Here are the fundamentals: they are the same everywhere. The slave is always conscious of his slavery, and often makes desperate efforts to mitigate it. Sometimes he seeks that mitigation in outside activities that promise to give him the sense of dignity and importance that his daily labour denies him. Sometimes he tries to give a false appearance of dignity to the work itself. More often than not he blames the wrong person.
After World War II, Great Britain was completely and utterly broken. London was a large bomb site, and many of its old buildings were destroyed only to be replaced by awful tower blocks. Rationing existed until the 1950s. The empire was gone. Hence, fear might restrain the skeptic. The press then offered its readers an all-embracing refuge of security and consolation without which for many their lot would have been unendurable. But it is only a matter of time until this refuge is changed into something different. Take the story of Cecil King as a case study.
Cecil Harmsworth King was born in 1901 to Sir Lucas White King, a senior civil servant in India, and Geraldine Harmsworth, a sister of Lord Northcliffe and Viscount Rothermere. He enjoyed a typical upper-middle-class upbringing, going to Winchester and Oxford, and grew up in awe of his uncle Harold Harmswoth Viscount Rothermere. When he left school, he joined the family firm, starting with the Daily Record in Glasgow and then the Daily Mail in London for three years, switching from the editorial to the commercial side. Rotheremere then moved him to the Daily Mirror, which he still controlled, and King became its advertising director in 1929, later combining it with the finance directorship. He was regarded by an impartial onlooker as ‘shy, cold, calculating, with much of his uncle Rothermere’s business sense’. Everyone seemed to agree on that point. A Newsweek description suggested: ‘He is a magnanimous John D. Rockefeller, an intellectual Captain Bligh’. The calculating side of King’s nature was illustrated by his support for the decision to turn the Daily Mirror away from its right-wing agenda of the 1930s. This had nothing to do with his political convictions. It was a commercial initiative aimed at filling a gap in the market by attracting working class readers who found the Tory papers unacceptable. He was also motivated by his own family circumstances: the Rothermeres had little regard for him and he was keen to show them that he was the true inheritor of the Northcliffe mantle as a visionary newspaperman and a political force. To that end, he was happy to embrace a leftish position in the public, once telling a TV interviewer: ‘I am interested deep down in the underdog’. In fact, he didn’t have a socialist bone in his body. A product of his class, he happily played the maverick as a means of attaining business success while revelling in the opportunity to thumb his nose at his appalled relations. He was a newspaper controller rather than a newspaper proprietor.
Somebody like him, who saw himself as the black sheep of the family, needed someone who was conscious of being a natural enemy of the establishment – Hugh Cudlipp. His major skill was in bringing alive serious political issues and foreign affairs, making such stories, if not entirely understandable, then certainly interesting enough to be read by the politically uninterested masses. Beside that, the characters and backgrounds of Cecil King and Hugh Cudlipp complemented each other perfectly. King was cold where Cudlipp was hot. King was taciturn where Cudlipp was locquacious. King was intellectual where Cudlipp was instinctual. King was calculating where Cudlipp was spontaneous. As Cudlipp often said of his early years under King: ‘He had the knowledge. I had the passion’. What they shared, for very different reasons, was a rebel streak. Born in 1913 in Cardiff, the son of a commercial traveller, he left school at fourteen to be a reporter on the Penarth News. At sixteen, he went to the Manchester Evening Chronicle, and the following year moved on to Blackpool as a reporter. At nineteen, after a spell of sub-editing, he was appointed features editor of the Sunday Chronicle in London. When the Daily Mirror advertised for a features editor, the twenty-one year old Cudlipp replied ‘for a lark’ and got the job. In spite of his lack of education, his reporting, sub-editing and design skills were superb. At his best, he struck a chord with readers.
While Cudlipp was improving the Daily Mirror, King was beginning to build a newspaper empire. He bought Nigerian newspapers in the late 1940s, launched a daily paper in Ghana in 1950 and bought another one in Sierra Leone. Later he also took over the Daily Record, Sunday Mail and Evening News. In the end King was chairman of a company publishing 12 British newspapers, 11 foreign papers, 75 consumer magazines and several book imprints. Cudlipp did well too. He was at the height of his powers, although he liked to say, ‘I don’t give orders. I create the atmosphere’. Despising the Tories, he began the critical week before the 1959 election with a page-one message: ‘The time has come for the Tories to go. WHY? – See Tuesday’s Mirror’. Without ever quite answering the question, he repeated the slogan until the Thursday polling day, when he removed from the listings all the television programmes before 9pm. In the resulting blank space was a single line: ‘To Hell with the Telly Until We’ve all voted’. He himself had one foot in management and the other one in journalism as editorial director, which gave him more power than any editor.
Press baron Cecil King showered advice for years on politicians and prime ministers, seeing himself as premier maker and premier breaker. As an agent for change in the wartime government, this autocratic, misanthropic and seigneurial socialist even allowed Winston Churchill to publish three articles about the Nazis in 1939: ‘Never before has mortal man wielded the power to bring sorrow and suffering to such vast numbers of the human race. And never should a single man have such power again. Hitler could stop now. He could regain the solid foundations of health and sanity’. After that he started a tremendous campaign against Churchill. He was a skilful compound of grease, malice and hateful pity. Unlike the people, largely victims of war seeking a better future, many newspapers had found the war a godsend. Sales and profits rose while competition, if not entirely suspended, was muted. The Daily Mirror was certainly regarded as having been particularly effective during the war. It was the British Armed Forces’ favourite at a time when the army was everyone’s favorite. Apart from the front-line news, the features and leading articles in most newspapers were already beginning to reflect a peacetime agenda and they always gave you a hint of who was responsible for the war – Winston Churchill. Daily Mirror’s campaign ‘Vote for him’ made the difference. ‘Him’ was Clement Attlee. The slogan was cleverly aimed at the wives, girlfriends and mothers of servicemen abroad. The slogan also gave political expression to the demobbed troops worried about their futures, and with great subtlety, tapped into the sense of comradeship they had experienced. In a statesman-like gesture, Churchill had invited Clement Attlee, leader of the Labour Party, to accompany him to the Potsdam Conference (held to discuss international policy following the defeat of Germany), which took place at the same time as the British election campaign. He did this to ensure continuity in the event of a change of government halfway through the conference. But the chairman of the Labour party’s National Executive, Harold Laski, put out a statement declaring that Attlee’s presence at Potsdam could not bind the party to any decisions reached there. Churchill was overthrown. The golden age of the Daily Mirror began.
Meanwhile King donated a tremendous sum of money to finance telepathy and clairvoyance experiments of the ‘Psycho-Physical Research Unit’. In a speech at a ‘Psychic News’ event, he stated: ‘It has seemed to me for many years that the only way out of the materialism of our society and our contempt for spiritual values will come from knowledge and wisdom in the general area covered by Psychic News. If we are to have a revival of religion—and this must come some day—it would seem that the work of Spiritualists may lead the way into realms of discovery ignored by ecclesiastical officialdom of today’. Another person who was part of that community was Peter Wright. He was interested in Electronic Voice Phenomena and worked for the MI5. Wright committed King as an agent. So his megalomania, which was never far below the surface, took on alarming proportions. Hugh Cudlipp arranged a meeting with Lord Mountbatten, the Chief of the Defense Staff and Solly Zuckerman, the government’s scientific adviser, on May 8th, 1968. They wanted to bring down the government of Harold Wilson. King hated Wilson as he hated Churchill. Needless to say, Churchill was a member of the Conservative party and Wilson was an MP of Labour, and the Daily Mirror, King’s crown jewel, backed Labour where it was possible. Two days after the meeting, King published an article in the Daily Mirror under his own name entitled ‘Enough is enough’. It said: ‘Mr. Wilson and his government have lost all credit and we are now threatened with the greatest financial crisis in history. It is not to be resolved by lies about our reserves but only by a fresh start under a fresh leader’. Cudlipp had seen King’s article in advance and had not attempted to prevent its publication. He didn’t even try to reason with King and so you can assume that Cudlipp allowed his old friend and mentor to commit corporate suicide. King refused to resign, and was then dismissed by unanimous board vote in May 1968. After forty-two years with the Daily Mirror, he was bitter at being thrown out. He denounced it as ‘a conspiracy of a particularly squalid kind’. By that time Cudlipp had also made the business decision that was to haunt him for the rest of his life: the sale of the Sun at a knockdown price to a man with the name Rupert Murdoch.
Nowadays it’s painfully obvious that newspapers neither tell the truth nor reflect the world as it really is. They are elaborate constructions and maybe the best example of how to transform medieval power structures into something that fits into a civilization. There are the emperors and the knights… and of course everybody else. But for once, these definitions of civilization did not go unchallenged by those who perceived its darker side. For socialists, civilization represented not a grand historical tradition but a bankrupt social order. At the peak of the modern political style (authoritarian structures and states), the postmodern style (anti-authoritarian structure) kicked in. In these circumstances the traditional dichotomy between left and right began to blur. Cecil King was an occult tyrant who understood how to use and abuse the dreams and nightmares of the working class movement. Together with Hugh Cudlipp, he took fragments and sold them as a picture that everyone recognized and understood. The overwhelmingly morbid character of this journalism was manifest in a powerlessness of reason. The critique of capitalism turned into Anti-capitalism – a product like anything else.