MONDAY 20  MAY 2024




From the notebook of the Daily Express founder and first Editor Sir Arthur Pearson who gave up the newspaper he loved because he went blind.

The Daily Express has always been associated with the name of  Beaverbrook, but it is little known fact that the paper was in fact founded by Sir Arthur Pearson.

Pearson, pictured, created the Express in 1900 but he went blind and in 1916 he was forced to sell his beloved paper to Sir Max Aitken, who later became Lord Beaverbrook. In spite of warnings to rest his sight, Pearson insisted on reading copy on his late train home from Waterloo in the 1900s. Carriages were dimly lit but he attached a light bulb to his buttonhole that lit up at the end of two wires attached to a box inside his jacket.

He borrowed £3,000 from a former tennis partner to fund Pearson’s Weekly, forerunner of the Daily Express. Pearson then persuaded an insurance company to offer a free £1,000 life policy for readers. First sale was a quarter of a million copies.

Pearson always walked from London’s Waterloo Station to his office to sample real life and discover at least two subjects on the way for articles that would inspire readers. He died on 9 December 1921 when he drowned in his bath after knocking himself unconscious in a fall.


WHEN Pearson, pictured, bought the Evening Standard in 1904 he transferred the offices of the Daily Express from Tudor Street to a building opposite the Standard offices in Shoe Lane, then he had a bridge built across the road so that he could walk between his two newspapers from his private office in each building.       


During the first great flu epidemic, Pearson met a leading chemist on a train who told him that eucalyptus killed the virus. When he got to his office, he sent staff all over London to buy up supplies of the oil, then sprayed it over every copy of Pearson's Magazine coming off the presses. The bookstalls stank of it and people went about for weeks with the edition pinned to their clothes. The magazine was a sell-out.  


After purchasing the Standard, Pearson visited its offices in search of the editor. He went to every floor, and no one had ever heard of him. Finally in the Composing Room, he came across the Head Printer reading a pile of manuscripts. In front of him were two baskets, one labelled ‘Copy’ and the other ‘Muck’. His chosen copy went in the paper and muck didn’t. Shocked, Pearson hired a real editor.


One of Pearson’s first jobs in journalism in the late 1800s was as a commissioning sub-editor on Titbits. One day he accepted a badly hand-written manuscript headlined ‘Some Curious Butterflies’ for publication by a young man desperate to see his words in print. It was Alfred Harmsworth, who later became Lord Northcliffe.


When Pearson, pictured, lost his Express empire in1912 after total blindness, he said: “We who are blind cannot see the glory of the sunrise; the splendour of the sunlit days; nor the pageant of the sunset.

“Neither can we see the tender beauties of moonlit night, nor the brightness of the stars; the hills, the woods and the fields, the sea. The winding course of the rivers are hidden from us. We cannot see the buildings of our cities, nor our homes, nor the movements of life, or the faces of our dear ones.

“There is so much that we cannot see. But there is one thing that we will not see if we can help it, and that is the gloomy side of life."      

“That is my gospel of St Dunstan’s, a place for the blind to see a future.”

Pearson spent many of his last days living in caravans so that he could be near the woods, trees and hills he so dearly loved since he was a boy and could see.


As a young lad Pearson sold his stories on the wildlife around his home to newspapers for pocket money. They were headlined: The Swallow; Funny Trees; Spiders; Snails and Animals. He couldn’t wait to be with them.


By 1881, Pearson, 18, was so obsessed with getting into publishing he entered a Titbits magazine competition offering ‘A Situation in the Offices’ of the publication at a salary of £100 a year. Entrants had to answer 10 questions in each of the next 13 issues. Pearson cycled to and from Bradford Library, 30 miles from his home three times a week for a year, researching the answers. He was an easy winner, getting only three questions wrong.  He became office manager  and so the story of his empire begins.


Pearson was obsessive on saving time so that he could concentrate on ideas for his newspapers. He said: “I save myself in every possible way. I figure that I save several hours out of each year by signing only my initials on the great number of business letters I dictate and not writing my signature in full. My time is spent better reading.”


Pearson was said to be abrupt when he spoke but with a heart of gold, insisted on welcoming new arrivals to his home for the blind when he was totally blind himself. One new guest said: “I was invited to his office full of cigar smoke and he told me at the end of our meeting: ‘Being blind is not pleasant at first, but that can’t be helped. What you’ve got to do is to call it a beastly nuisance, and then carry on and forget about it. I hope you'll be happy here. Let me find the door for you. Detestable things, half-open doors, aren’t they? The only way to learn how not to bump into them is to do it once or twice, good and hard. There, now you’re six paces from the stairs and the rail is on your right. Mind the twist halfway down. All right? Good night.’ The door closed behind the guest. 


"Here down please ... thank you most kindly."