Muckraker: The Scandalous Life and Times of W T Stead by W Sydney Robinson - review by Toby Thomas

Toby Thomas

Prurient Puritan

Muckraker: The Scandalous Life and Times of W T Stead


Robson Press 281pp £20

When W T Stead drowned on the Titanic, Lord Northcliffe paid tribute to the ‘great revolution which he effected in journalism’. If Northcliffe – founder of the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror – established the financial model of the tabloid press, Stead forged its moral tone. His sensationalist reports were fired by religious indignation. They etched the fear of paedophilia deep into the public imagination. He hoped to replace parliamentary democracy with ‘Government by Journalism’ and his campaigns were instrumental in increasing the age of consent, in sending General Gordon to Khartoum, and in detonating the sex scandals that destroyed the careers of two Victorian political heavyweights, Sir Charles Dilke and Charles Stewart Parnell. The interview and roaring 24-point headlines were both journalistic innovations of his.

And yet he is unknown to posterity; his absence from James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster went unnoticed. With the Leveson Inquiry and the Titanic centenary, W Sydney Robinson’s racy biography is well timed. Perhaps it will at last see Stead receive the recognition he deserves.

Born in 1849, Stead grew up in

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