Mail Men by Adrian Addison
Few British journalists have been as influential or as “loathed” as Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, said Ian Jack in The Guardian. Adrian Addison’s Mail Men, a history of the paper, shows what he has done to earn this reputation. Dacre, who has edited the tabloid since 1992, “never leaves off cursing his staff”; they refer to his tirades as “the vagina monologues” – a reference to his favourite expletive. Each evening, he becomes “loudly abusive, urgent and theatrical” as he demands changes to the “rarely adequate” layouts for the next day’s edition. (One of his nicknames is the “grim tweaker”.) Despite editing a paper that prides itself on “having its finger on the pulse” of Middle England, Dacre is an “isolated”, lofty figure. “Tremendously well paid” for an editor (he earned £2.4m in 2014), he never shops or takes public transport, has lunch in his office (“served by the house butler from silver platters”), and owns a 20,000-acre Highland estate. The Mail, whose content is dictated to a large extent by what Dacre “feels”, is described by one employee as a “hideous, joyless place to work”.
Yet with a print circulation of some 1.5 million and a massive online reach, it is “probably” the UK’s most influential paper, said Henry Mance in the Financial Times. (It is also Theresa May’s “favourite”.) And as Addison shows, there was nothing “inevitable” about this. Founded by Alfred “Sunny” Harmsworth in 1896, the Mail enjoyed a few decades of success before being outstripped in the mid-20th century by Lord Beaverbrook’s Daily Express. Its rival might easily have “swallowed” it; that it didn’t was “thanks largely to one man, David English”, who became editor in 1971 and oversaw the paper’s reinvention as a female-orientated tabloid. Under Dacre – who, like English, was “once a left-winger” – the Mail has moved further to the Eurosceptic right, while online it has “embraced the tabloid titillation that it used to look down on”. Addison has few high-up sources (most of his are “middle brass”), but Mail Men is still an “illuminating” history.
In many respects, this “riotously entertaining” book is a “hatchet job”, said Peter Wilby in the New Statesman. Dacre emerges as every bit as “loathsome” as you’d imagine, while the Mail Online’s publisher, Martin Clarke, is “portrayed as a cross between Vlad the Impaler and Fred West”. Yet these men are redeemed by their “demonic energy” and “undeniable success in attracting readers”. Denounce the Daily Mail all you like, but “remember that millions of Britons love it”.