Harold Wincott

by Tony Major

The Wincott Foundation was set up in memory of Harold Wincott, a financial journalist whose contributions to the Investors Chronicle and the Financial Times during the 1950s and 1960s were read with huge admiration and enjoyment by investors, policy-makers and business people. He died in March, 1969, at the premature age of 62, and the Wincott Foundation was set up, through private subscription among his friends, readers and admirers, later that year. Its purpose was, and is, to support excellence in financial journalism and to promote a better public understanding of financial and economic issues.

Harold Wincott’s distinctive contribution to financial journalism was described some years after his death by Lord Harris of High Cross, who was chairman of the Wincott Foundation from 1969 to 1995:

“Everything Harold Wincott wrote was grounded in a sure grasp and shrewd assessment of financial and economic affairs. He once described his painstaking fact-finding and analysis to be “something like a squirrel gathering nuts for winter”, never knowing when he would need to draw on the store. But that was only a beginning, to which he added luminous, yet unpretentious prose enlivened by a humorous turn rare in exposition of the dismal science. Above all, he was remarkable for the powerful combination of courage and independence in the service of unswerving convictions. Thus did he come to trumpet, in and out of season, unfashionably ahead of his time, the moral and material benefits of dispersed initiatives in competitive markets – what he called “liberal capitalism” – as an essential buttress of the free society.”

The following is a slightly abridged version of the obituary written by Sir Gordon Newton, editor of the Financial Times, which was published in the Financial Times on March 7, 1969.

“Like so many others, Harold Wincott entered journalism almost by accident. Born in Highbury in 1906, he was educated at Hornsey County School, where he met and became a lifelong friend of Wilfred King, later editor of The Banker. Harold went into insurance and from there became a statistician in a firm of stockbrokers. Wilfred King, who was then on the staff of the old Financial News, told Harold in 1930 that a job was available on the sub-editors’ table. Harold applied for it and was engaged, and thus entered the profession he was never to leave. He quickly became Deputy Chief Sub-editor and then the Chief, caught the eye of the late Lord Bracken, and was made editor of the Investors Chronicle, part of the old Financial News group, in 1938.It was about this time that Harold started to write. He was not a born journalist in the sense that words came easily from his pen. But he wanted to write and his articles under the pen name of Candidus appeared each week in the Investors Chronicle for many years. He also wrote the Lex column in the Financial News, and when that paper merged with the Financial Times at the end of the war, he continued to write that column for the first two to three years of the new paper’s life.

It was in 1950 that I asked Harold if he would write a weekly article for the paper on any subject he liked to choose. Harold was very diffident about accepting. At that time he was rather a shy man – for that matter he never did like publicity – and in any case was busy editing the magazine. However, he was persuaded to try. Harold would be the first to admit that the first six months were not an outstanding success. Writing under one’s own name for the first time can prove difficult and Harold found it so. But as his confidence increased, so his style flowed more easily, so his views became more definite, so his personality started to emerge.

He continued until 1959 to edit the Investors Chronicle, to write a weekly article for that magazine (under his own name from 1957) and to write his weekly article for the Financial Times. It was too much, and he gave up the active editorship of the Investors Chronicle and became its adviser under the title Editor-in-Chief.

Harold wrote these weekly articles, without interruption, apart from holidays, for about 18 years. As his fame increased – he was awarded the CBE in 1963 – he was asked to visit many countries – he was a very witty after-dinner speaker – and attend conferences. He did all this with the same vigour as he did everything.

What made Harold such a great journalist, to many people a peer without equal in his own field? There can never be any one answer to this. He was a kind man. He was a completely honest man. He felt things deeply. He never wrote a word in which he did not believe. And, given these qualities, his writing came as it were from the heart, so that even those who disagreed with his views found him compulsive reading and respected him. His career is an illustration of how sincerity exerts its own influence”.

A volume containing a selection of Harold Wincott’s articles was published in 1968 by the Institute of Economic Affairs under the title “The Business of Capitalism: a selection of unconventional essays on economic problems of the 1960s”, with a foreword by Lord Robbins. The contents of this book can be found here.