- Hamilton Fyfe
- 1869 - 1951
British Editor and War Reporter
several war-time portraits of Hamilton Fyfe
Henry Hamilton Fyfe, the son of James Hamilton Fyfe and Mary Jonas, was born on 28th September, 1869. After finishing his education at Fettes School, he joined his father on the staff of The Times. As a young man he was a strong supporter of the Conservative Party and acted as a special constable at the Bloody Sunday demonstration at Trafalgar Square.
After working as the theatre critic of The Times, Fyfe became editor of the Morning Advertiser in 1902. The youngest newspaper editor in Britain, Fyfe brought in several innovations including a gossip column and making recently published books into news stories.
Alfred Harmsworth was impressed by Fyfe's work and the following year he appointed him editor of his newspaper, The Daily Mirror. At the time, circulation was down to 40,000, and was still falling. Fyfe made extensive changes to the newspaper. As Fyfe later explained, his main appeal was to those who wanted to read their newspaper on the way to work: "Packed in tram, train, or omnibus, standing up perhaps and holding on to a strap with one hand, they required in the other, not a journal to stir thought or supply serious information, but one to entertain them, occupy their minds pleasantly, prevent then for thinking. It was easier to look at pictures than to read print. The news was displayed and worded in a manner that made assimilation simple. Everything in the Daily Mirror was calculated to be easy of absorption by the most ordinary intelligence."
Fyfe also experimented with using different types of photographs on the front-page. On 2nd April, 1904, the Daily Mirror published a whole page of pictures of Edward VII and his children, Henry, Albert and Mary. This was a great success and Fyfe now realised the British public had an intense interest in photographs of the Royal Family.
Another successful innovation was the sponsorship of special events. In June, 1904, the Daily Mirror paid D. M. Weigal to drive a twenty-horse power Talbot on a 26,000 mile motor run. A month later the newspaper offered a hundred guinea prize for the first person to swim the Channel.
In August 1905, the Daily Mirror began to pioneer the idea of the "exclusive". The first example was the "exclusive" interview with Lord Minto, the new Viceroy of India. This approach was popular and later that year the circulation of the newspaper had reached 350,000.
After four years with the Daily Mirror, Alfred Harmsworth offered Fyfe the chance of becoming special correspondent to his most popular newspaper, the Daily Mail. This appealed to Fyfe who had a great love of travelling. As Fyfe explained in his autobiography, "I was the special correspondent with the largest newspaper public in existence to address, and a fairly free hand as to what I would write about and how." Over the next few years he reported all the world's major stories for the newspaper.
By this time Fyfe's political opinions had moved sharply to the left. He had joined the Fabian Society and he associated with leaders of the emerging Labour Party. The policy of employing Fyfe to write political leaders in the Daily Mail came to an end after he supported attempts by David Lloyd George to redistribute income with his 1909 People's Budget.
On the outbreak of the First World War Fyfe immediately went to France and covered the Battle of the Mons. His reports were censored by F. E. Smith and according to Fyfe, this helped to increase panic in Britain. "He saw the intention with which they had been written - to rouse the nation to a sense of the need for greater effort. But he seemed to think that it would be better to suggest disaster by the free use of dots than to let the account appear in coherent and constructive form. With unsteady hand he struck out sentences and parts of sentences, substituting dots for them, and thus making it appear that the truth was far worse than the public could be allowed to know."
Lord Kitchener, Britain's War Minister, was unwilling to have journalists working on the Western Front, and Fyfe was threatened with arrest if he stayed. Fyfe attempted to overcome this problem by joining the French Red Cross as a stretcher bearer. In this way he was able to continue reporting on the war in France for a couple more months. However, the British military caught up with Fyfe and he decided to leave and report on the Eastern Front where journalists were still able to report on the war without restrictions.
Fyfe returned to the Western Front in 1917 and remained there until July 1918, when he was replaced by William Beach Thomas. The reason for this was that all men up to the age of 48 could be conscripted into the army. Fyfe was over that age, but as Thomas was just under 48 and could be sent to the Western Front as a soldier, rather than as a journalist.
During the war years, Fyfe wrote extensively about his adventures, travels and observations on many fronts, both in France, Russia and Rumania to name but a few. His articles were often published in 'the War Illustrated', one of the top-selling British illustrated weeklies. Not only were his pieces pleasantly written with a large amount of anecdotal facts and asides, they were also informational and seem from the perspective of 80 years, quite often correct in their analysis and predictions. And even though they are nearly a century old, his writing style is still agreeable for present day readers.
Like other British war correspondents, Fyfe was offered a knighthood for his work during the First World War. Fyfe, who saw it as a bribe to keep quiet about the inefficiency and corruption he had witnessed during the war, refused it. Fyfe believed that Britain's political and military leaders had let the country down during the war. A strong critic of the Versailles Peace Treaty, Fyfe was also an active member of the Union of Democratic Control after the war.
On 1922, Arthur Henderson, the Labour M.P., asked Fyfe to became editor of the Daily Herald. Over the next four years he increased its circulation but he unwilling to accept attempts by the Trade Union Congress to control the content of the newspaper and left in 1926.
Fyfe went on to work for the Daily Chronicle and the Reynolds' News. In the 1929 General Election Fyfe failed to become the Labour MP for Sevenoaks. He was also defeated at Yeovil in the 1931 General Election. As well as his newspaper work, Fyfe wrote biographies of Alfred Harmsworth (1930) and T. P. O'Connor (1934) and an autobiography My Seven Selves (1935) where he wrote about his life as a journalist and war correspondent. Henry Hamilton Fyfe died at Eastbourne on 15th June 1951.
War-Time Articles by Hamilton Fyfe
- A Portrait of General Allenby
- War Reputations
- A British Reporter on Versailles
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