William Connor (Cassandra)

William Connor (Cassandra)

William Connor was born in Muswell Hill, London, on 26th April 1909. After being educated at a local elementary school and Glendale Grammar School in Wood Green. He left school at sixteen and tried to join the Royal Navy but was rejected because of his poor eyesight.

Connor had a series of clerical jobs before finding work as a copywriter for J. Walter Thompson. He worked with Philip Zec and together they developed a strip cartoon to advertise Horlicks. After six years at the agency he was recruited by H. G. Bartholomew, the editorial director of the Daily Mirror.

Bartholomew and Cecil King, the advertising director, had noted the success of newspapers such as the Daily News in New York. In 1934 Bartholomew and King decided to follow its example and turn the Daily Mirror into a tabloid newspaper. Connor, who wrote under the name Cassandra, had what was described as having a "polished-up barrack room style" helped to shape this new approach to journalism.

According to his biographer, John Beavan: "Bartholomew asked Connor to try his hand at a column.... The column appeared two or three times a week as and when there was room. Connor soon showed a talent for robust invective... The column varied. It could contain hard-hitting political comment, attacks on government departments and individuals, lavish praise of individuals, and dithyrambic essays on cats or on homely dishes such as cabbage and herring cooked in a particular way. Whatever it was, it was always Connor and it had a tremendous audience."

Connor held left-wing political opinions and was a strong opponent of fascism. After visiting Nazi Germany he wrote about the dangers of Adolf Hitler: "Before this visit to Germany I always had a sneaking feeling that there was a strong undercurrent of opposition to Hitler. I am now certain that I was wrong. I now know that this man has the absolute unswerving confidence of the people. They will do anything for him. They worship him. They regard him as a god. Do not let us deceive ourselves in this country that Hitler may be dislodged by enemies within his own frontiers."

In the 1930s he wrote several powerful articles against Neville Chamberlain and his appeasement policy. He wrote in the Daily Mirror on 21st March, 1939: "There are two ways of losing a war. One is to be defeated in the field. The other is to lose the war before it begins. We have indicated this peril for months past. It is now obvious. It has to be admitted. Why is so plain a peril - plainly revealed in Hitler's book - why, we ask, is it only now recognised by our rulers? Simply because, even if they have read Hitler (which is still doubtful) they have not believed what he has said in Mein Kampf. Not believing him, not knowing the sort of lucid lunatic with whom they have had to deal, they have believed it possible to disarm him by smiles, handshakes, pacts and scraps of paper."

On the outbreak of the Second World War, Connor introduced his friend, Philip Zec, to H. G. Bartholomew and Cecil Thomas, the editor of the Daily Mirror. Bartholomew liked Zec's work and commissioned him to do a daily cartoon. Connor often supplied Zec with the ideas and captions. On 5th March, 1942, the two men produced a cartoon on the government's decision to increase the price of petrol. The cartoon showed a torpedoed sailor with an oil-smeared face lying on a raft. The message was "Don't waste petrol. It costs lives."

The price of petrol has been increased by one penny." Official Philip Zec, The Daily Mirror (5th March, 1942)
The price of petrol has been increased by one penny." Official
Philip Zec, The Daily Mirror (5th March, 1942)

Winston Churchill believed that the cartoon suggested that the sailor's life had been put at stake to enhance the profits of the petrol companies. In the House of Commons, Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary, called it a "wicked cartoon" and Ernest Bevin, the Minister of Labour, argued that Zec's work was lowering the morale of the armed forces and the general public. The government considered closing down the Daily Mirror but eventually decided to let the newspaper off with a severe reprimand.

On 27th March 1942 Connor wrote: "I campaigned for Churchill, and my support was early and violent. But since he came to power I have distrusted many of his lieutenants - and I have said so with scant respect either for their position or their feelings.... The government are far too glib with the shameful rejoinder that those who do not agree with them are subversive - and even traitors… I cannot and will not change my policy... I, who have not transgressed, am shortly following the Prime Minister's advice. I am still a comparatively young man and I propose to see whether the rifle is a better weapon than the printed word." Connor joined the British Army. and served in Italy with Hugh Cudlipp where they produced the forces paper Union Jack.

On his return to the Daily Mirror in September 1946. John Beavan has argued: "Connor's journalism became deeper and more mature. He drove himself hard, travelled widely, went regularly to the United States, and covered in his highly personal style some historic events: the trials of Eichmann, General Salan, and Jack Ruby, who shot J. F. Kennedy's assassin; the enthronement of Pope John; Churchill's funeral; the Korean War. He interviewed, among many others, President Kennedy, Senator McCarthy, Billy Graham, Charlie Chaplin, Adlai Stevenson, Ben-Gurion, Archbishop Makarios, and Marilyn Monroe. Of course the writing had to have more splashes of melodrama and sentiment than the fastidious writer of later years would have wished. But that was the limitation of popular journalism. He only once ran into serious trouble, when he was successfully sued for libel by Liberace in 1959."

In 1965, Harold Wilson, the Labour prime minister, granted him a knighthood. Connor, who had developed diabetes and was forced to retire from journalism.

William Connor died in London on 6th April 1967, at St Bartholomew's Hospital.

Primary Sources

(1) Cassandra, The Daily Mirror (1st April, 1938)

Before this visit to Germany I always had a sneaking feeling that there was a strong undercurrent of opposition to Hitler.

I am now certain that I was wrong.

I now know that this man has the absolute unswerving confidence of the people.

They will do anything for him.

They worship him.

They regard him as a god.

Do not let us deceive ourselves in this country that Hitler may be dislodged by enemies within his own frontiers.

(2) Cassandra, The Daily Mirror (21st March, 1939)

There are two ways of losing a war. One is to be defeated in the field. The other is to lose the war before it begins.

We have indicated this peril for months past. It is now obvious. It has to be admitted.

Why is so plain a peril - plainly revealed in Hitler's book - why, we ask, is it only now recognised by our rulers?

Simply because, even if they have read Hitler (which is still doubtful) they have not believed what he has said in Mein Kampf.

Not believing him, not knowing the sort of lucid lunatic with whom they have had to deal, they have believed it possible to disarm him by smiles, handshakes, pacts and scraps of paper.

(3) Cassandra, The Daily Mirror (27th March, 1942)

By 1938 I had graduated from pickle kings to Neville Chamberlain. I fought hard against him and I fought fiercely against Munich. I had been in Germany nearly every year from 1929 to 1938 and it seemed incredible to me that, as it does now, that anybody could possibly mistake Hitler's preparations as being designed for anything but gigantic war.

I campaigned for Churchill, and my support was early and violent. But since he came to power I have distrusted many of his lieutenants - and I have said so with scant respect either for their position or their feelings.

Churchill told a former colleague of his that "there are paths of service open in wartime which are not open in the days of peace, and some of these paths may be paths to honour."

The government are far too glib with the shameful rejoinder that those who do not agree with them are subversive - and even traitors… I cannot and will not change my policy... I, who have not transgressed, am shortly following the Prime Minister's advice. I am still a comparatively young man and I propose to see whether the rifle is a better weapon than the printed word.