1870 - 1943 | VIC | Editor
Grover was the foundation editor of The Sun News-Pictorial, Australia’s first pictorial newspaper, which enjoyed immediate success in 1922 and became the nation’s top-selling daily. Grover, more than any other individual, brought popular tabloid journalism to Australia after being impressed by the Northcliffian revolution in London in the 1890s when advertisements were thrown off the front page in favour of bold headlines, big pictures and crisply-written stories. Grover was also a playwright, biographer, mentor and a teetotalling raconteur who mentored some of Australia’s finest newspaper people. For many years, the Herald and Weekly Times named its annual cadet journalist prize after him.
Monty Grover was a true pioneer of Australian journalism – a brilliant, provocative and colourful editor but above all, a wonderful storyteller.
Monty inspired a generation of writers, artists and photographers by revolutionising the way newspapers connected with their readers. He understood that telling a great story meant more than just great words, and that design, photographs, sketches and cartoons injected life into his pages.
Monty was the first Australian editor to appreciate that news presentation was pivotal in attracting readers. His innovative streak delivered his biggest break after years working on everything from The Argus, The Sun, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, a radical weekly, The World, and a Labor paper, Boomerang.
In 1923, at the age of 52, Monty was appointed founding editor of The Sun News Pictorial, Australia’s first pictorial daily newspaper. The newspaper’s immediate success was largely attributed to Monty’s exceptional ability to maximise popular journalism’s mass appeal.
Monty was a journalist before his time, a master of capturing changes in social attitudes. He challenged the strict moral codes of his era, even running prominent photographs of beach beauties long before anyone thought of page 3 girls. He also introduced crosswords and coloured comics to his newspapers, and his idea to give one character red hair gave birth to Ginger Meggs.
Montague Macgregor Grover was born and grew up in Melbourne. He was the son of an old Etonian, Henry Grover, and his wife, Jessie, contributor to Melbourne Punch. He began his schooling at Melbourne Grammar School and went on to Queen’s College St Kilda, after which he attended art classes and later worked as a draftsman with a firm of architects.
But his love of words and spinning yarns eventually led him to a career in journalism. He secured a job at The Age, where he acquired basic skills in news gathering, before joining The Argus.
Monty’s passion for the craft of journalism was evident throughout his celebrated memoirs, Hold Page One, written by grandson Michael Cannon. He likened reporting to “the most fascinating form of big-game hunting known to man – the hunt for news”.
Monty’s theory was that the news hunter must have two qualifications: “He must be a born hunter, hunting primarily for the joy of the chase itself, and he must know his quarry when he sees it”.
Little has changed, and if Monty were alive today, he would undoubtedly be a pioneering force in the digital age, always seeking new ways of staying ahead of the pack.
His memoirs gave a wonderful insight into Australian life in the early 20th century, especially the newspaper industry. A distinctive tone of larrikinism and humour was evident throughout his writings, but most evident was his passion for telling great stories. He took aim at criminals and ruffians, civil servants and crooked cops, newspaper frauds and charlatans (“for a shilling a reporter will keep your name out of the paper if charged with anything short of murder ... and for two shillings and sixpence will publish a write-up of your shop, or invention, or social evening for which the proprietor would charge at least 12 pounds”).
But he saved his best for politicians: “Many people imagine it is drink or evil companionship that leads people to become MPs. This is wrong. People become politicians, as they become criminals, mostly through vanity. The connection between ordinary crime and the less interesting sort called politics is a very close one”.
One of Monty’s career highlights was representing the Sydney Sun in London in 1920, and from there he built a reputation which impressed proprietor Hugh Denison.
Denison decided on a foray into the Melbourne market, and in 1922 appointed Monty to launch The Evening Sun in direct competition with The Herald. Monty also persuaded Denison to launch a morning tabloid, The Sun News Pictorial, an adventurous but risky move.
Both papers were recognised as having great appeal, but competition was fierce and the business model faltered. Profits were elusive, and Denison cut his losses by shutting the Evening Sun and selling The Sun News Pictorial to the Herald and Weekly Times Pty Limited.
Monty’s time at The Sun News Pictorial was over, so he left on a world tour. On his return, he became Herald magazine editor but by 1930 decided to leave newspapers. He remained a vibrant and sparkling writer and devoted his time to comic verse, stage plays and in 1937 a popular treatise, The Time Is Now Ripe, which caused a sensation by calling for an overhaul of the faltering Australian economy.
From his two marriages, Monty had seven children, among whom three were journalists. He lived out his final years in South Yarra, where he died at 73.
Even a century after his prime, the legacy of Monty Grover lives on as an inspiration for many of today’s leading journalists.
Peter Blunden is the Victorian Managing Director, Editorial, News Corp Australia, where he has worked since 1975, including 11 years as editor of The Herald Sun and five years as Managing Director of the Herald and Weekly Times.
A young Monty Grover
The Sun News-Pictorial, March 22, 1923
The Sun News-Pictorial, 11 September 1922
'Grover, Montague MacGregor (Monty) (1870–1943)', Sally O'NeillAustralian Dictionary of Biography, MUP, 1983.
Hold Page One: Memoirs of Monty Grover, Michael Cannon (Ed.), Loch Haven Books, 1983.