MAY, SIR KENNETH SPENCER (1914–2000)
Ken May was the reporter Rupert Murdoch relied on to help him build his company and to run his Australian operation. He ran News Limited for 11 years and had a 70-year association with the company.
May joined the Adelaide News as a 15-yearold copy boy. Proficiency in shorthand, which he learnt in the evenings at the South Australian School of Mines, led to him being awarded a cadetship. He was later moved to Broken Hill, where he worked as chief reporter and sports editor at the Barrier Miner until the beginning of World War II, before enlisting and serving in the Middle East and later as an army public relations officer in New Guinea.
After the war, he returned to Adelaide as chief political reporter on the News. In 1959, Murdoch asked May to be his personal assistant and made him assistant manager.
May was appointed general manager of the News in 1964 and five years later, when Murdoch purchased the London News of the World, he became chief executive in Australia, a job he held until 1980. He was chairman at Nationwide News and Mirror Newspapers, where the reporters called him ‘Chairman May’, a reference to the Chinese supreme leader, Chairman Mao. Murdoch claimed he demonstrated ‘fearless leadership’ and that his style influenced a generation of executives. He was certainly the most loyal of Murdoch’s company men.
May never lost an interest in political journalism, and noted at the end of his career that he had covered, or supervised the coverage of, every federal election since 1946. He was running the Australian business when the Murdoch press embraced, and then hounded, Whitlam Labor in its editorial pages in the 1970s. He was regularly seen in the newsroom of News Limited’s headquarters in Sydney, but denied that he intervened in editorial matters.
He served on the board of Murdoch’s global company News Corporation and was at Murdoch’s side when he made his first takeover bid for the Herald and Weekly Times (HWT) in 1979. He retired to Adelaide the following year and accepted a seat on the board of the mining conglomerate Santos. After Murdoch succeeded in his second bid for the HWT in 1987, May was appointed chairman of the Adelaide Advertiser, which had been acquired with the HWT assets, and which had been the News’s arch-rival. May was knighted in 1980.
REFs: Australian, 15 November 1980 and 24 May 2000.