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Horatio William Bottomley (23 March 1860 – 26 May 1933) was a British financier, swindler, journalist, newspaper proprietor, populist politician and Member of Parliament (MP).
In 1888, he founded the Financial Times and was its first Chairman as a means of puffing his projects. In 1908 he was charged with conspiracy to defraud but the chaos of his record systems produced a hung jury and instead he was forced into bankruptcy in 1912, forcing him out of Parliament. (He entered the Parliament as the Liberal MP for Hackney South in 1906, was re-elected in 1910, and thrown out for bankruptcy in 1912.)
In 1906 he established the patriotic journal John Bull. John Bull was originally strongly anti-Serbian but by 15 August 1914 Bottomley had reversed its position and supported the war effort. Bottomley argued that Germany "must be wiped off the map of Europe", with her colonies and navy divided between Britain and France. He also attacked the Kaiser and Germans (called "Germhuns") generally and those living in Britain: "As I have said elsewhere you cannot naturalize an unnatural beast—a human abortion—a hellish fiend. But you can exterminate it".
Bottomley advocated the confiscation of all German property, the internment of all Germans and the requirement of naturalized Germans to wear a distinctive badge. Bottomley also campaigned to get the Kaiser's banner removed from St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Bottomley also strongly attacked that section of the Labour Party which opposed the war, and argued that Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald should be court-martialled for high treason. MacDonald responded to these attacks by claiming Bottomley to be of "doubtful parentage, who had lived all his life on the threshold of jail". Bottomley retaliated by producing a facsimile of MacDonald's birth certificate which showed he was illegitimate.
Although it is illegal for servicemen to send complaints to the press, Bottomley set up a column in John Bull where servicemen were encouraged to send an account of their grievances, upon which a company which advertised in the paper would send a parcel to them. The government thought about prosecuting Bottomley for this but they did not bring proceedings against him because they saw the usefulness of such a "safety valve". Within six months of the Great War one serious journalist wrote that "next to Kitchener the most influential man today is Mr. Horatio Bottomley".
In 1915 Bottomley wrote articles for the Sunday Pictorial, with their success making him "the most famous journalist in Britain" through a mixture of "down-to-earth religiosity, patriotism and Radicalism".
Bottomley created the "John Bull Victory Bond Club" (a forerunner of Premium Bonds), purportedly as a mechanism for small savers to lend money to the Government, receiving prizes rather than interest; again a combination of fraud and mismanagement sank the scheme in 1921. He was charged with fraud, perjury and false accounting. In 1922, Bottomley was convicted of fraudulent conversion of shareholders' funds, sentenced to seven years jail and expelled from Parliament.
He was released from gaol in 1927 and, after parading himself around seedy music-halls in a mawkish one-man show, died in penury on 26 May 1933.
But he was irredeemably, utterly, psychotically corrupt. He built a string of other businesses on nothing more than fresh air: but there were always useful and distinguished idiots on the board, so he could tell the shareholders' meeting: "I would love to pay you a dividend, but my directors won't let me."
Matthew Engel in The Guardian, Tuesday 30 November 1999
Bottomley's resemblance to contemporary King Edward VII could lead to salacious supposition about Prince Albert, at least as far as Toobworld is concerned....
Horatio Bottomley died on this date 78 years ago today.