Berry, William Ewert, first Viscount Camrose 1879-1954, newspaper proprietor, was born at Merthyr Tydfil 23 June 1879, the second of the three sons, all to be raised to the peerage, of Alderman John Mathias Berry, estate agent, by his wife, Mary Ann, daughter of Thomas Rowe, of Pembroke Dock. At the age of fourteen he was given his opportunity as a cub journalist on the Merthyr Times by W. W. Hadley [qv.]. After working on other South Wales papers he moved to London in 1898 and became a reporter on the Investors' Guardian at thirty-five shillings a week. This post did not last long, and three months of unemployment was a chastening experience which Berry was never to forget in his subsequent dealings with staff. He next became a reporter on the Commercial Press Association but in 1901 adventurously launched a paper of his own, the Advertising World, the pioneer journal in that field. His only capital was a hundred pounds lent by his elder brother (Henry) Seymour (later Lord Buckland), a coadjutor of D. A. Thomas (later Viscount Rhondda) [qv.] in various coal and steel enterprises. Berry was editor, sub-editor, advertisement canvasser and copy-writer, and layout man. He is reputed to have written every word of the first issue. He lived frugally, worked long hours, and walked to his office from his lodgings in Forest Gate. Before long he was able to bring his brother (James) Gomer (later Viscount Kemsley) from Wales to operate on the business side. It was a most friendly partnership, unclouded by any disagreement. In their bachelor days they shared a flat at Arundel Street, Strand; and until 1936 they had a joint banking account, on which either could draw without consulting the other. By 1905 they were in a position to sell the Advertising World at an excellent price. They bought a publishing business and started sundry periodicals, notably in 1909 Boxing (of which William was a devotee). Their interests widened rapidly but they were always discerning in their acquisitions.
A major operation was the purchase in 1915 of the Sunday Times which William Berry happily supervised as editor-in-chief for twenty-two years, taking a keen personal interest in its progress and nursing its circulation against that of its rival, the Observer. At the time of the purchase the Observer sold about 200,000 weekly and the Sunday Times fewer than 50,000; by 1949 the respective figures were 384,001 and 568,346.
In 1919 the brothers acquired the St. Clement's Press, with which went the Financial Times. Berry remained chairman of this paper until it passed into the ownership of the Financial News in 1945. In these post-war years the activities of the Berrys took on an ever-increasing momentum, and important acquisitions were the Weldon's group, Kelly's Directories, and the Graphic publications. In 1921 William Berry became a baronet.
The year 1924 saw the foundation of Allied Newspapers (later Kemsley Newspapers), controlled by the Berry brothers and Sir E. M. (later Lord) Iliffe [qv.]. The purpose of this group was to take over most of the Hulton papers from Lord Rothermere [qv.]. These included the Daily Dispatch, the Manchester Evening Chronicle, and the Sunday Chronicle. During the years up to 1928 Allied Newspapers further acquired papers in Glasgow, Sheffield, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, and Aberdeen. They also bought the Daily Sketch and Illustrated Sunday Herald from Rothermere's Daily Mail Trust. In Cardiff, where they already held the Western Mail and the Evening Express, they acquired the South Wales Daily News and the South Wales Echo, merging the two morning and the two evening papers.
Newspapers apart, the group's biggest purchase was made in 1926: the Amalgamated Press from the executors of Lord Northcliffe [qv.]. This great concern comprised a large number of non-political periodicals, ranging from Woman's Journal to children's comic sheets. It included a powerful encyclopedia and book section which had been built up under Northcliffe's aegis chiefly by (Sir) John Hammerton and Arthur Mee [qv.]. There were also printing works at Blackfriars and Gravesend and the Imperial Paper Mills, also at Gravesend. In 1927 paper supplies were further augmented by the acquisition of Edward Lloyd, Ltd., one of the largest mills in the world.
The vast publishing enterprise which had been built up lacked only one element to make it complete—the possession of a first-rate serious London daily newspaper. When in 1927 Lord Burnham [qv.], chief proprietor of the Daily Telegraph, was appointed to the Indian statutory commission at a time when the paper was in urgent need of modernization, he approached the Berry-Iliffe group, and the sale was quickly arranged. The new owners took over on 1 January 1928; Burnham's nephew G. E. F. Lawson (later fourth Lord Burnham) remained as manager and subsequently became managing director (1945-61).
The Berry brothers now controlled two national, one specialized, and six provincial, morning papers; eight provincial evenings; eight provincial weeklies; and about seventy periodicals. No attempt was made to dictate or alter the politics of any of these papers.
William Berry, raised to the peerage in 1929 as Baron Camrose, gradually carried out necessary changes in the type and format of the Daily Telegraph. On 1 December 1930 he reduced the price from 2d. to 1d. and the circulation virtually doubled itself in one day to 200,000. While the more popular sheets were vying with one another to attract readers by free insurance and gift schemes, the Daily Telegraph, eschewing such adventitious aids and preserving its dignity of approach and presentation, slowly but steadily increased its readership, and by 1939 the figure exceeded 750,000. In 1937 it had absorbed the right-wing Conservative Morning Post, most of whose 100,000 readers went with it. In 1949 the circulation was given as 1,015,514.
The long and close association between Camrose, Kemsley, and Iliffe was amicably dissolved in 1937, chiefly because each had a growing family, and it was felt expedient to split the holdings. Camrose took the Daily Telegraph, the Amalgamated Press, and the Financial Times. In 1941 he was advanced to a viscountcy.
For a few weeks in 1939 Camrose was controller of press relations in the Ministry of Information where he effected a reduction over 30 per cent in the number of responsible officials and then retired, having organized myself out of a job.
Camrose had a high conception of the professional journalistic function, and disliked vulgar sensationalism. He took great care in the selection of authoritative contributors. He required distinction in English style and was a connoisseur of typography and layout. Worlds away from the conventional picture of the ruthless newspaper proprietor, he treated his staff with courtesy and solicitude and he kept many of them over long periods of years. It was characteristic that he should resist the Fleet Street trend towards young staffs, preferring to make the fullest use of older men of long service and experience.
Distinguished in bearing and dress, and a gifted after-dinner speaker, Camrose was punctilious in his habits, accessible, genial, good-tempered, with a lively sense of humour. In financial matters he was strictly honourable. His self-confidence was tempered by good judgement and prudence. He had no political ambitions and had no liking for controversy, but he always knew his mind about public affairs. Brought up a Liberal, he became a convinced Conservative of the centre. Although a warm admirer of Neville Chamberlain, he broke with him on his Munich policy. On that, as on most other questions, he was a firm supporter of (Sir) Winston Churchill and one of his closest friends.
Camrose was interested in motoring and yachting. In early years he was a keen rider but gave this up after sustaining severe injuries when thrown in 1926. It was as the result of a riding accident that his brother, Lord Buckland, died in 1928. Camrose and Kemsley acquired from their brother some steel and coal holdings, but this was after their establishment as newspaper owners, and both lost money in preventing the closure of some collieries near Merthyr Tydfil.
In 1905 Berry married Mary Agnes (died 1962), eldest daughter of Thomas Corns, of Bolton Street, London, W. 1, by whom he had four sons and four daughters. His eldest son, John Seymour (born 1909), who succeeded to the title when Camrose died in Southampton 15 June 1954, became deputy chairman of the Daily Telegraph; the second son (William) Michael, became its editor-in-chief, and a life peer (Baron Hartwell) in 1968. In 1958 they disposed of the Amalgamated Press to Cecil H. King of Daily Mirror Holdings, who renamed the group Fleetway Publications, Ltd. A portrait in oils of Camrose by Maurice Codner is in the offices of the Daily Telegraph; and a memorial tablet by Sir Albert Richardson in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral.
Daily Telegraph, Manchester Guardian, and The Times, 16 June 1954
Sunday Times, 20 June 1954
Bernard Falk, Five Years Dead, 1937
Viscount Camrose, British Newspapers and their Controllers, 1947
Report of the Royal Commission on the Press, 1947-9, 1949
Contributor: Herbert B. Grimsditch.