William Mellor

William Mellor

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.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) William Mellor, Direct Action (1920)

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. The State that was in danger was the Executive Committee of the Capitalist class. Fortunately five years of war have resulted in bringing the state into even more imminent jeopardy.

(2) Paul Thompson, Socialist, Liberals and Labour (1967)

A leading part in the demand for an independent socialist party had been played by New Age, a paper taken over in 1907 by a Fabian schoolteacher from Leeds, A. B. Orage. He made it one of the liveliest papers of the period, notable regular contributors including Cecil Chesterton, J. A. Hobson, Patrick Geddes, Wyndham Lewis, St. John Ervine and Walter Sickert. New Age was in fact a rather brighter focus of intellectual socialism in this period than the Fabian Society itself. S. G. Hobson, who resigned from the Fabian Society in 1909 after failing to convert it to "the upbuilding of a definite and avowed Socialist Party", was a regular political contributor. Independent socialism, as we have seen, enjoyed only a short period of success, and New Age found a new hope in a modified version of the syndicalist movement, Guild Socialism, which was also to secure considerable support in the Fabian Society. It was a typically Fabian modification of syndicalism, preferring "encroaching control" to revolutionary strike action. Industrial unionism was rephrased in the form of industrial Guilds. These ideas were first put forward by New Age in an editorial series, written by Hobson, which began late in 1912.

The Guild Socialist rebellion was more difficult to quell, not only because it had the sympathy of Shaw, but also because the leading rebels had been entrenched in the Fabian organisation by the Webbs themselves. The research groups suggested by Beatrice Webb in 1912 developed into a Fabian Research Committee with its own office. 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.

The third political group within the Fabian Society, the supporters of clear commitment to the Labour Party, made two serious attempts to change Fabian policy. The first was in conjunction with Wells in 1906-7. Haden Guest, a fiery young Welsh doctor, had spoken in support of Wells' proposed reforms, arguing the need `to get at the middle classes and organise them to work in co-operation with the Labour Party'. Before the 1907 Fabian executive election a reform committee, including Wells, Guest and Ensor with Sydney Oliver in the chair, held meetings at the I.L.P. office. The committee failed because the conflict between Wells and the others was never settled.

(3) Anne Perkins, Red Queen (2003)

When Barbara and William Mellor met, the Herald, of which he had become editor, had just been taken over by the publishers Odhams. The TUC - in effect, Bevin - still controlled the editorial line. As a result William had been elevated to the Odhams board, and after twelve years of marriage had just become a father. The family lived comfortably in a flat in Battersea in south-west London, overlooking the park; Mellor was well off, careless with money and plainly enjoyed impressing Barbara, whose previous social outings, she claimed, had been restricted by poverty to a cup of tea in the local tripe shop. According to Barbara, the attraction was instant and mutual: "Physically, he was my kind of man: tall, black-haired, erect, with a commanding presence and strong, handsome features."

There was a certain inevitability to the seduction. For Barbara, a relationship with a glamorous senior intellectual was an attractive idea in itself. An affair - especially a semi-public one, as this became - demonstrated an independence from convention and, with such a man as William Mellor, a seriousness of purpose. It also provided her with an entree into the highest reaches of left-wing politics. So it was hardly surprising that she, young and still unsure of herself, fell in love with him. "For good or evil," Beatrice Webb wrote in her diary in 1931 after a conversation with another leading figure of the left Ellen Wilkinson, "the political emancipation of women and their entry into public life has swept away the old requirement of chastity in unmarried women."

For Mellor, it must have been a more complicated business. He was married, and a father, and he wanted to get into parliament - three good reasons for not becoming entangled with a woman half his age, however attractive. And he saw himself as a man of high moral principle.

(4) Huw Richards, The Bloody Circus: The Daily Herald and the Left (1997)

William Mellor, deputy editor since 1922, was the obvious successor if, as Newspaper World said was likely, the search was confined to internal candidates. There is no evidence that the board ever seriously considered anyone else and the 37-year-old Mellor was appointed on 26 August. He was a formidable character - Margaret Cole described him as a powerful personality whose emotions were easily aroused, formidably effective in argument but prone to bullying. Michael Foot, who worked with him on Tribune in the late 1930s, remembers him as a shouting editor and described him as an "endearing ogre". Margaret Cole would describe him as "stronger in the spoken than the written word". Unequivocally of the left, successively guild socialist, conscientious objector, proponent of direct action and founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, he was never to move far to the right, and later became the first editor of Tribune as well as being denied endorsement as a Labour candidate in the late 1930s because of his Socialist League activities.

All this mattered less to the Herald board than the breadth of support and respect he enjoyed. Allen, proponent of conventional news values rather than socialist controversialism, nevertheless provided a reference. Fyfe had praised him for his work on the British Worker. MacDonald, so fearful of Ewer's influence, appeared to have no such worries about Mellor - although Fyfe suggests that in this MacDonald was misguided...

Deputies, particularly those with Mellor's connection with a paper - his first contributions were before 1914 and he had been on the staff since the postwar relaunch - are frequently more popular than editors. Allen, like Mellor, had been imprisoned three times as a conscientious objector and MacDonald had been a prominent, much-vilified critic of the war, so this created a bond with others who had shared the same views and experience of persecution.

In backing so unregenerate a leftist, Allen knew what he was doing. Proof can be seen in Mellor's statement to the 1926 TUC when he defined himself: "as a Labour journalist".Mellor was unequivocally of the labour movement. Where Fyfe, a late recruit, gave the impression that he was doing the movement a favour, Mellor had no qualms about regarding himself as its servant, prepared to tolerate its disciplines and idiosyncracies. Though well to the left of Fyfe he would be far more prepared to accept direction from the leadership. External circumstances would also aid this stronger sense of central direction. While Ben Turner would note wryly at the 1927 TUC that "I think it would be the millennium coming if we got something to satisfy us all", the bitter political recriminations which followed the failure of the General Strike and the progressive falling out between the TUC and Russia meant that the two sides of the movement increasingly agreed that communists were to be regarded as a threat rather than allies. Mellor, in spite of his own sympathies, would conform to this view.

(21) Anonymous memo on William Mellor (1926)

His (William Mellor) wide, unbiased and very thorough knowledge of the movement enables him to correct errors of policy and fact ... his corrections are not always agreed to by the Editor ... 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.

(5) William Mellor, letter to Barbara Betts (February 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.

(6) William Mellor, letter to Barbara Betts (December 1936)

I have spoken to Edna this morning. I have told her that you have for months been working with me on the Town and County Councillor. I have told her that we still want to marry. I have told her that the strain is at times overpowering. I have told her that we are at a crisis. I have told her of your suggestion that you should meet her and of my doubts as to whether it would help. I have told her that what we are trying to do is to win economic independence. I have told her that the consequences of the crises, arising from tearings apart, are utterly incalculable. Finally I told her that I might be with you tonight. Please let me know whether the "might" is to be "shall".

(7) William Mellor, The Tribune (January, 1937)

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.

(8) William Mellor, letter to Barbara Betts (6th March 1942)

When she asked me whether you had considered your own position I told her very firmly that you were a serious minded woman, alive to and conscious of all that was involved in the fact of our love. Beyond that I did not go because I felt - and believe you do too - that the nature and content of your anxieties is something that no one but you and I have any right to know. I did, however, say that I was certain in my own mind that I could live in happiness with you - this in answer to a question as to whether "for the present" meant that I was liable to swing back again.

(9) Barbara Betts, letter to her mother (June 1942)

Main darling, It really doesn't matter whom one talks to about one's loss - or whom one "turns to" in words. Words arc useless things. The thing that matters is to know in one's heart that one is loved, that one's sorrow is shared, that there is a corner to creep to when one is desperate. This whole business has brought home to me inexorably that the only real human contact is of the spirit. When Mellor died on Monday, I hadn't seen or spoken to him for 5 days. That wasn't a point of any relevance to me. When I saw him the previous Wednesday - suddenly struck low - weak & bewildered & powerless while his life's energy ebbed away - I knew I was helpless to do anything for him. All I could do was not to add to his worries by the physical presence of my anxiety. So I told him myself; "I'm not coming to see you again until you're stronger. That's not because I don't want to. It is because I love you". He smiled & nodded & we were near to one another. As near as anything on earth could make us, all those 5 days through. I never spoke to him again. I went to the funeral to pay tribute to Mellor like any other comrade of his in the Movement. I was glad I did, although at one point I thought I'd never get through it with the control I'd sworn to myself I would not break. Michael and Ritchie (Calder) stood round me like a bodyguard, sheltering me with understanding, & Krishna (Menon) took me home. It was a genuine goodbye from genuine mourners, with real comradeship.