Berry, William Ewert, first Viscount Camrose (1879–1954), newspaper proprietor
by Adrian Smith

Berry, William Ewert, first Viscount Camrose (1879–1954), newspaper proprietor, was born on 23 June 1879 at Gwaelod-y-garth, Merthyr Tudful, the second of the three sons of John Mathias Berry (d. 1917), an estate agent and a Liberal alderman, and his wife, Mary Ann (d. 1922), the daughter of Thomas Rowe, of Pembroke Dock. Leaving school at fourteen, Berry joined the Merthyr Times, moving on to neighbouring newspapers in order to widen his experience. Having learned his trade in local journalism, in 1898 he was appointed a City reporter on the Investors' Guardian. Unfortunately this lucrative post was short-lived, and a chastened Berry spent three months in the capital out of work before finally being taken on by the Commercial Press Association. Having spotted a gap in the magazine market, in 1901 Berry launched his first commercial venture, investing £100 borrowed from an equally ambitious elder brother, , fledgeling industrialist and future Baron Buckland. At first the tyro owner–editor doubled up as Advertising World's sole contributor. He was also the advertising manager, and the sub-editor: the printrooms of the valleys had clearly provided a thorough grounding in the mechanics of production. Confident of early success, Berry brought to London his younger brother , who later became a press baron in his own right as Viscount Kemsley.

When after four years William Berry decided to sell Advertising World, he saw a substantial return upon his initial investment. Innate financial acumen ensured that the next publishing company was sufficiently diverse to satisfy the burgeoning market for sports and leisure magazines. A lifelong love of the ring was reflected in the time and effort William put in to the successful launch of Boxing in 1909. In 1905 he married Mary Agnes (d. 1962), eldest daughter of Thomas Corns; they had four sons and four daughters.

Although William and Gomer Berry enjoyed a remarkably harmonious working partnership, the elder sibling was always in the driving seat. In both Fleet Street and the City invidious comparisons were invariably made, with Gomer dismissed as narrow-minded, unimaginative, and a pale shadow of his profit-hungry brother. Nevertheless, it took both men to establish their partnership as a major newspaper chain. An insatiable seven-day demand for news from the western front after the outbreak of the First World War convinced them that the moment was right to acquire the Sunday Times. In 1915 the least distinguished of the quality Sundays had seen sales slump to about 20,000 a week—less than a tenth of The Observer's circulation. When Gomer succeeded William as editor-in-chief in 1937, the Sunday Times was outselling its historic rival by nearly 70,000 copies a week.

The purchase in 1919 of the St Clement's Press, and its City flagship the Financial Times, further raised the Berrys' profile. Not surprisingly, therefore, they were assiduously courted by the circle surrounding the then prime minister, Lloyd George. One consequence was that in 1921 William Berry became a baronet. By buying up a variety of ailing enterprises, Berry expanded his business interests to cover a wide spectrum of media activities, ranging from Kelly's directories to the Gaumont-British film studios. Yet the secret of his company's success remained its strong regional presence, with the 1920s marked by the relentless and ruthless acquisition of provincial titles. From 1922 to 1932 the Berrys and Lord Rothermere were in fierce competition to take over the nation's few surviving independent morning and evening newspapers. One consequence was a spate of closures and a severe reduction in the number of firms and titles. Both sides eventually agreed upon a crude division of regional influence, but neutrals judged Rothermere the loser. The latter made a costly tactical error in selling the Hulton chain to Allied Newspapers, a consortium established in 1924 by the Berrys and the owner of the Midland Evening Telegraph, Sir Edward Iliffe. The Hulton titles included the Daily Dispatch, the Manchester Evening Chronicle, and the Sunday Chronicle (the Sunday News was later acquired and merged with the Sunday Graphic, bought shortly after the war). At the same time a subsidiary company, Allied Northern Newspapers, was establishing a major presence across the north of England, as well as in Glasgow and Aberdeen. The Berrys' enthusiasm for rationalization and cost-cutting was best illustrated in Cardiff, where the two morning and the two evening papers were merged, leaving the Western Mail as the dominant voice in south Wales.

By 1932 Rothermere's Associated Newspapers controlled seventeen daily and Sunday newspapers, and had a major interest in three others. However, his great rivals boasted twenty-seven titles, notwithstanding Iliffe's personal fiefdom in the midlands, as well as their ownership of Amalgamated Press, purchased from Lord Northcliffe's executors in 1926 under the nose of Rothermere, his younger brother. The latter's loss was the Berry brothers' gain: Amalgamated Press boasted over seventy magazines, a highly lucrative encyclopaedia and book section, and in south London three large printing works and paper mills. To consolidate what was intended as a wholly integrated publishing operation Allied Newspapers next acquired Edward Lloyd Ltd, then one of the largest paper mills in the world. Offsetting these profitable enterprises were the steel and coal holdings inherited after the eldest Berry brother, Lord Buckland, died as the result of a riding accident in 1928. Only two years earlier William had been forced to give up riding after he had suffered a similar accident.

The Berry brothers had in less than twenty-five years established a vast and diverse media conglomerate; and yet it was not until 1927 that they finally acquired a major London-based daily newspaper. The Daily Telegraph had been a great Victorian success story, setting high standards in its news reporting and attracting suburban middle-class readers. A commitment to solid tory values, plus a reputation for extensive coverage of both major sporting events and salacious court cases, ensured daily sales of nearly 300,000 by the early 1890s. By the late 1920s, however, sales had slipped to about 84,000, and the Daily Telegraph was in urgent need of modernization. Reluctant to invest, the paper's chief proprietor, Lord Burnham, suggested a quick sale to Allied Newspapers. Thus on 1 January 1928 William Berry at last assumed editorial responsibility for a ‘quality’ national newspaper with enormous potential. While retaining the Telegraph's unequivocal centre-right politics, Berry nevertheless made key editorial and personnel changes, as well as updating the paper's type and format. Not that these changes extended to the front page, which contained news for the first time only in April 1939. Sales slowly grew, and then doubled to 200,000 after the price was halved to 1d. on 1 December 1930. The Daily Telegraph's claim to be an up-market leader derived from its ability throughout the years of the National Government to gain readers without having to rely upon the gimmicks and special offers favoured by its more populist rivals. Within seven years circulation had reached 637,000, and on the eve of the Second World War it had increased to 750,000.

In October 1937 Berry took over the Morning Post, the Telegraph's creaking and penurious rival. He paid only £150,000 for the title, but honoured the Morning Post's multiple debts, and provided pensions as well as posts for over half of the displaced editorial staff. His sympathy for unemployed journalists, rooted in his own experience as a young man, belied his reputation as a tough entrepreneur. He genuinely disliked shedding staff, generously rewarding loyalty. Berry respected long service and technical expertise, hence his preference for well-established, experienced men in key editorial posts: Colin Coote was appointed editor of the Daily Telegraph in 1942 after many years at The Times, and was pleasantly surprised by the proprietorial light touch. Berry's generally sound judgement and reluctance to interfere contrasted sharply with his Fleet Street peers, not least his own brother.

In 1929, on the recommendation of Stanley Baldwin, Berry was elevated to the peerage, as Baron Camrose of Long Cross, and it is as Lord Camrose that he is better known. Antipathy towards Rothermere was a factor in Camrose's continued loyalty to the former prime minister, particularly when the Empire Crusade in 1930–31 threatened Baldwin's leadership of the Conservative Party. A close working relationship culminated at the time of the abdication in Baldwin choosing the Daily Telegraph rather than The Times as the unofficial conduit of ministerial opinion.

Camrose was similarly loyal to Neville Chamberlain, as indeed was Gomer Berry, by now Lord Kemsley. However, after the 1938 Czech crisis the two brothers would increasingly disagree over foreign policy, with Camrose encouraging the Daily Telegraph's sceptical, even hostile, view of the Munich agreement. He urged Chamberlain to bring Winston Churchill back into government, calling for a much stiffer line towards Germany. Meanwhile Kemsley endorsed Downing Street's efforts to keep negotiating with the Nazi regime, going so far as to meet Hitler in Bayreuth as late as July 1939. Such profound differences over appeasement were not unduly damaging to Allied Newspapers, as the company had been amicably dissolved in 1937. Each partner needed a distinct raft of holdings to pass on to his heirs, and Camrose assumed sole control of the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times, and Amalgamated Press. In consequence, his brother now became proprietor of the Sunday Times.

Whatever his views on foreign policy, Camrose was insistent that Neville Chamberlain should remain prime minister. Personal affection and patriotic duty meant acceptance of Chamberlain's request that he sort out press relations within a then chaotic Ministry of Information. However, he resigned as chief assistant to the minister as soon as he had cut a swathe through several layers of bureaucracy, and at the same time rendered himself redundant. Camrose was shaken by Chamberlain's departure in May 1940, yet by that time he had already forged a close relationship with Churchill. Again loyalty brought reward, and he became a viscount in 1941, followed by his brother four years later. The Daily Telegraph supported Churchill, in and out of office, albeit not as slavishly as Kemsley's Daily Sketch. After July 1945, its circulation boosted by the war to about 1.4 million, the Daily Telegraph tested a Labour government increasingly sensitive to middle-class discontent. During this period Camrose acquired serialization rights for Churchill's wartime memoirs as well as negotiating their publication in the United States. Having secured Churchill a $1 million deal, Camrose then ensured that in June 1953 Fleet Street remained silent about the ageing premier's severe stroke.

Camrose himself wrote only one volume. An uninspiring and unenlightening text, advertised originally as a reference book, which in format it resembles, British Newspapers and their Controllers (1947) was Camrose's contribution to the debate initiated by the royal commission on the press (1947–9). Writing was no doubt a distraction from making money, as were sailing and motoring, his two principal hobbies once he had abandoned the saddle. Yet, for a man who appeared to take himself so seriously, Camrose appears to have been good company: witness his popularity as an after-dinner speaker and his appreciation of a good joke.

Viscount Camrose died in the Royal South Hampshire Hospital, Southampton, on 15 June 1954, and was cremated at Woking on the 18th. His eldest son, John Seymour Berry (1909–1995), inherited the title, and at the same time became deputy chairman of the Daily Telegraph. Again, however, the driving force was the second son, (made a life peer, Lord Hartwell, in 1968), who was editor-in-chief from 1954 until 1986, when the paper was sold in straitened circumstances to the Canadian media magnate Conrad Black. The family had offloaded Amalgamated Press as early as 1958. Thus, less than forty years after his death, William Berry's great media empire was no more.

ADRIAN SMITH

Sources  

Lord Hartwell, William Camrose: giant of Fleet Street (1992) · D. Hart-Davis, The house the Berrys built: inside the ‘Telegraph’, 1928–1986 (1990) · S. E. Koss, The rise and fall of the political press in Britain, 2 (1984) · Viscount Camrose, British newspapers and their controllers (1949) · C. R. Coote, Editorial: the memoirs of Colin R. Coote [1965] · D. Hamilton, Editor-in-chief (1989) · J. Tunstall, Newspaper power: the new national press in Britain (1996) · Daily Telegraph archive, London · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1954)

Archives  

Daily Telegraph archive, London, MSS · priv. coll., family archive |  Nuffield Oxf., corresp. with Lord Cherwell · Parl. Arch., corresp. with Lord Beaverbrook · Parl. Arch., corresp. with J. C. C. Davidson


Likenesses  

O. Birley, oils, c.1933, NPG · H. Coster, photographs, c.1939, NPG · A. Richardson, memorial, 1956, St Paul's Cathedral · O. Birley, oils, Daily Telegraph, London · M. Codner, oils, Daily/Sunday Telegraph offices, London

Wealth at death  

£1,480,685 12s. 9d.: probate, 14 Sept 1954, CGPLA Eng. & Wales


© Oxford University Press 2004–14 All rights reserved  

William Ewert Berry (1879–1954): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/30733