Alfred Harmsworth, later to be known as Lord Northcliffe, was born in 1865 in Chapelizod, outside Dublin. Harmsworth's father was a semi-successful barrister, who was partial to a drink. His mother was very intelligent and Harmsworth worshipped her. He wrote to her almost every day and even named some of his important offices after her.
Harmsworth was not particularly academic; he was educated in a public school but left early and began working on an illustrated magazine for boys. He then went on to become a reporter for The Illustrated London News, a successful weekly picture magazine.
Aged 21, Harmsworth was appointed editor of Bicycling News, a magazine of mass circulation but his big break came when he stole some paper and using presses from Bicycling News, created his own publication. The publication was titled Answers to Correspondents on Every Subject Under the Sun, which was similar to an existing magazine called Tit Bits.
Harmsworth increased the circulation of his new magazine by coming up with clever ideas for competitions and giveaways. Many of these were simply impossible to win, for example winning £1 a week for life if the reader could guess the exact amount of money in the Bank of England. This attracted 700,000 entries, sky rocketing circulation.
Harmsworth's first national paper was the Daily Mail, which was launched in May 1896, with the slogan 'A penny paper for half a penny.' Harmsworth decided no article in the paper should be more than 250 words and the writing was to be aimed at a new audience; Boarding School students being a main part of that new audience. ''They have no interest in society, but want anything which is interesting and sufficiently simple.''
The Daily Mail sold 397, 215 on its launch. Harmsworth later introduced a women’s section into the paper, the first of its kind in national papers. This idea proved to be a success so Harmsworth introduced a paper just for women, the Daily Mirror.
Harmsworth hired Kennedy Jones to be in charge of the Mirror, Jones had previously worked on William Randolph Hearst's Journal.
The launch of the Daily Mirror cost £100,000. The paper was extremely well advertised; Harmsworth claimed anyone who did not know about it must be ''deaf, dumb, blind or all three.''
On Sunday November 2nd 1903 the first edition of the Mirror was published but sales rapidly declined after the launch and the paper began losing £3000 a week, ruining the profit from the Daily Mail. This loss of profit had the potential to ruin Harmsworth and his business.
Hamilton Fyfe, the editor of the Morning Advertiser was on the verge of being fired. The Mirror was a failing idea and Harmsworth claimed this was due to the fact that women 'cannot write and do not want to read.' In an effort to save the paper, Harmsworth hired Fyfe as editor of the Mirror. He was to get rid of all the female journalists and Harmsworth's cousin. Over one weekend the office was transformed from 'a women's boudoir' to a masculine place of 'pipe smoke and cynical laughter.'
Fyfe had no issue with getting rid of the female journalists, all except for Mary Howarth, who was the first female editor of a national paper in modern times. Fyfe described the whole experience 'like drowning kittens.'
Hannen Swaffer was one of the journalists hired to transform the Mirror and in 1904 the paper transformed to 'The Illustrated Daily Mirror.' The illustrations pushed sales from 25,000 to almost one million within a few years.
The first edition of the re-launch contained pictures of King Edward VII and his family which trebled the circulation. This was followed up by pictures of actresses, sportsmen, babies and animals. The new Mirror aimed to 'provide customers with something to look at on their journey to work, to occupy their minds and prevent them from thinking.'
On the newspapers first anniversary it was selling 290,000 copies and was once again called the Mirror. In 1907 Fyfe left the paper and was replaced by Alexander Kenealy, who had also work for William Randolph Hearst's Journal. Kenealy did the writing while Swaffer took care of the pictures. Swaffer was willing to pay big money for any pictures depicting accidents, disasters, crime, royalty or sporting heroes.
Swaffer's approach to photography was revolutionary; he encouraged reporters to get into dangerous situations for action shots. The greatest scoop for the paper was a picture of the King on his death bed. The day after the funeral, the picture was republished and sales reached 2,013,000.
Swaffer and Harmsworth’s relationship did not improve and Swaffer eventually sacked himself and joined the rival paper the Daily Sketch. He was eventually sued for libel and his career ended.
In the 1930s Swaffer claimed to be the most famous and successful journalist and his work became increasingly more left wing. He was given the nickname 'the Pope of Fleet Street,' but he was forgotten by the 1970s.
In 1905 Harmsworth became Lord Northcliffe after donating and giving political support to the Liberal Party.
The year of his ennoblement, Northcliffe brought the Sunday Observer, in an effort to gain political influence. Three years later he brought the Times, which was reputably read by the King, Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Northcliffe resolved to turn the Mail into a more serious paper and sell the Mirror. The Mirror was beyond redemption, as it was mainly read by women who did not have the right to vote.
In 1910 Northcliffe began to sever ties with the Mirror and sold his remaining shares four years later at £100,000 to his younger brother, Harold Harmsworth, who then became Lord Rothermere in the same year.
The Mirror began to suffer under Rothermere with 'sudden budget cuts, self defeating economy drives and constant editorial interference.'
The Mirror came out of the war in a strong position, with the highest sales of any daily paper, predominantly due to photojournalism. Over the next twenty years national newspaper sales doubled from five million to ten million.
In 1922, Rothermere inherited the Mail and began to neglect the Mirror. In June 1922 Northcliffe had fallen into a state of psychotic paranoia and died later that year.
Rothermere began to move towards extreme right wing political views and in 1929 he joined Lord Beaverbrook to launch the United Party. In 1931 Rothermere moved towards extreme fascism.
By 1934 the fascist movement came to rise and both the Mirror and the Mail supported it. Rothermere was an admirer of Hitler, referring to him as a 'perfect gentleman.'
Rothermere died in 1940 and his last words were 'there is nothing more I can do to help my country now.'
Harry Guy Bartholomew, former apprentice of Swaffer had taken over the Mirror in 1934, it was rumoured he was Northcliffe's illegitimate son.
Cecil Harmsworth King, Northcliffe's cousin and Rothermere formed an alliance to become the new lords of Fleet Street; they created the biggest selling paper in the world.