Cardiff University
 
 

The Life of Hugh Cudlipp

Hugh Cudlipp was born in Cardiff in 1913, the son of a commercial traveller and one of three brothers (all of whom became editors of national newspapers on Fleet Street at the same time: Reg - News of the World, Percy - Evening Standard and later Daily Herald and Hugh - Mirror Group). He started his career on the Penarth News in 1929 and then worked on newspapers in Cardiff and Manchester before becoming features editor of the Daily Mirror in 1935 and subsequently editor of the Sunday Pictorial in 1938. During this pre-war period he was part of the journalistic team that included Cecil King, Guy Bartholomew and William Connor (Cassandra) that revitalised these newspapers in the 'tabloid revolution'.

He joined the Army during the Second World War, where he served in North Africa and produced a chain of Services daily newspapers, notably 'Union Jack', for which he was awarded an OBE.

“The priority must be to produce the maximum information at the most forward sphere of military operation…”
from ‘Walking on the Water’, Hugh Cudlipp, 1976

During this time he corresponded continuously with Cecil King who kept him informed about the progress of the war on all fronts and the difficulties of producing newspapers during the war. He returned to civilian life in 1946.

He returned to Fleet Street, resuming his editorship of the Sunday Pictorial, but following his sacking by Guy Bartholomew in 1949 he took up Lord Beaverbrook's offer to become managing editor of the Sunday Express. He eventually moved back to the Daily Mirror as editorial director in 1952 and remained associated with the Mirror Group through his chairmanship of the Daily Mirror Newspapers and the International Publishing Corporation until his retirement in 1973.

During this time the Daily Mirror expanded its readership and influence as a strong supporter of the Labour Party until it became the most influencial tabloid newspaper in Britain.

“More than any other newspaper group in Fleet Street we have found and developed individual talent - which, coupled with our understanding of the masses, is the secret of our success.”
- Hugh Cudlipp to Cecil King, 21 September 1955

Hugh Cudlipp's close friendship and professional relationship with Cecil King remained strong:

“I developed a permanent affection and respect for Cecil King that lasted, with a few explosions for the rest of our lives. Nobody was more active in expanding my knowledge and experience and giving me opportunities to utilise such talents as I had…”
- from ‘Walking on the Water’, Hugh Cudlipp, 1976

This became strained following the publication of King's article 'Enough is Enough' in the Daily Mirror on 10 May 1968. King stated that as a result of the disastrous local elections, the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson and the government had 'lost all credibility' and that the Parliamentary Labour Party should find a fresh leader.

The Board of the International Publishing Corporation, of which Cecil King was Chairman, viewed this as the last straw in his long and personal ‘Wilson Must Go’ campaign. Following a meeting of the Board at the end of May 1968 King was dismissed as Chairman of IPC and from the Board. Hugh Cudlipp succeeded him as Chairman, where he remained until his retirement in 1973.

 

Hugh Cudlipp was knighted in 1973 and created a life peer the following year.

The years following his retirement were as busy as his journalistic career. He became a member of the Royal Commission on Standards in Public Life from 1974 to 1976 and was in charge of the Government‘s Counter-Inflation Publicity Unit (set up to encourage public understanding of the problem of inflation) from July 1976 until it was disbanded in November that year.

From 1984 to 1986 he became consultant with Mirror Group Newspapers, and sent weekly reports offering advice to Robert Maxwell on the content and development of the Mirror and Sunday Mirror. His concern over the quality of popular journalism at the time is well illustrated in the following quotations from the period of his consultancy:

“Mirror newspapers are now rarely mentioned in any significant sense; even more rarely quoted. The “Daily Mirror” must and can regain its position among the world’s most quoted and influential newspapers in its own spheres. Popularity isn’t enough.”
18 July 1984

“The “Daily Mirror” gives the impression of being produced from day to day with great energy but without a basic passionately-held philosophy and without identifiable and consistent standards of journalistic judgement and behaviour. A sensational tabloid newspaper should strive - more diligently perhaps than a “serious, quality newspaper” - to be acknowledged as mature, stable and fair in its attitudes to people and public issues.”

Hugh Cudlipp continued to write prolifically, producing four books (autobiographical, a history of the Daily Mirror and a collection of essays), innumerable articles and letters to the national press and articles for professional journals and magazines. He maintained his wide range of contacts within the Mirror Group, journalism, politics and the arts.

Throughout his life he was concerned to maintain the highest standards of popular journalism but at the same time he enjoyed his career enormously as he states in his biography ‘Walking on the Water’ in 1976:

“God, it was fun. So far as journalism was concerned I didn’t do a stroke of work in my life. It was a pleasurable mental exercise. I was paid frugally at first and sumptuously later on, but was always surprised I was paid at all for the editorial side of my activities: what for - enjoying myself and informing and entertaining others? Who would mind working around the clock if every day is punctuated by the impulse of events, when the only routine is the exceptional and the unexpected, and when the norm is the abnormal?”

Hugh Cudlipp died on17 May 1998.

“He was a giant of 20th century journalism. His Mirror represented the best in British tabloid journalism - entertaining and informative but also honest, passionate and committed to the decent values of the decent majority.”
- Tony Blair, Prime Minister