spending by Britain. He wrote about it in his 1939 book My Fight to Rearm Britain. His interest in the Fascist movement seems to have been chiefly as a bulwark against Bolshevism, while apparently being blind to some of the movement's own dangers.
Numerous secret British MI5 papers related to the war years were declassified and released in 2005. They show that Rothermere wrote to Adolf Hitler in 1939 congratulating him for the annexation of Czechoslovakia, and encouraging him to invade Romania. He described Hitler's work as "great and superhuman".
The MI5 papers also show that at the time, Rothermere was paying an annual retainer of £5,000 per year to Stephanie von Hohenlohe, suspected by the French, British and Americans of being a German spy, as he wanted her to bring him closer to Hitler's inner circle. Rothermere also encouraged her to promote Germany to her circle of influential English contacts. She was known as "London's leading Nazi hostess". The secret services had been monitoring her since her arrival in Britain in the 1920s and regarded her as "an extremely dangerous person". As World War II loomed, Rothermere stopped the payments and their relationship deteriorated into threats and lawsuits, which she lost.
He appears in Dennis Wheatley's 1934 novel Black August about an attempted Communist takeover of Britain, under the name of "Lord Badgerlake" (mere is another word for lake). Badgerlake supports a paramilitary force called the "Greyshirts", which backs the government during the uprising. Any connection with Fascism is disclaimed, and the novel does not end with a dictatorship (in fact, the new Government repeals the Defence of the Realm Act to guarantee the liberty of the subject).
Interest in aviation
In 1934, Rothermere ordered a Mercury-engined version of the Bristol Type 135 cabin monoplane for his own use as part of a campaign to popularise commercial aviation. First flying in 1935, the Bristol Type 142 caused great interest in Air Ministry circles because its top speed of 307 mph was higher than that of any Royal Air Force fighter in service. Lord Rothermere presented the aircraft (named "Britain First") to the nation for evaluation as a bomber, and in early 1936 the modified design was taken into production as the Blenheim Mk. I.
Grand Falls, Newfoundland
In 1904, on behalf of his elder brother Alfred, Harmsworth and Mayson Beeton, son of Isabella Beeton, the famed author of Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, travelled to Newfoundland to search for a supply of lumber and to look for a site to build and operate a pulp and paper mill. While searching along the Exploits River they came across Grand Falls, named by John Cartwright in 1768. After the two British men purchased the land, they had a company town built to support the lumber workers. It developed as Grand Falls-Windsor.
Lord Rothermere married Lilian Share, daughter of George Wade Share, on 4 July 1893. They had three sons, the two elder of whom were killed in the First World War:
- Captain Hon. Harold Alfred Vyvyan St. George Harmsworth (born 2 August 1894, died 12 February 1918)
- Lt. Hon. Vere Sidney Tudor Harmsworth (born 25 September 1895, died 13 November 1916)
- Esmond Harmsworth, 2nd Viscount Rothermere (29 May 1898 – 12 July 1978)
Viscountess Rothermere, as she had become, died on 16 March 1937.