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Herbert Bruce Rothwell (1923–1984)

by Victor Isaacs and Denis Cryle

This article was published:

Herbert Bruce Rothwell (1923-1984), journalist, was born on 11 July 1923 at Richmond, Melbourne, son of Herbert Henry Asher Rothwell, a Victorian-born newspaper proprietor, and his wife Ivy Jewel, née Roberts, from Western Australia.  After leaving school Bruce worked as a general-duties reporter for the Sun News-Pictorial.  On 6 January 1942 he enlisted in the Citizen Military Forces and trained with the Australian Army Medical Corps.  Discharged on 22 July 1943, and employed by the Department of Information, he attended classes in the diploma of journalism course at the University of Melbourne in 1944.  He was a war correspondent for the Age in 1945, covering the Allied forces in the South Pacific.

In 1948 Rothwell was a reporter for London newspapers, sending dispatches from South-East Asia and, later, from the Middle East, the Balkans, Germany and Central Europe.  First employed by the mass circulation Daily Express, he transferred to the News Chronicle and spent six years in Berlin.  He was the paper’s first correspondent in New York, covering the United States of America, Central and South America and the United Nations.  When the News Chronicle was absorbed into the Daily Mail in 1960, he moved to that paper, becoming its New York correspondent and associate-editor.  In December 1966 he was appointed its deputy-editor in London.

Rothwell returned to Australia in 1971 as inaugural editor of Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Australian.  From the outset, rivalry between Rothwell and Adrian Deamer, the editor of the weekday Australian, factionalised the staff and deprived the weekday paper of advertising and resources.  Rothwell recast the Sunday Australian in the mould of the Daily Mail.  Despite the Australian’s improved readership, Murdoch was unhappy with its direction.  In July 1971 he dismissed Deamer and appointed Rothwell as editor of both the weekday and Sunday editions.  Soon after, Rothwell shifted to London as bureau chief for Murdoch’s News Ltd.  With the purchase by Murdoch of the Sydney Telegraph in June 1972, the Sunday Australian was merged with the Sunday Telegraph.  Rothwell returned to Australia in June 1975 as editor-in-chief of the Australian, charged with fostering a right-wing political stance.  He was a demanding editor, belligerent and interventionist towards staff, triggering industrial unrest and protests in December 1975 over the newspaper’s strident editorial opposition to the dismissed Australian Labor Party government and its strong support for the conservative coalition.

Following Murdoch’s acquisition in 1976 of the New York Post, Rothwell moved there as assistant to the publisher; in 1980 he became editorial manager.  As with the Australian, he adopted a distinctly conservative tone.  Nonetheless, he was respected for his impressive knowledge of international affairs and for his ready access to major political figures.  Survived by his Czech wife, Anna, and their son Nicolas, a journalist, he died apparently of a heart attack on 16 October 1984 in New York.  He was buried in the churchyard cemetery of his adopted home village of Tollard Royal, Wiltshire, England.  At a memorial service in the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest, New York, attended by many American political dignitaries, Murdoch described him as 'a perfectionist who was irritated by other people’s imperfections . . . he was everywhere at once, harrying, encouraging, reproving . . . Every angle was examined and every possible way to make a point was pursued'.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Cryle, Murdoch’s Flagship, 2008
  • Australian, 18 October 1984, p 13
  • Australian, 3 November 1984, p 16
  • Times (London), 18 October 1984, p 16
  • B884, item V205612 (National Archives of Australia)

Citation details

Victor Isaacs and Denis Cryle, 'Rothwell, Herbert Bruce (1923–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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