A gripping and very funny account of the newspaper reveals its brutal brillianceby Michael White / April 12, 2017 / Leave a comment
Mail Men: The Unauthorised Story of the Daily Mail, the Paper that Divided and Conquered Britain, by Adrian Addison (Atlantic, £20)
In the unlikely event that liberal readers will approach this book with vengeful relish, they will be disappointed. Their hopes for an aggressive dissection of the harm the Daily Mail has repeatedly done to British public life since the stridently right-wing newspaper was born in 1896 will evaporate as the author, Adrian Addison, tells his surprisingly jaunty tale.
Addison is that rare Fleet Street beast who has worked for both Radio 4’s Today show and the Sun. Fortunately, he refrains from the sanctimonious moralising so instinctive to both the Mail and its bête noire, the Guardian. His cheerful, anecdotal approach makes for a narrative that is gripping, terrifying and, in a bleak way, very funny. The portrait of the Mail he paints shows that the newspaper is not as bad as some people say: it is even worse. But he also rightly acknowledges its long periods of brutal editorial brilliance, from the Boer War to Brexit.
One of the Mail’s specialities has been annoying foreigners, and during the First World War it succeeded spectacularly. So enraged were the German high command by the paper’s decade-long bellicose attitudes that in February 1917 it dispatched a destroyer to shell the Kent coast by night.
The warship’s target was Elmwood, the seaside Xanadu of Lord Northcliffe, the Mail’s founding genius who ran his mighty media empire from near Broadstairs and kept crocodiles in his ponds. (Indoors he would remove the panel in his fish tank and watch the pike eat the goldfish. Bonkers or what? Not even Paul Dacre, the current editor, murders pets—at least not so far as we know.) The only casualties of the 10-minute bombardment were the gardener’s wife, “a poor woman and her baby killed,” as the press lord reported the next day, plus two wounded. It was a very Daily Mail outcome.
Northcliffe had just been engaged in a public and ultimately successful struggle to replace Herbert Asquith as prime minister with the more dynamic David Lloyd George. The demented tycoon would later fall out with Lloyd George too—unlike David Cameron, he was a leader not to be trifled with. Harried at the 1919 Versailles…