Sir Gomer Berry (Bart)

Gomer-Berry.png
Sir Gomer Berry (Bart) in 1938 © National Portrait Gallery, London[1]
James Gomer Berry, 49, (1883-1968), one of the Welsh-born Berry brothers, was a major newspaper owner whose stable included the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Times. He later became the first Viscount Kemsley. All the Berry brothers feature on the Daily Herald’s spiders’ web of the industrial/media network of South Wales, along with Lady Rhondda and Tom Callaghan and William Lysaght. More formal (see photo) and less business savvy than his brother, he also backed the wrong horse in favouring appeasement, meeting Hitler at the 1936 Olympics on behalf of Chamberlain. During the war he switched to support Churchill, and being rewarded with a viscountcy as a result. He retired in 1959. His second wife Lady Berry, who proved a shrewd business adviser to him, accompanied him at the dinner.[2] [3]

SEATED BESIDE

Possibly beside his wife, who we know was seated beside Sir Norman Angell.

WHAT’S ON HIS MIND? 

He may have been less disturbed than others about the unfolding events in Berlin as Hitler seized power.

GOMER’S STORY SO FAR

James Gomer Berry was born on 7th May 1883 at 11 Church Street, Merthyr Tydfil, the youngest of the three sons of Mary Ann Berry née Rowe, 1847-1922, daughter of Thomas Rowe, of Pembroke Dock, and John Mathias Berry, born in Camrose Pembs, 1847-1917, estate agent and Liberal alderman. Gomer was educated at Abermorlais School and was one of the first pupils to enter Merthyr Tydfil county intermediate grammar school. Like his brother William (later Lord Camrose) Gomer left school at fourteen to work on the Merthyr Tydfil Times, though local historians suggested he actually worked as a draper – perhaps both? He followed his brother to London, where William set up his own paper Advertising World. Gomer focused on sales and selling advertising space. The Berry family was closely linked with Lady Rhondda through their industrial and media businesses in South Wales, especially through William and Gomer’s elder brother Henry Seymour Berry.

In 1907 Gomer Berry married Mary Lilian Holmes, (1895-1928) daughter of Edinburgh born Mary Johnston Holmes née Macgregor (1855-1925) and Horace George Holmes (1855-1943) of Brondesbury Park, London. They had one daughter and six sons. Mary died on 1st February 1928 a week after Gomer became a baronet.[4] Following her wishes he donated £50,000 to equip a maternity unit at the Infants’ Hospital, Vincent Square, Westminster, where he was chairman.

Together William and Gomer steadily built up their business, adding directories such as Kelly’s and investing in the new film industry. Lady Rhondda was later to describe them in Time & Tide as “scarcely individuals. They are a family organism”.[5] From 1915 they turned around the Sunday Times, and in 1919 obtained control of the Financial Times. In 1924 they founded Allied Newspapers, controlled by them and Sir E. M. Iliffe, the vehicle for more acquisitions (including paper mills). In 1927 the purchase of the Daily Telegraph was the key acquisition—a top rank serious London daily.

The unfolding events in Berlin were going to see the Berry brothers take a differing line on how to deal with Hitler, Lord Camrose being more bellicose whilst Gomer favouring appeasement.

WHAT GOMER DID NEXT

Having become a baronet in 1928, two years after the dinner, in 1936, Gomer was elevated to the House of Lords as Lord Kelmsley. Politically he continued to back Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement strategy whilst his brother William moved the Daily Telegraph into a virtually hostile position. In 1936, while at the Berlin Olympics, Gomer attended meetings with Hitler on the encouragement of Neville Chamberlain, and later visited Hitler in 1939.[6]

The brothers’ political divergence was made easier to manage in 1937 when their conglomerate Allied Newspapers was dissolved into separate businesses (largely to manage family inheritance issues). Gomer became chairman of the successor company Kelmsley Newspapers, still the largest newspaper business in Britain. He would have left the Sunday Times in his brother’s hands if his second wife hadn’t intervened (see Lady Berry). Having backed the wrong horse pre-war, he nonetheless switched to support Churchill, earning a viscountcy in the 1945 dissolution honours.

Post war he continued to run his newspaper empire until 1959, staunchly anti-Labour, rather formal in style, and not quite as business-savvy as his brother William, and missing out on the television opportunities of the time.

He retired, with his wife, from their London home, Chandos House, to Dropmore, Buckinghamshire. Gomer died in Monte Carlo, on 6th February 1968.[7]

BACK TO TOP TABLE


[1] James Gomer Berry, 1st Viscount Kemsley by Bassano Ltd, whole-plate film negative, 7 December 1938, PG x81336, © National Portrait Gallery, London Gomer, Berry, 1st Lord Kemsley

[2] Gomer, Berry, 1st Lord Kemsley Wikipedia

[3] James Gomer Berry, 1st Viscount Kemsley, Dictionary of Welsh Biography, Dr Mary Auronwy James, Aberystwyth, 2001; accessed 23.12.2017

[4] Gomer Berry, Cynonculture website, accessed 30.3.2018 http://cynonculture.co.uk/wordpress/gomer-berry-lord-kemsley-1883-1968/

[5] Angela V. John (2013), Turning the Tide, Cardigan, Parthian p255

[6] Obituary, Lady Foley, The Telegraph, 24.5.2000, accessed online 13.1.2018. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1366806/Lady-Foley.html

[7] Adrian Smith, Berry, (James) Gomer, first Viscount Kemsley, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, updated 4.10.2008

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