William Mellor, the son of a Unitarian minister, was born in 1888. He attended Manchester College, Oxford, in preparation for the ministry. However, he lost his religious faith and became a member of the Independent Labour Party.
Mellor moved to London and in 1913 he joined the Daily Herald. He quickly developed a close friendship with the newspaper's cartoonist, Will Dyson. Other friends included G. D. H. Cole, the historian, writer and activist and Robin Page Arnot, the secretary of the Fabian Research Department.
In 1912 William Mellor became the new secretary of the FRD. As Paul Thompson pointed out in his book, Socialist, Liberals and Labour (1967): "Its secretary was William Mellor and another leading member G. D. H. Cole, both young Oxford Fabians and both Guild Socialists. Together in April 1913 and March 1914 they led two attempts to disaffiliate the Fabian Society from the Labour Party. They failed, but when Cole resigned in 1915 he was able to take the Research Department with him, thus depriving the Fabian Society of its most talented younger members and resulting in its subsequent stagnation in the 1920s."
Mellor and G. D. H. Cole played an active role in campaigning against Britain's participation in the First World War. A friend, Margaret Postgate, claimed that they formed "an almost perfect pamphleteering partnership" with Mellor's "greater natural understanding of the working-man's mind... and gift for straightforward eloquence." According to Martin Ceadel, the author of Pacifism in Britain (1980): "A minority of socialists, on the other hand, regarded all war as contrary to socialist principles... Examples from the Great War were... Robin Page Arnott and William Mellor, who based theirs on the Guild Socialist critique of the state."
In 1916 Mellor took part in the fight against conscription. He wrote: "The war that began in August 1914 resulted not from a threat to freedom and democracy, but from a threat to the interests of the Allied capitalists from the capitalists of Central Europe." Mellor was imprisoned as a conscientious objector. On his release he returned to the Daily Herald as its industrial correspondent.
Mellor married Edna in 1919. She was financially independent with money from her family's successful brass foundry in Rotherham. Edna was also a socialist and pacifist, having lost a brother on the Western Front during the First World War.
In 1920 Mellor became a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Other early members included Tom Bell, Willie Paul, Arthur McManus, Harry Pollitt, Rajani Palme Dutt, Helen Crawfurd, A. J. Cook, Albert Inkpin, J. T. Murphy, Arthur Horner, Tom Mann, John R. Campbell, Bob Stewart, Shapurji Saklatvala, George Aitken, Sylvia Pankhurst and Robin Page Arnot. Mellor resigned from the CPGB in 1924.
William Mellor continued to work for the Daily Herald. The newspaper campaigned against British intervention in the Russian Civil War. The Trade Union Congress resolved that all action necessary, including a general strike, would be taken to prevent war. David Lloyd George and his government backed down but claimed that George Lansbury was in the pay of the Bolsheviks. Lansbury at once published the complete list of the persons and organisations who had provided the newspaper with money. The audited circulation figures of 329,869, convinced the government that the newspaper had the support of the public and it withdrew its claims.
The newspaper's left-wing stance meant that they suffered an advertisers' boycott. It was forced to raise its price to twopence, twice the price of any daily paper of comparable size, on 11th October, 1920. The newspaper succeeded in raising sales to 40,000 during the 1921 miners lockout. It also ran a national collection which brought in £20,000 for the miners' children.
Mellor was a popular speaker at socialist public meetings. He had a private income and attempted to goad his audience into taking a revolutionary position on the unfairness of capitalism. He would often claim: "I have just spent as much on my lunch as you earn in a week. How much longer are you going to put up with it?"
In September 1922 the Trade Union Congress took over the Daily Herald. George Lansbury left and the experienced journalist, Hamilton Fyfe, became editor. Fyfe recruited writers such as Henry Nevinson and Evelyn Sharp to write for the paper. Over the next four years Fyfe increased its circulation but he unwilling to accept attempts by the TUC to control the content of the newspaper and he left in 1926. Frederic Salusbury was appointed editor-in-chief and Mellor became the new editor. Mellor, like most of the newspaper's working-class readers, was very interested in sport and therefore the Daily Herald increased its coverage of football and cricket.
Mellor was to the left of Fyfe and this pleased some of the staff. One memo written in 1926 said: "His wide, unbiased and very thorough knowledge of the movement enables him to correct errors of policy and fact... it is because of the personal affection of the staff for him, his journalistic ability and his knowledge of the movement that under such conditions of stress he is able to carry out this unequal task. In the periods that he has acted as Editor he has created a different atmosphere in the office."
In 1930 the TUC sold a 51 per cent share of the newspaper to Odhams Press. Mellor was elevated to the Odhams board but was sacked in 1931. Attempts were made to make it a more mainstream publication. This was a great success and by 1933 the Daily Herald became the world's best-selling daily newspaper, with certified net sales of 2 million.
During this period Mellor began an affair with Barbara Betts. As Anne Perkins, the author of Red Queen (2003) has pointed out: "Mellor was already forty-four, only six years younger than her father and exactly twice Barbara's age. He was glamorous, confident and married, with a baby son. He became her mentor, her alternative father, a man who loved her totally and compellingly." Castle later admitted "Mellor was in many ways much like my father. They were of that same bigness. He was about my father's generation, a bit younger than my father but considerably older than I was."
Mellor became close to Stafford Cripps, the leader of the left-wing of the Labour Party. Other members of this group included Aneurin Bevan, Ellen Wilkinson, Frank Wise, Jennie Lee, Harold Laski, Frank Horrabin, Barbara Betts and G. D. H. Cole. Mellor believed that Bevan had the potential to become leader of the party: "Background, A1. Brain first-class. Power to move people. But has he the patience? Has he a simple and ruthless enough mind? Does he like caviar too much?"
In 1931 G.D.H. Cole created the Society for Socialist Inquiry and Propaganda (SSIP). This was later renamed the Socialist League. Other members included William Mellor, Charles Trevelyan, Stafford Cripps, H. N. Brailsford, D. N. Pritt, R. H. Tawney, Frank Wise, David Kirkwood, Clement Attlee, Neil Maclean, Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, Alfred Salter, Jennie Lee, Gilbert Mitchison, Harold Laski, Frank Horrabin, Ellen Wilkinson, Aneurin Bevan, Ernest Bevin, Arthur Pugh, Michael Foot and Barbara Betts. Margaret Cole admitted that they got some of the members from the Guild Socialism movement: "Douglas and I recruited personally its first list drawing upon comrades from all stages of our political lives." The first pamphlet published by the SSIP was The Crisis (1931) was written by Cole and Bevin.
According to Ben Pimlott, the author of Labour and the Left (1977): "The Socialist League... set up branches, undertook to promote and carry out research, propaganda and discussion, issue pamphlets, reports and books, and organise conferences, meetings, lectures and schools. To this extent it was strongly in the Fabian tradition, and it worked in close conjunction with Cole's other group, the New Fabian Research Bureau." The main objective was to persuade a future Labour government to implement socialist policies.
With the rise of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, Mellor became convinced that the Labour Party should establish a United Front against fascism with the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Independent Labour Party. In April 1934 Mellor had a meeting with Fenner Brockway and Jimmy Maxton, two leaders of the ILP, "to talk over ways and means of securing working-class unity". He also had meetings with Harry Pollitt, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
Mellor told Barbara Betts in 1934: "In the end I am a socialist and an agitator because I want a free world in which human relationships shall be free from the constrictions and restraints imposed by... and taboos that spring from, religious... fears. I'm a politician only because this world as it is kills individuality, destroys freedom and fetters human beings... We may have to go through hell to get there but even that wouldn't be too big a price to pay."
In the 1935 General Election Mellor, was the Labour candidate in Enfield. Mellor wrote to his mother that Barbara Betts was of great help in his campaign: "Barbara is working like a trojan and speaking like an angel." Mellor was defeated but Castle pointed out that he added five thousand to the Labour vote on "a 100% left-wing programme".
Mellor continued to attack the leadership of the Labour Party for not establishing a United Front with the Independent Labour Party and Communist Party of Great Britain. This upset the leaders of the Trade Union Congress and as they still controlled the Daily Herald he was warned that he was in danger of losing his job. When he refused to back-down he was sacked in March 1936.
Later that year the Socialist League joined forces with the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Independent Labour Party and various trades councils and trade union brances to organize a large-scale Hunger March. Aneurin Bevan argued: "Why should a first-class piece of work like the Hunger March have been left to the initiative of unofficial members of the Party, and to the Communists and the ILP... Consider what a mighty response the workers would have made if the whole machinery of the Labour Movement had been mobilised for the Hunger March and its attendant activities."
On 31st October, 1936 the Socialist League called an anti-fascist conference in Whitechapel and discussed the best ways of dealing with Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists. Over the next few months meetings were held. The Socialist League was represented by William Mellor and Stafford Cripps, the Communist Party of Great Britain by Harry Pollitt and Palme Dutt and the Independent Labour Party by James Maxton and Fenner Brockway.
Mellor established the Town and County Councillor, a journal for Labour supporters in local government. He appointed Barbara Betts, on £4 a week, as one of the journalists on the paper. He also gave work to Michael Foot, who had just left university.
The United Front agreement won only narrow majority at a Socialist League delegate conference in January, 1937 - 56 in favour, 38 against, with 23 abstentions. The United Front campaign opened officially with a large meeting at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester on 24th January. Three days later the Executive of the Labour Party decided to disaffiliated the Socialist League. They also began considering expelling members of the League. G.D.H. Cole and George Lansbury responded by urging the party not to start a "heresy hunt".
In January 1937 Stafford Cripps and George Strauss decided to launch a radical weekly, The Tribune, to "advocate a vigorous socialism and demand active resistance to Fascism at home and abroad." Mellor was appointed editor and others such as Aneurin Bevan, Ellen Wilkinson, Barbara Castle, Harold Laski, Michael Foot and Noel Brailsford agreed to write for the paper.
Mellor wrote in the first issue: "It is capitalism that has caused the world depression. It is capitalism that has created the vast army of the unemployed. It is capitalism that has created the distressed areas... It is capitalism that divides our people into the two nations of rich and poor. Either we must defeat capitalism or we shall be destroyed by it." Stafford Cripps wrote encouragingly after the first issue: "I have read the Tribune, every line of it (including the advertisements!) as objectively as I can and I must congratulate you upon a very first-rate production.''
Cripps declared that its mission was to recreate the Labour Party as a truly socialist organization. This soon brought them into conflict with Clement Attlee and the leadership of the party. Hugh Dalton declared that "Cripps Chronicle" was "a rich man's toy". Threatened with expulsion, in May 1937 Cripps agreed to abandon the United Front campaign and to dissolve the Socialist League.
By 1938 Stafford Cripps and George Strauss had lost £20,000 in publishing The Tribune. The successful publisher, Victor Gollancz, agreed to help support the newspaper as long as it dropped the United Front campaign. When Mellor refused to change the editorial line, Cripps sacked him and invited Michael Foot to take his place. However, as Mervyn Jones has pointed out: "It was a tempting opportunity for a 25-year-old, but Foot declined to succeed an editor who had been treated unfairly."
William Mellor now concentrated on editing the Town and County Councillor. Rumours about Mellor began to circulate. Barbara Betts wrote to her mother claiming that Victor Gollancz was behind these stories: "Gollancz, we have every reason to believe, is spreading fairy stories about the matter all over the country, and we are helpless."
After a period of being blacklisted, Mellor was selected for the safe seat of Stockport. However, the outbreak of the Second World War meant that the 1940 General Election was cancelled. Mellor was also allowed to go back and work for the Daily Herald under Percy Cudlipp.
In April 1942 Mellor wrote to Barbara Betts: "I have loved you since the first day I saw you. And after ten years - it's nearly that, sweet - rich with lovely memories and black with the recollection of my own cowardice in not following the course love set, I know now that my love is deeper, more compelling, more understanding and finer, I hope, than at any time." However, he still refused to divorce his wife and marry Barbara.
In the summer of 1942 Mellor was told by his doctor that he had a stomach ulcer. He was told that he must take six months rest or to have an operation. Mellor felt that his job was too insecure to take too much time off so he opted for an operation. At first it seemed to go well, but then complications set in. On 8th June, 1942, two weeks after the operation, William Mellor died.