William Connor wrote a regular column for over 30 years between 1935 and 1 February 1967 with a short intermission for the Second World War, his column restarting after the war with the words "As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, it is a powerful hard thing to please all of the people all of the time." He took his pen-name from Cassandra in Greek mythology, a tragic character who is given the gift of prophecy by Apollo but is then cursed so that no one will ever believe her.
The very popular column helped the Mirror's readership to grow to the highest in its history during the 1950s. His columns were simply written, in keeping with his working class readership and comprised slices of human life, including famous people, events and later a personal diary of his everyday life and thoughts – though at times he could be controversial. He worked alongside cartoonist Philip Zec at the Daily Mirror and the pair courted controversy in 1942 with an illustration, captioned by Connor, which Winston Churchill and others perceived as an attack on government. Churchill complained to Cecil King, then a director of the company, of a writer (Connor) being "dominated by malevolence". Connor forgave Churchill though, and later wrote a moving obituary of the wartime Prime Minister ("Sword in the Scabbard," 25 January 1965) and attended his funeral service at St. Paul's Cathedral.
In his best known columns, Connor claimed that P. G. Wodehouse was a Nazi collaborator, a charge from which George Orwell defended Wodehouse, and defamed, by virtually outing, the entertainer Liberace during his British tour in 1956. The paper was sued in 1959 and lost; the court case involved both sides lying under oath.
According to Roy Greenslade, Connor was "an odd mix of liberal and reactionary", citing for the former his column attacking the enactment of the death sentence delivered to Ruth Ellis due on the day of its publication. He wrote: "The one thing that brings stature and dignity to mankind and raises us above the beasts will have been denied her – pity and the hope of ultimate redemption."
In the years leading up to his death Connor wrote more humorous columns and was regarded with affection by Mirror readers. Subjects ranged from the time he received wrong number calls intended for the local railway parcels service, to the mysterious person who sent him a fresh goose egg once a year.
Connor was knighted in 1966. His final column ended with the words "Normal service in this column is temporarily interrupted while I learn to do what any babe can do with ease and what comes naturally to most men of good conscience – to sleep easily o' nights."
He died aged 57 in hospital a month after fracturing his skull in a fall.
Since his death the column Cassandra in The Daily Mirror has continued to be sporadically published. A new columnist, writer Keith Waterhouse, took over Connor's place in the newspaper, but not his byline.
Notes and references
- See Cassandra At His Finest And Funniest
- Dennis Griiffiths (ed.) The Encyclopedia of the British Press, 1492–1992, London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992, p.199
- Chambers Dictionary of Quotations 1999
- Room, Adrian (2010). Dictionary of Pseudonyms: 13,000 Assumed Names and Their Origins. McFarland. p. 97.
- Barnett, Nicholas (May 2013). "Russia Wins Space Race: The British Press and the Sputnik Moment, 1957". Media History. 19 (2): 182–195. doi:10.1080/13688804.2013.791419.
- Cassandra: Reflections in a Mirror by Robert Connor, Cassell (1969)
- Orwell, George In Defence Of P. G. Wodehouse 1945
- Roy Greenslade "The meaning of 'fruit': how the Daily Mirror libelled Liberace", The Guardian (blog), 26 May 2009
- See Revel Barker Crying All The Way To The Bank – Liberace v the Daily Mirror and Cassandra, (2009)
- Roy Greenslade Press Gang: How Newspapers Make Profits from Propaganda, London: Macmillan (Pan), 2004, p.89-90, 89
- 'Cassandra' (William Connor) "'I'm a sucker for a pretty face..but I prefer the face not to be lolling because of a judicially broken neck'", Daily Mirror, June 1955, edited reprint of 21 May 2005