Douglas Jerrold, the son of the actor, Samuel Jerrold, was born in London in 1803. At the age of ten he joined the navy but he was deeply upset by the way the officers treated the men on board ship. Jerrold was particularly horrified by the way officers flogged the men from minor offences and this gave him a life-long hatred of authority.
After a couple of years in the navy Douglas Jerrold left to became a printer's apprentice. After completing his training Jerrold became a compositor on the Sunday Monitor but he eventually rose to become the newspaper's drama critic. Jerrold developed a strong interest in the theatre and began writing plays.
After the success of Paul Pry in 1827, Jerrold became the resident playwright at the Coburg Theatre. Successful plays that he wrote during this period included Fifteen Years of a Drunkard's Life (1828), Black-Eyed Susan (1829), The Mutiny of the Nore (1830) and the Prisoner of Ludgate (1831). Jerrold retained his interest in journalism and in 1831 started the journal Punch in London. However, it ceased publication after seventeen issues.
In June, 1841, Douglas Jerrold joined with Mark Lemon , Henry Mayhew, and John Leech to form Punch Magazine. Like Jerrold's original Punch in London, the plan was to produce a magazine that combined satirical humour and political comment. Jerrold shared Mayhew concern with social reform and using the pseudonym Q, wrote several powerful attacks on inequality in 19th century Britain. Jerrold's sympathy for the underdog and his strong criticisms of the Tories, was the main reason why during the 1840s Punch Magazine achieved a reputation as a radical journal.
Jerrold lost a sympathetic colleague when Henry Mayhew left Punch Magazine in 1845. Jerrold clashed with those members of staff who supported the Tories. This included William Makepeace Thackeray who cruelly attacked Jerrold by telling him that, "It takes three generations to make a gentleman." In 1846 Jerrold wrote to his friend Charles Dickens and complained about how the magazine was now concentrating on humour: "I am convinced that the world will get tired (at least I hope so) of this eternal guffaw at all things. After all, life has something serious in it." Dickens was a great admirer of Jerrold's work and described his The Story of a Feather "a beautiful book".
Douglas Jerrold wrote a large number of political and humorous articles for Punch Magazine over the next sixteen years. This included material that appeared under the headings: Q Papers, Punch's Letters to his Son and Mrs. Candle's Curtain Lectures. Jerrold also contributed for other journals and worked as a sub-editor, under Charles Dickens, on the Daily News. Jerrold also edited the Illuminated Magazine (1843-44), a journal published by his radical friend, Herbert Ingram, Jerrold's Shilling Magazine (1845-48) and Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper (1852-57).
When Douglas Jerrold died in 1857 his son, William Blanchard Jerrold (1826-84), replaced him as editor of Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper. Jerrold shared his father's concern with social reform and worked with Gustave Dore on the influential book, London: A Pilgimage (1872).