DAILY MAIL's COUNTRY EDITOR for 50 YEARS
Percy Izzard, my grandfather, was the first regular agricultural and horticultural correspondent in the popular press, and the Daily Mail’s country editor for 50 years. Much to his annoyance, he was compulsorily retired from that post aged 82.
He was born a true cockney in 1877, within the sound of Bow Bells. At school he regularly won prizes for English, and went on to read that subject at King’s College, London. Part way through the degree course his father died, and, as the eldest son, he had to go out to work, to support his mother. He joined the Daily Express, as little more than a newspaper reporter’s errand boy, and moved to the Daily Mail in 1909. In 1910 he covered the funeral of Edward VII, as well as the journey afterwards of the coffin from London to Windsor.
It is not now known in the family how his life and interests changed so dramatically from town to country, as he became known for his daily nature column in the Daily Mail. Forming a valuable bit of escapism, the short daily sketches are mostly impressionist, depicting the march of the seasons in the Eastern Counties of England. The pieces were later adapted and edited to become “Homeland: A Year of Country Days”, with some of the line illustrations contributed by my grandmother Florence.
In the preface, he set out the structure for his year of inspirational short pieces about country life. These were made especially poignant or valuable as his work was read not only by “war-workers … men and women of country heart who are pent now for England’s sake in the reek of great towns” isolated from the countryside, but also “amid the cruel distractions of war” by troops in the trenches who obtained a Daily Mail from friends and families. Based on letters received from soldiers, he realised that his daily entries provided to “soldier lads in France and Flanders, in rough notes pencilled on the battlefields … glimpses of the Homeland for which they long and fight.”
Percy Izzard in his garden in the 1930s
In 1925 he was the first journalist admitted to Sandringham after the death of Queen Alexandra. At some time in the 1920s he moved to a house and garden created specifically as a showpiece for his horticultural work and the Daily Mail. People regularly visited, to admire the design. He published “Daily Mail Garden Plans” in 1929 and “Breeds of British Poultry” in 1933. He was a member of the Linnean Society, a learned society dedicated to the study and dissemination of information concerning natural history, and was on the Council of the Royal Bath and West of England Society, an agricultural charity. A recognised expert on roses, he had a hybrid tea rose named for him, as did my grandmother. On the back of his reputation, a carnation was named for my mother. He spent a lot of time travelling round England judging at flower shows, and was in constant demand as a reviewer of books.
Part of the garden in the 1950s
Evelyn Waugh published “Scoop” in 1938. Although he never admitted his sources, it is noteworthy that the novel tells the tale of two reporters, one on gardens and the other a foreign correspondent, both on the same paper and with the same name. Waugh worked on the Daily Mail in the 1930s, and Percy’s son Ralph, my uncle, was that paper’s correspondent in Berlin at the time.
In 1940 he wrote “Grow it Yourself: Daily Mail Practical Instruction Book on Food from the Garden in War-Time”. He was very active in the Dig for Victory campaign, and for his wartime work was made an OBE.
Member, Berkshire Gardens Trust