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Former British Press Tycoon Cecil King Dies At Age 86

April 18, 1987 GMT

DUBLIN, Ireland (AP) _ Former British press tycoon Cecil King, chairman of the biggest publishing empire in the world in the 1960s, died at his Dublin home at the age of 86, his wife said Saturday.

Dame Ruth Railton said her husband died Friday after a long illness, the nature of which was not disclosed.

Born into one of Britain’s great newspaper families, King built the International Publishing Corporation into a vast media conglomerate before he was fired in 1968 after trying to oust Labor Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

King had shocked Britain three weeks earlier with a front-page demand for Wilson’s resignation in his flagship paper, The Daily Mirror, then the country’s best-selling daily with 5 million circulation.

″I’ve always been interested in political power,″ King told reporters after his pro-Labor paper turned on Wilson.

The company’s directors said King was devoting too much time to politics and not enough to International Publishing, which in 1968 controlled more than 250 newspapers and magazines, 20 printing establishments and had interests in newsprint, television and book publishing.

King described his dismissal as ″a conspiracy of a particularly squalid kind.″

He later denied allegations he was planning a military coup against Wilson because he believed Britain was heading for economic catastrophe. He admitted, however, that he held talks with Lord Mountbatten, the World War II commander and cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, on the need for a temporary head of a new administration.

Cecil Harmsworth King was born Feb. 20, 1901 and was the nephew of Lord Northcliffe, the creator of the tabloid Daily Mail and pioneer of popular journalism in Britain. The only portrait in King’s office was of Northcliffe.

In a partial biography, ″Strictly Personal,″ published in 1969, King made scathing comments about his father, Sir Lucas King, a professor of Oriental languages at Trinity College in Dublin, and his mother, Geraldine Hamilton, who was Northcliffe’s sister.

″Looking back on my life, I feel as if I were an orphan brought up by step-parents, a stepfather who was completely null and a stepmother who was loveless, capricious and occasionally cruel,″ he wrote.

He was miserable at school and wrote that the happiest day of his life was the day he went to Oxford, because he could at last be alone.

After graduating with a history degree, King started his career in journalism on the Daily Record in Scotland. He moved to London and joined the Daily Mirror as an advertising manager.

In 1929, King was made a director of the Daily Mirror, which he built into the largest circulation paper on Fleet Street, London’s newspaper row. In 1951, he was named chairman of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Pictorial and served as chairman of International from 1963-68.

Explaining his success, King said he had good judgment and a wider general knowledge and greater gift of foresight than anyone he knew.

Lord Cudlipp, who succeeded King as International chairman in 1968, said Saturday that his longtime friend remained an enigma - a loner who was shy but also ″ambitious and utterly ruthless in the pursuit of a course of action he considered right.″

″The thickness of Cecil King’s armor was due to his wide knowledge, his confidence in his own judgment, and his sincerity,″ Cudlipp said. ″It was King, and King alone, who largely transformed the popular Daily Mirror group into the keystone of what became in his time as chairman, the biggest publishing empire in the world.″

After leaving International, King lectured and wrote articles for The Times and the Financial Times and several books, including ″The Cecil King Diary.″

In 1974, he moved from London to Dublin with Dame Ruth, his second wife. He is also survived by a son and daughter from his first marriage.

A funeral service will be held at Dublin Cathedral on Tuesday and King will be buried Wednesday.