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Oct 2003 Journal

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Breaking into a Mail preserve

Like all newspaper publishers, Jewish ones are a disparate bunch. Some, for example Josef Pulitzer (of Pulitzer Prize fame), were on the side of the angels - others, like Robert Maxwell, in the opposite camp. Where exactly does Richard Desmond fit in? He left school at the age of 14 without any qualifications, went into music journalism at the time of the 'pop explosion', and became a mini-tycoon in his late twenties. Having diversified into vastly profitable soft-porn publishing, he had the inspired idea of launching OK as a home-grown rival to the best-selling Spanish-based celebrity magazine Hello. The next step in his dizzying career was the acquisition of the Express group of newspapers.

Lord Beaverbrook, founder of the mass-circulation Express, had been a power in the land, both as a super-rich media boss and a cunning political manipulator. However, since his passing from the scene the paper's readership had shrunk steadily to below a million. Desmond cut jobs, boosted the advertising budget, returned the Express to profitability, and even marginally increased its circulation.

He was recently profiled on TV, an exposure from which he emerged as a man of glaring contradictions: a profit-chasing Labour supporter and owner of a porn TV channel, who engages in lots of charitable work and lavished great care on his sons' barmitzvahs.

The impression created by all this must have left viewers feeling distinctly queasy. However, by comparison with the arch-Machiavellian, power-obsessed press barons of the past - Northcliffe, Rothermere, Beaverbrook - Desmond comes across as an innocent abroad. Moreover, by staunching the haemorrhaging of the Express's readership, he denied Lord Rothermere's Daily Mail - which once sponsored Oswald Mosley and is still dangerously populist - hegemony over the large middle ground between the quality papers and the tabloids.
Richard Grunberger

previous article:Butchers, beauties and bigots (editorial)
next article:End of an era at Eleanor Rathbone House