Hannen Swaffer

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Frederick Charles Hannen Swaffer (1 November 1879 – 16 January 1962) was an English journalist and drama critic. Although his views were left-wing, he worked mostly for right-wing publications, many of them owned by Lord Northcliffe. He was a proponent of spiritualism, and an opponent of capital punishment.

Life and career[edit]

Swaffer was born in Lindfield, Sussex, the eldest of eight children of a Folkestone draper, Henry Joseph Swaffer, and his wife, Kate Eugenie Hannen.[1] He was educated at Stroud Green Grammar School, Kent,[2] and joined a local newspaper in Folkestone as an apprentice reporter. His first published article was a review of a performance by George Grossmith at the local town hall.[3] His reviews were so vituperative that he was banned from the local theatre, the first of many such bans during his career.[3] While at Folkestone he read Robert Blatchford's book of socialist essays, Merrie England, and adopted its left-wing views for the rest of his life.[3]

After further experience in provincial journalism, Swaffer joined The Daily Mail in 1902, and worked for its proprietor Alfred Harmsworth (later Lord Northcliffe) for the next seventeen years.[2] In 1904 Swaffer married Helen Hannah, daughter of John Sitton, a Clapham grocer; they had no children.[1] They remained married until Helen's death in 1956, although he left her at intervals for various mistresses.[4]

Swaffer was editor of Northcliffe's Weekly Dispatch and then helped develop The Daily Mirror, originally a paper for women, into a mass-market title.[3] In 1913, he initiated "Mr Gossip" for The Daily Sketch. He also started "Mr London" for The Daily Graphic, and contributed the "Plays and Players" column to The Sunday Times.[2] He was appointed editor of The People in 1924, but was unsuited to the duties of editing a paper, and held the post for only a few months.[3] In 1926 he became drama critic of The Daily Express and The Sunday Express. He later said that although he enjoyed the company of actors, he disliked having to watch them acting,[5] and he accused Noël Coward and others of being "non-existent talents".[4]

In the 1930s Swaffer became interested in spiritualism, which became one of the causes he promoted, along with socialism and the abolition of the death penalty.[5] He claimed that his spiritualist circle had conjured up the ghost of his former employer, Northcliffe, as well as those of other dead celebrities.[5]

The Manchester Guardian commented on Swaffer's "air of self-importance equal to that of Bernard Shaw himself … he raised professional egotism to a fine art."[5] Described by The Times as "something of a poseur", he was conspicuous for his flamboyant clothes, and was, according to The British Journalism Review, "remembered for little more than the mixture of dandruff and cigarette ash on his velvet collar, and for defining freedom of the press as 'freedom to print such of the proprietor's prejudices as the advertisers don't object to'."[6] He claimed to have renounced his early anti-Semitic views, but remained implacably racist and attempted to have black actors banned from the theatre.[4]

Swaffer died in London at the age of eighty-two, outliving his wife by six years.[3]

Swaffer's books included Northcliffe's Return (1925), Really Behind the Scenes (1929), Hannen Swaffer's Who's Who (1929), and Inspiration (1929).[2] After the British Press Awards were established in the year of his death, they were, for their first four years, named in Swaffer's honour.[6][7] A biography of Swaffer by Tom Driberg was published in 1974.[4]


  1. ^ a b Andrews, Linton, "Swaffer, Hannen (1879–1962)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, January 2011 (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  2. ^ a b c d "Swaffer, Hannen", Who Was Who, Oxford University Press, 2014 (subscription required)
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Mr Hannen Swaffer", The Times, 17 January 1962, p. 14
  4. ^ a b c d Black, Sheila. "The man who had seen, heard, and done it all", The Times, 28 March 1974, p. 14
  5. ^ a b c d "'Pope of Fleet Street': Mr Hannen Swaffer", The Guardian, 17 January 1962, p. 2
  6. ^ a b "A matter of honours", British Journalism Review, Vol. 16 No. 1, 2005
  7. ^ "Press Awards winners 1962-1969", The Press Awards, retrieved 22 October 2015

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by
Montagu Cotton
Editor of the Weekly Dispatch
Succeeded by
Bernard Falk
Preceded by
Robert Donald
Editor of the The People
Succeeded by
Harry Ainsworth