Rothermere, the last press baron, is dead

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The Independent Online
LORD ROTHERMERE, chairman of Associated Newspapers and scion of the last great press dynasty, died of a heart attack in London late on Monday at the age of 73, just three months after the death of Sir David English, editor-in-chief of Associated's Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and Evening Standard.

The newspaper group is now in the hands of 30-year-old Jonathan Harmsworth, Rother- mere's son.

Vere Harold Esmond Harms- worth, third Viscount Rothermere was the great nephew of Lord Northcliffe, founder of the dynasty and the model for press barons to come.

Yesterday the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, led the tributes for a man whose newspapers had long supported the Conservative Party.

"He was an extraordinary man and underneath that very bluff exterior was a sharp mind and a very kind personality."

The death of Rothermere so close to that of English robs the company of two towering figures. Editorially, it leaves Paul Dacre, English's successor, in an unassailable position. It is known he believes the Evening Standard, the title he edited before the Daily Mail, is weak under editor Max Hastings and he may want to make changes to the Mail on Sunday. Mr Dacre may also promote someone to the editorship of the Daily Mail to allow him to focus more on group activities.

His relationship with the new Lord Rothermere will be crucial. Where Vere Harms- worth always wanted to be a journalist, Jonathan has concentrated on the business side of newspapers.

He trained at Mirror Group before moving to the Daily Mail and General Trust's (DMGT) regional newspapers. Until his father's death he was managing director of the Evening Standard.

"Dacre and Jonathan are hardly what you'd call a dream team," said a company source yesterday. "They are of different generations and have very different attitudes. Jonathan is actually quite prudent with money, and the company is renowned for its corporate extravagance."

Now that the family baronies of the Astors, Aitkens and Berrys have disappeared, to be replaced by the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Conrad Black and Lord Hollick, the inexperienced Jonathan Harmsworth has the last of the dynasties on his shoulders.

His father was also an unknown quantity when he took on Associated from his father in 1970 and was known as "mere Vere". Then Northcliffe's Daily Mail was on its last legs, but Rothermere had formed a partnership with David English, when he was features editor of Associated's now defunct Daily Sketch. They created a new tabloid Mail, which targeted women and middle England, with high standards of tabloid journalism and an unmoving set of middle-class values.

The Mail hankered for an era before the Sixties when patriotism was blind, divorce shameful and hard work was the only way up for the aspirational. The formula worked and in 1977 the dominant Daily Express too became tabloid. By the mid-Eighties the Mail had overtaken its rival. In 1982, Rothermere decided to launch the Mail on Sunday.

While most tabloid newspapers are in decline, the Mail is selling more than 2.3 million copies a day, a million more than The Express and close to overtaking the Mirror.

When Rothermere took over Associated Newspapers its profits were pounds 3.7m and turn- over was pounds 58.5m a year. The DMGT last year made profits of pounds 81m on turnover of pounds 658m.Jonathan Harmsworth inherits 75 per cent of the company.

Rothermere's private life was a long way from the values of his flagship newspaper.

The ruddy-faced old Etonian enjoyed the life of a bon viveur and lived in Paris for years with his long-term partner, the former model Maiko Lee. His wife, Patricia "Bubbles" Rothermere, lived the life of a socialite in London. Rothermere married Ms Lee in 1993 shortly after Bubbles died.

Despite his newspapers' politics Rothermere was a Europhile who befriended Tony Blair when he was in opposition. He moved onto the Labour benches in the House of Lords after Labour's election win.

Mr Dacre said of Lord Rothermere: "He was that rare mix of a brilliant businessman who understood newspapers."

Lady Thatcher said: "He was one of the great figures in the British newspaper industry this century."

Simon Kelner, editor of The Independent, said: "As a newspaper proprietor who believed above all in empowering his journalists and investing in editorial talent Lord Rothermere was a rare and singular creature. His passing should be mourned by journalists everywhere."

Rupert Murdoch, head of The News Corporation, described Lord Rothermere's death as a "tremendous loss for the media industry".

t One of Lord Rothermere's last business decisions was to close Channel One, the cable television station that provides local news to viewers in London and Bristol, this month.The station had not attracted enough subscribers to make it economically viable.

Obituary, Review, page 6