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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A crackingly good biography...., 27 May 2012
This review is from: Muckraker: The Scandalous Life and Times of W. T. Stead, Britain's First Investigative Journalist (Kindle Edition)
Length:: 4:28 Mins


An appreciation by Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers

By the nature of their trade, (or profession if you prefer) journalists report present events that are later recorded as history. All too rarely, however, have any of the swashbuckling journalists of the fairly recent past become noteworthy historical figures themselves. There are notable exceptions though.

You have almost certainly have heard of Stanley's famous trek in search of Livingstone. But if you've never heard of W.T. Stead, believe us, you have now and you will definitely want to hear a lot more thanks to W. Sydney Robinson's superlative biography of this amazing character, born 1845, who is described variously as `Britain's first investigative journalist', as well as `radical', `reckless', `maverick', 'Cromwellian saint' and yes, `muckraker'.

Editor initially of the `Northern Echo' and later of London's then prestigious `Pall Mall Gazette', William Thomas Stead raked more muck than most, all with the noble aim of setting the world to rights. Articulate, passionate and fierce, this wild man of Victorian journalism would make many a modern tabloid hack look tame by comparison.

`What would Lord Justice Leveson have made of William Thomas Stead?' asks Dominic Sandbrook in his recent incisive and complimentary review of this book in "The Sunday Times". What indeed?

The publication of a biography of this `muckraker' of the past coinciding with the Leveson enquiry makes it a timely and un-put-downable read. Strictly brought up as the home-tutored son of an erudite Presbyterian minister and an artistically inclined mother, Stead raged against the injustices of his day, including all manner of sins public and private. Quite fearlessly he often went to astonishing lengths to expose scandal after scandal.

The exploit that secured Stead's fame was his `purchase' of a thirteen year old girl from her alcoholic mother just to prove how easily it could be done.

The girl apparently came to no harm and was eventually resettled in France, but in the meantime by further subterfuge, Stead achieved his aim of publicizing the widespread evil of child prostitution in his sensational expose entitled `The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon.' Suspected of being a lot less than puritanical in his private life, Stead was actually sent to prison for three months for `procuring' the girl without her father's consent. Unapologetic and undeterred, Stead carried on editing the Gazette from his cell.

`Should Scandals be Hushed Up?' headlined another of Stead's articles - a question which, in the age of the super-injunction, confounds our modern judiciary these days, as well as crusading journalists and editors threatened by the mighty with all kinds of retribution for invading their privacy.

Stead's crusading zeal was inspired by a number of influences, including one bequeathed by his mother, that man must always uphold the rights of woman. `I have a prejudice in favour of mothers,' he said, `having myself been born of one, a fact which I am afraid you think, unduly colours the whole of my thinking.'

Stead was also influenced by the `Pious Editor's Creed' penned not too seriously by the American poet James Russell Lowell who defined the perfect newspaper as `a Bible which needs no translation... the open volume of the world, upon which, with a pen of sunshine or destroying fire, the inspired Present is even now writing the annals of God!'

Although Stead's subsequent fame eventually diminished into notoriety, he eventually secured an invitation to lecture in New York, having been booked passage on the Titanic - first class -- by his generous hosts. As some peculiar fate would have it, he, the inveterate journalist met his death at the centre of one of the 20th century's most tragic and pivotal events. After giving his life jacket to another passenger and helping women and children into the lifeboats, he was observed standing alone in silence on the edge of the deck, never to be seen again. One of the tragedies of the Titanic disaster is that Stead did not live to write about it.

Author Robinson shares all this with us and of course much more in this copiously researched and fast-paced biography which offers much to think about and remark upon. Many of the issues raised are pertinent to modern journalism and those perennial controversies which still surround freedom of the press -- and continually threaten it.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Jul 2012 20:43:40 BDT
Mark Twain says:
The reviewer not only comes over as rather overbearing on the video but also admits that he is a colleague of the author of the reviewed work. AND he seems to have published his review twice, thus skewing the ratings. Not a very good advertisement for the scruples of his professsion...
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Review Details



Phillip Taylor

Location: Richmond Upon Thames, England

Top Reviewer Ranking: 672