MR. A. G. GARDINER – “ALPHA OF THE PLOUGH”– The Spinney
Mr. A. G. Gardiner, journalist and author, died at Princes Risborough in March 1946. From 1902 to 1919 he was editor of the Daily News, and he wrote much under the pen-name of “Alpha of the Plough.”
Alfred G. Gardiner, son of Henry James Gardiner, was born at Chelmsford in 1865. All his early experience of journalism was in the provinces. At the age of little more than 30 he became editor of a small daily paper in Blackburn, whose proprietor, Mr. Ritzema, became manager of the Daily News shortly after that journal had been acquired by the Cadbury family. Impressed by Gardiner’s versatility and enterprise, Ritzema introduced him to George Cadbury, who took the bold step (in 1902) of inviting him to become editor of the Daily News. It was at a critical moment in the history of that Journal. Great as was its reputation it had suffered severely from the policy it had adopted in the South African War, and, like all other One Penny dailies had to face the new challenge of the Half Penny papers. It had had a succession of distinguished editors, and when Gardiner arrived from the provinces to take charge it had on its staff experienced and distinguished journalists, among them H. W. Massingham and Harold Spender.
At first it was thought that this young man from Lancashire, with so narrow a range of experience, would prove hopelessly inadequate for the twofold task of guiding a team of lions and extricating the Daily News from its embarrassments. But Gardiner had qualities unsuspected by any but a few. He was prudent, if a little, diffident, in handling talented senior staff, and did not miss opportunities of introducing new talent. He encouraged the escapades of G. K. Chesterton, who was only then beginning to be known, and brought in the most brilliant of the young hopefuls of the Liberal Party, Charles F. G. Masterman, first as literary editor, afterwards as leader writer; and subsequently he appointed J. L. Hammond, H. W. Nevinson, H. N. Brailsford, and R. C. K. Ensor as leader-writers. Under his editorship the paper continued to play its traditional part in supporting the Radical wing of the Libelal Party, and gave more attention to literature and the arts than it had ever done before.
Gardiner gave much time to writing. His knowledge of politics at the start was inconsiderable, but he felt his way, and” soon knew the situation from within. In the days before 1914 he had an unqualified admiration for Lloyd-George, but he was among those who parted company from him after 1916. He won considerable reputation by his sketches of prominent persons of the time, published in book form under the title “Prophets, Priests and Kings”; and this vein he continued to exploit. Though his interest was always in serious subjects, he could handle them in a popular way, and it was perhaps this quality which made him a suitable person to be in charge of the Daily News when it became a half-penny paper, though he was not perfectly at ease when it was amalgamated with the Morning Leader in 1911, and with new colleagues he was called upon to carry further the process of producing a paper which should address its appeal to the widest public. However, he remained editor till 1919, and continued to write for the Cadbury papers after that date, sometimes under the signature “Alpha of the Plough.” Four of the “Alpha” volumes, Pebbles on the Shore, Leaves in the Wind, Windfalls and Many Furrows all have a bucolic sound. Besides his portrait sketches of public persons he wrote a number of books, among them lives of Sir William Harcourt and George Cadbury, and a study of “John Benn and the Progressive Movement.”
Throughout his career Gardiner was always deeply interested in the welfare of the working journalist and he was the senior past president of the Institute of Journalists, a position which he filled with much distinction in 1915- 16. One of his last acts as a member of the institute was to sign a letter which was circulated to all members protesting against the proposed dissolution of the Institute and the National Union of Journalists to be followed by the creation of a single body, the National Association of Journalists. He married Ada, daughter of Peter Claydon, of Witham, and had two sons and four daughters.
Source: The Times (London, England), Monday, Mar 04,1946; pg. 6; Issue 50391.