Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 February 2009
A decade ago there appeared a volume of twelve essays on Lloyd George, written by a dozen young historians and edited by A. J. P. Taylor. These pieces, of varying merit and degree of interest, ranged widely from pre-1914 social reform to the Greek question and even to the Second World War.1 Yet strangely enough one of the most colourful patches of the huge canvas that was Lloyd George's life did not receive so much as a passing glance - namely his relations with the press. Taylor had hinted at the possibilities in that sphere when preparing a volume of his own essays a few years earlier. There he placed in sequence two entertaining chapters of quite unequal length and importance, one entitled ‘Lloyd George: rise and fall’ and the other ‘The Chief’.2 The latter requires a little explanation, for ‘ Chief was the style of address beloved of Alfred Harmsworth, Viscount Northcliffe, the man who owned The Times, Daily Mail, Evening News, and a host of other newspapers and journals. Quite simply he was the greatest press lord of them all, and Fleet Street has known many. While it is manifestly impossible in a few pages to explore in detail the full story of Lloyd George and the press, we can profitably follow his relations with Lord Northcliffe during the years 1914 to 1918 when these two giants were at the peak of their power and their fortunes were intertwined in many and strange ways. During the war Northcliffe was frequently called (and with utmost seriousness) ‘The Most Powerful Man in the Country’, while at the end Lloyd George was ‘The Man Who Won the War’. Often it seemed that the stage was not big enough for both and the British people must choose between them. Not until 1918 did two events - the ‘Maurice debate’ and the ‘Coupon election’ - prove conclusively that in the final analysis Lloyd George's power was real while Northcliffe's was largely illusory. Perhaps none was more surprised at this outcome, certainly none was more relieved, than Lloyd George himself. The reasons will become apparent as the history of their wartime relationship unfolds.
3 One quip ran: ‘The Cabinet has resigned and Lord Northcliffe has sent for the King’.
6 Owen, Frank, Tempestuous journey: Lloyd George, his life and times (London, 1954), p. 286.Google Scholar
8 Northcliffe, to George, Lloyd, 29 May 1915. Lloyd George papers, D/18/1/4, House of Lords Record Office.Google Scholar
10 See, for example, the many items of Northcliffe correspondence for the period 24 May to 9 September 1915, in the Lloyd George papers, D/18/1.
17 The history of The Times, iv: The 150th anniversary and beyond,1912–1948, part 1 (London, 1952), 316.Google Scholar
22 Hankey papers, Diary, HNKY 1/1, Churchill College, Cambridge.
23 Blake, Robert (ed.), The private papers of Douglas Haig (London, 1953), p. 155. Sir Philip Sassoon was a wealthy young Unionist M.P. serving as private secretary to Haig.Google Scholar
26 Pound and Harmsworth, Northcliffe, p. 503. This does not appear to be in the Lloyd George papers.
27 Riddell's war diary, p. 208. Lee (later Lord Lee of Fareham) was a wealthy Unionist M.P. on Lloyd George's staff at the War Office.Google Scholar
36 Beavcrbrook, Lord, Politicians and the War (one-volume edition, London, 1960), p. 323.Google Scholar The story in this form, frequently repeated, seems to have originated with Beaverbrook, but Pound and Harmsworth doubt that Northcliffe used those precise words. Certainly Northcliffe passed on a warning to Lloyd George about interfering with strategy, and told both Cecil Harmsworth and Sassoon that he had done so.
41 Beaverbrook's draft ‘History of the Crisis’. Beaverbrook papers, deed box 4, folder xxi. House of Lords Record Office. London.
45 ibid.. p. 544, where Beaverbrook says that at Lloyd George's request he rang up Northcliffe, only to receive the cold reply: ‘Lord Northcliffe sees no advantage in any interview between him and the Prime Minister at the present juncture’. But see Taylor, A.J.P., Beaverbrook (London, 1972), pp. 120–7Google Scholar, where the evidence points to the unlikelihood of Beaverbrook having been with Lloyd George at any time during the first few days of the new administration. Probably Beaverbrook sought to improve upon the story in the Daily Chronicle of 8 December 1916 where Northcliffe was quoted as saying: ‘I prefer to sit in Printing House Square and Carmelite House’.
49 Pound and Harmsworth, Northcliffe, p. 520.
53 Wilson, Trevor (ed.), The political diaries of C. P. Scott, 1911–1928 (London, 1970), p. 296.Google Scholar
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