David Astor

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David Astor
Born Francis David Langhorne Astor
(1912-03-05)5 March 1912
London, England
Died 7 December 2001(2001-12-07) (aged 89)
London, England
Education Balliol College, Oxford
Occupation Editor
Spouse(s) Melanie Hauser (m. 1945–1951)
Bridget Aphra Wreford (m. 1952–2001)
  • Frances Christine Langhorne Astor
  • Alice Margaret Frances Astor
  • Richard David Langhorne Astor
  • Lucy Aphra Nancy Astor
  • Nancy Bridget Elizabeth Astor
  • Thomas Robert Langhorne Astor

Francis David Langhorne Astor CH (5 March 1912 – 7 December 2001) was an English newspaper publisher and member of the Astor family.

Early life and career[edit]

David Astor was born in London, England, the third child of American-born English parents, Waldorf Astor (1879–1952) and Nancy Witcher Langhorne (1879–1964). The product of an immensely wealthy business dynasty, and raised in the grandeur of a great country estate where the political and intellectual elite of the time gathered, he nevertheless had an instinctive compassion for the poor and those who were the victims of destructive socioeconomic policies.

An extremely shy man, David Astor was greatly influenced by his father but as a young man he rebelled against his strong-willed mother. After an education at West Downs School in Winchester in Hampshire, followed by Eton College in Berkshire, he attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he suffered a nervous breakdown and left in 1933 without graduating. He was psycho-analysed by Anna Freud and during World War II he served with distinction as a Royal Marines officer and was wounded in France. While at Balliol in 1931 he met a young anti-fascist German, named Adam von Trott zu Solz, who was to become the most influential figure in his life. Von Trott's involvement in the 1944 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler led to von Trott's execution.[1]

In 1936, Astor joined the Yorkshire Post newspaper where he worked for a year before joining his father's newspaper, The Observer which he would eventually edit for 27 years. With his father's advancing age, and high inheritance taxes in England, in 1945 David Astor and his brother transferred ownership of the paper to a board of trustees. The trust contained restrictions so that the paper could not be subject to a hostile takeover but also stipulated that its profits go towards improving the newspaper, promoting high journalistic standards, and required a portion of the profits to be donated to charitable causes.

In 1945 Astor purchased the Manor House at Sutton Courtenay, Berkshire, living there and restoring the nearby Abbey in the village.[2]

Observer editor[edit]

By the mid-1950s, David Astor had made The Observer a successful and influential paper that published points of view from the right and left. Astor's policies were passionate about the plight of black Africans and the violation of human rights. He wrote against the death penalty and opposed all censorship. But, he took a more conservative view on the economic problems caused by high taxes and believed British trades unions had become too powerful and were hindering economic progress. He warned of the dangers of big government and of big business, influenced by his friend and employee of The Observer, George Orwell.

In 1956, David Astor and his newspaper came under fire when it accused Prime Minister Anthony Eden of lying to the people about important matters in Suez Crisis. Although he ultimately was shown to have been right, the situation harmed the paper's image and its circulation and advertising revenue began to decline. Astor's causes included playing a main role in establishing Amnesty International in 1961 after his paper published "The Forgotten Prisoners" by Peter Benenson. He also voiced strong opposition to the apartheid policy of the white South African government and supported the African National Congress (ANC). Nelson Mandela would refer to Astor as one of the best and most loyal of friends who had supported the ANC when other newspapers ignored them.

Despite his great wealth, David Astor lived modestly, putting his money to good use through a network of benefactions and charities. Although he proved a brilliant editor, he lacked the drive for profits like other newcomers to the business who took advantage to increase rapidly both their advertising and circulation at the expense of The Observer. When The Daily Telegraph launched a Sunday edition in 1961 it changed what had been a staid industry and the ensuing battles for advertising changed the character of how and what newspapers were all about. The aggressive marketing by The Sunday Times under Canadian newspaper tycoon Roy Thomson hurt circulation while the paper's unions were making repeated demands that drove costs to a point where the operation became an unsustainable business.

In April 1962, Astor gave a speech about the roots of political extremism, which led to the formation of the Columbus Centre, led by Professor Norman Cohn, and which became a research centre at the University of Sussex.[3]

Later life[edit]

In 1975, Astor resigned as editor of The Observer but continued as a trustee. In 1977 the paper was sold by his family to Robert O. Anderson, the American owner of the Atlantic Richfield Oil Company. In his retirement, Astor continued to support a number of charities and to finance pressure groups for causes that he strongly believed in. For his contributions to British society, he was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour in 1994. In 1995 David Astor was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Plymouth University.

David Astor died in London at the age of 89 and is buried in All Saints' Churchyard, Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, in a grave with a simple headstone bearing only his name. In the grave next to Astor's is buried his friend Eric Arthur Blair, better known under his pen name George Orwell.[4] Astor bought both burial plots when he learned that Orwell had asked to be buried in an English country churchyard.


  1. Melanie Hauser (1945–1951), one child:
    • Frances Christine Langhorne Astor (b. 1947)
    1. Gavin Frankel
    2. Conrad Frankel
    3. Patrick Frankel
  2. Bridget Aphra Wreford (1952–2001), five children:
    • Alice Margaret Frances Astor (b. 1953)
    1. William Woodward
    2. Jessica Woodward
      1. Myla Lenkiewicz
      2. Obi Lenkiewicz
    • Richard David Langhorne Astor (b. 1955)
    1. Bonny Astor
    2. Alfred Astor
    • Lucy Aphra Nancy Astor (b. 1958)
    1. Leonard Pulsford
    2. Ramona Pulsford
    • Nancy Bridget Elizabeth Astor (b. 1960)
    1. Cara Naidoo
    2. James Naidoo
    3. Pamela Naidoo
    • Thomas Robert Langhorne Astor (b. 1962)
    1. Mary Astor
    2. Cecilia Astor


  • David Astor and The Observer by Richard Cockett. Has endpapers that are facsimiles of The Observer newspaper, with other black-and-white photographic plates of personnel linked to newspaper. 294 pages with an index. London: Andre Deutsch (1990). ISBN 0-233-98735-5


  1. ^ McCrum, Robert (28 July 2013). "Kim Philby, the Observer connection and the establishment world of spies". The Observer. Retrieved 29 July 2013. 
  2. ^ "The gloss on the mill". The Telegraph. 2 July 2005. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  3. ^ Reisz, Matthew (16 March 2014). "Pioneering the study of inhumanity". Times Higher Education Supplement. Retrieved 5 April 2014. 
  4. ^ History of All Saints Church, retrieved 23 August 2014

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by
Ivor Brown
Editor of The Observer
Succeeded by
Donald Trelford