Monday, May 25, 2015

Riddell and Lloyd George

George Allardice Riddell, the early 20th century press baron and key adviser to David Lloyd George during the First World War, was born 150 years ago today. He left behind several unremarkable books, but his diaries, by contrast, are interesting and considered by historians to contain rich and entertaining pickings, especially about Lloyd George.

Riddell was born in London, on 25 May 1865, the son of a photographer. He became a clerk in a solicitor’s office, and qualified as a solicitor in 1888. That same year, he married Grace Edith Williams, though they were divorced in 1900, and, thereafter, Riddell refused to acknowledge this first marriage. Soon after the divorce, he married his cousin Annie Molison Allardice.

Having acted as legal consultant to a consortium purchasing the ailing News of the World, he became interested in the media business, and began buying shares in the newspaper. By 1903, he was its managing director; and, in subsequent years, he acquired further publishing businesses, such as George Newnes Ltd and Country Life.

In 1909, Riddell was awarded a knighthood by Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. This came about thanks to Riddell’s friendship with Lloyd George (then Chancellor of the Exchequer) and the acknowledgement by Asquith that News of the World support would be valuable to the Liberals. Riddell continued to make himself indispensable to Lloyd George, providing press gossip, holidays, a golfing partner, and carefully shrewd support in his newspaper. He also took on political tasks for his friend: in 1912, he drafted the memorandum that settled the miners’ strike; and, during the First World War, Riddell liaised between government and press. As Prime Minister, Lloyd George sent Riddell to represent the British press at the peace conferences.

Riddell was raised to the peerage as baronet in 1918, but not without a fight. At first, King George V rejected Riddell’s nomination because he had been the guilty party in a divorce action (the divorce having been made public by a rival publisher during a spat with Riddell). But Lloyd George continued to lobby on behalf of Riddell; and letters from other press barons finally won the king round - thus Riddell became the first divorced peer to enter the House of Lords.

After the Paris Peace Conference, a political rift developed between Lloyd George and Riddell, which would last the rest of their lives. Thereafeter, Riddell concentrated on his business interests, charitable activities (for hospitals and the printing industry - he founded the London School of Printing). He died in 1934. There is not much further information readily available online, other than at Wikipedia or the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (which requires a log-in).

Riddell wrote a few unmemorable books, but his diaries - he published three volumes before his death - are considered ‘a valuable guide to the politics of the period generally and to the career of Lloyd George in particular’. Indeed, the ODNB goes on to say that his detailed recording of conversations ‘has provided rich and entertaining pickings for historians’ - though not until recently. Riddell deposited 14 diary manuscripts (and 22 volumes he had typed from the originals) with the British Library under instructions that they were not to be opened until long after his death (50 years).

Thus, in the last years of his life, Riddell published: Lord Riddell's War Diary, 1914-1918 (Ivor Nicholson & Watson, 1933); Intimate Diary of the Peace Conference and after, 1918-1923 (Victor Gollancz, 1933); and More Pages from my Diary (Country Life, 1934). Following derestriction of the diary manuscripts, John M. McEwen edited them anew as The Riddell Diaries 1908-1923 (The Athlone Press, 1986). McEwen says, in his introduction, it was a huge task to compare the published versions with the originals and typescripts.

22 April 1915
‘Long talk with Kitchener, who said that LG’s alleged statement as to the number of troops in France was inaccurate and that what LG had really said was that the number of troops ‘overseas’ amounted to thirty-six divisions. I referred to the speech, in which the words were ‘over there’. K said, ‘Well, if he said that he was wrong, and the speech must be put right in Hansard.’ He asked Brade to see that this done.

K commented upon what he called ‘Newspaper embroidery’ and complained of the criticisms as to the inconsistencies between his statements and those of the PM as to the efficiency of our output of munitions of war. He asked my opinion. I replied that they seemed inconsistent and that this was the general opinion. K said, ‘The Times has been the most virulent critic, I am told, but I never read it.’ He asked me to look up the speeches, which I did subsequently, and wrote to him setting out the two passages. He said that Northcliffe was acting very badly and that it was difficult to know how to deal with him.’

25 December 1918
‘Played golf in the morning with LG and then with him to mid-day Xmas dinner, he carving the turkey in great style. After dinner sat and talked for some time and listened to the pianola. LG slept for three hours. . .

We talked of the elections . . . He said that next week he proposes to take a short holiday to consider the reconstruction of the Government. The difficulty is that there are so few men available. He is very doubtful about a Minister of Labour and a Minister of Agriculture. Addison is to do the Housing. He doubts Lord Lee at the Board of Agriculture. He thinks him too unpopular with the landlords. I said, ‘Of course you will find a place for Sir Robert Horne. He is a clever fellow.’

LG: Yes, I think I shall put him in the Cabinet. He is an able man . . .
R: Winston is a difficulty.
LG: Yes, a great difficulty.
R: How about the Colonies for him?
LG: There will be nothing doing in that department. It would be like condemning a man to be head of a mausoleum. He would just have to see that it was kept clean.
R: I don’t agree. The Colonies will offer many problems. The Office wants bucking up and it would be a splendid thing if the Minister were to make a tour of the Empire.
LG: Yes, I agree about that. The Colonial office might be a good place for Winston.
R: Will Beaverbrook be in the Ministry?
LG: No, I think not. His health is bad. He is clever, but absolutely without scruple of any sort. Not a very desirable sort of politician.
Mrs LG: It is a pity that the PM accepted any assistance from Beaverbrook and Rothermere at the election. I am sure he did not need it. I don’t trust them or like their ways. The PM does best when he goes his own way and keeps clear of all these wire-pullers and people who want nothing but to grind their own axe.’

1 October 1919
‘Strange happenings. For the first time in history the printers in the newspaper offices have objected to print matter of which they disapproved - to wit, attacks on the railway men. This caused consternation amongst proprietors and editors, who held their ground with considerable firmness . . . This movement is more important than it looks, and is capable of quaint developments. One novel feature of the strike is an advertising campaign in which both the Government and the men are stating their case. . .

There can be no doubt that LG was wrong in describing the strike as a Bolshevist movement, as he did in his published message. This has been the key-note of the Government campaign run by Sir William Sutherland and others on the usual party lines of misrepresentation and deception. Use the note that is like to please and convince. Truth and accuracy are immaterial.’

No comments: