Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
He was the third child of American-born parents, Waldorf Astor, 2nd Viscount Astor (1879-1952) and Nancy Witcher Langhorne (1879-1964). The product of an immensely wealthy business dynasty, and raised in the grandeur of a great country estate where the political and intellectual elite of the time gathered, he nevertheless had an instinctive compassion for the poor and those who were the victims of destructive socio-economic policies.
An extremely shy person, David Astor was greatly influenced by his father but as a young man he rebelled against his strong-willed mother. Educated at Eton College he went on to Oxford University where he suffered a nervous breakdown and left university in 1933 without obtaining a degree. Nonetheless, he was psycho-analyzed by Anna Freud and during World War II he served with distinction and was wounded in France.
While at Balliol College, Oxford in 1931 he met a young anti-fascist German named, Adam von Trott zu Solz who was to become the most influential figure in his life. However, Von Trott's involvement in the 1944 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler led to his execution. In 1936, he joined the Yorkshire Post newspaper where he worked for a year then joined his father's newspaper, The Observer where he would serve as editor for 27 years. With his father's advancing age, and high death taxes in England, in 1945 David Astor and his brother transferred ownership of the paper to a board of trustees. The Trust contained restrictions so that the paper could not be subject to a hostile takeover but also stipulated that its profits go towards improving the paper, promoting high journalistic standards, and required a portion of the profits to be donated to charitable causes. That same year, he married for the first time to Melanie Hauser but the marriage ended in a 1951 divorce. He married again the following year to Bridget Aphra Wreford.
By the mid 1950s, David Astor had made The Observer a very successful and influential paper that published points of view on both the right and left sides of the political spectrum. Astor’s policies were passionate about the plight of black Africans and the violation of human rights. He wrote against the death penalty and opposed any form of censorship. But, he took a more conservative view on the economic problems caused by high taxes, and believed that British trades unions had become too powerful and were hindering economic progress. He warned of the dangers of big government and of big business, influenced by his friend and employee of The Observer, George Orwell.
In 1956, David Astor and his paper came under fire when it accused Prime Minister Anthony Eden of lying to the people about important matters in Suez Crisis. Although he ultimately was shown to have been right, the situation harmed the paper’s image and its circulation began to decline. Astor's causes included playing a major role in establishing Amnesty International in 1961 after his paper published 'The Forgotten Prisoners' by Peter Benenson. He also voiced strong opposition to the apartheid policy of the white South African government and supported the African National Congress (ANC). Nelson Mandela would refer to David Astor as one of the best and most loyal of friends who had supported the ANC when other newspapers ignored them.
Despite his great wealth, David Astor lived modestly, putting his money to good use through a network of benefactions and charities. Although he proved a brilliant editor, he lacked the drive for profits like other hungry newcomers to the newspaper business who took advantage of his indifference to rapidly increase both their advertising and circulation at the expense of The Observer. When The Daily Telegraph launched a Sunday edition in 1961 it changed what had been a staid industry and the ensuing battles for advertising changed the character of how and what newspapers were all about. The aggressive marketing by the Sunday Times under Canadian newspaper tycoon Roy Thomson hurt circulation while the paper's unions were making repeated demands that drove costs to a point where the operation became unstainable as a viable business entity.
In 1975, David Astor resigned as The Observer's editor but continued as a trustee. In 1977 the paper was sold by his family to Robert O. Anderson, the American owner of the Atlantic Richfield oil company. In his retirement, Astor continued to support a number of charities and to finance pressure groups for causes that he strongly believed in. For his contributions to British society, in 1994 he was made a member of the Order of the Companions of Honour.
Children of David Astor and Melanie Hauser:
- Frances Christine Langhorne (b. 1947)
Children of David Astor and Bridget Aphra Wreford:
- Alice Margaret Frances (b. 1953)
- Richard David Langhorne (b. 1955)
- Lucy Aphra Nancy (b. 1958)
- Nancy Bridget Elizabeth (b. 1960)
- Thomas (b. 1962)
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