William Rees-Mogg, Baron Rees-Mogg (14 July 1928 – 29 December 2012) was an English journalist and public servant. He served as editor of The Times (1967–81), chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, and vice-chairman of the BBC.
Early life and education
William Rees-Mogg was born in Bristol, Gloucestershire, England in 1928 to an English Protestant father, Edmund Fletcher Rees-Mogg, and an Irish-American Roman Catholic mother, Beatrice (née Warren).
He was educated at Clifton College Preparatory School in Bristol and Charterhouse School in Godalming. He was head boy at Charterhouse and won a Brackenbury Scholarship in 1948 to read history at Balliol College, Oxford. He was President of the Oxford Union in 1951.
Rees-Mogg began his career in journalism in London at The Financial Times in 1952 becoming chief leader writer in 1955 and, in addition, assistant editor in 1957. During this period, he was Conservative candidate for the safe Labour seat of Chester-le-Street in a by-election on 27 September 1956, losing to the Labour candidate Norman Pentland by 21,287 votes, as he did in the subsequent general election by a similar margin.
He moved to The Sunday Times in 1960, later becoming its Deputy Editor from 1964 where he wrote "A Captain’s Innings", which many believe convinced Alec Douglas-Home to resign as Tory leader, making way for Edward Heath, in July 1965.
Rees-Mogg was editor of The Times from 1967 to 1981. He criticised, in a 1967 editorial entitled "Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?", the severity of the custodial sentence for Mick Jagger on a drugs offence. With colleagues he attempted a buyout of Times Group Newspapers in 1981 in order to stop its sale by the Thomson Organisation to Rupert Murdoch, but was unsuccessful. Murdoch replaced him as editor with Harold Evans. Rees-Mogg wrote a comment column for The Independent from its foundation in the autumn of 1986 until near the end of 1992, when he rejoined The Times where he remained a columnist until shortly before his death. In his Memoirs, published in 2011, he wrote of Murdoch: "Looking back, he has been an excellent proprietor for the Times, but also for Fleet Street."
Rees-Mogg was a member of the BBC's Board of Governors and chairman of the Arts Council, overseeing a major reform of the latter body which halved the number of arts organisations receiving regular funding and reduced the Council's direct activities. Having been High Sheriff of Somerset from 1978 to 1979, he was knighted on 3 November 1981. In the 1988 Birthday Honours, Rees-Mogg was announced to be made a life peer and was raised to the peerage on 8 August that year as Baron Rees-Mogg of Hinton Blewett in the County of Avon, and sat in the House of Lords as a cross-bencher. He was a member of the European Reform Forum. The University of Bath awarded him an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Laws) in 1977.
He co-authored, with James Dale Davidson, the following: The Sovereign Individual, The Great Reckoning, and Blood in the Streets.
He was chairman of The Zurich Club, "a private, international network of trustworthy and knowledgeable investors and entrepreneurs", and was a regular contributor to a subscription investment advice newsletter, The Fleet Street Letter. Writing in The Times in 2001, Rees-Mogg, who had a house in Somerset, described himself as "a country person who spends most of his time in London", and attempted to define the characteristics of a "country person". He also wrote that Tony Blair was as unpopular in rural England as Mrs Thatcher had been in Scotland. By now his liberal attitude to drugs policy had led to his being mocked as "Mogadon Man" by Private Eye.
The magazine later referred to him as "Mystic Mogg" (a pun on "Mystic Meg", a tabloid astrologer) because of the perception that his economic and political predictions were ultimately found to be inaccurate.
Rees-Mogg served as the chairman of the London publishing firm Pickering & Chatto Publishers and of NewsMax Media and wrote a weekly column for The Mail on Sunday.
In 1964 Rees-Mogg purchased Ston Easton Park near Bath, Somerset, the former home of the Hippisley family. The house had been threatened with demolition and Rees-Mogg partially restored it. He sold the house to the Smedley family in 1978.
Rees-Mogg and his wife Gillian Shakespeare Morris had five children. They included:
Hon. Emma Beatrice Rees-Mogg (born 1962), married David William Hilton Craigie, son of Major Robin Brooks, in 1990. She is a novelist under the name Emma Craigie.
Hon. Annunziata Rees-Mogg (born 25 March 1979), stood unsuccessfully as a candidate for the Conservative Party in the 2005 general election in Aberavon, and in Somerton and Frome at the 2010 election.
His son, Hon. Jacob Rees-Mogg (born 24 May 1969), was elected Conservative MP for the new constituency of North East Somerset after having stood unsuccessfully as a candidate for the Conservative Party in the 1997 and 2001 general elections (in Central Fife and The Wrekin respectively).
Rees-Mogg, a Catholic, argued that the image of an ultra-conservative papacy is false and that the Vatican must overhaul its PR machine.
He became ill just before Christmas 2012 and died on 29 December at the age of 84, of oesophageal cancer.