BOOK REVIEW / Into a potty world with Rupert unbared: Chris Horrie on William Shawcross's definitive but unexciting biography of Rupert Murdoch. 'Murdoch' - WIlliam Shawcross: Chatto & Windus, 18.99 pounds

IN 1978 Rupert Murdoch's Sun reached a daily sale of four million for the first time, overtook the Daily Mirror and became the largest selling newspaper in the English-speaking world.

In the same year William Shawcross published Sideshow, his devastating account of Henry Kissinger's secret war in Cambodia. As a piece of sustained investigative reporting the book has rarely been bettered. It deservedly made Shawcross's name as one of the country's most dogged and able journalists.

But times change, and gloomy investigative reporting is out of fashion. The standard set by the Sun in 1978 has proved the more durable. Since then, its vast profits have provided most of Murdoch's working capital for more than a decade and have financed the expansion of his empire into the United States.

The reason is simple enough: people want to be amused and entertained. And Rupert Murdoch has been happy to oblige. This has left Shawcross, and journalists like him, in an interesting position. Do they adapt to the new entertainment-led agenda, or do they ignore it and press on regardless? Must they give up all together?

This mammoth biography of Rupert Murdoch (cut from 1,200 to 700 pages at the editing stage) is not investigative. There are no revelations that would cause much trouble for its subject; at least nothing on the scale of the stink that followed the publication of Sideshow and similar work in the 1970s.

But, at the same time, Shawcross has failed to readjust to the New Age to join the entertainment-led 'Information Circus' that, according to the author, Murdoch controls as Ringmaster.

By the 'info-tainment' standards of the Murdoch press and television stations, this book must be judged a failure. There are no faked diaries or flamed up kiss'n'tell confessions, and far too few drooling descriptions of the interior decor of the Murdochs' many mansions.

Accounts of the Estonian Anna Murdoch's gorgeous frocks are thin on the ground, and no attempt was made to follow her around with a concealed camcorder in the hope that she might be attacked on live television (as on the many imitators of Murdochvision's top-rated police 'reality' show, America's Most Wanted).

Even the basics have been ignored. Shawcross has not even bothered to steal Murdoch's dustbins Sunday Times-style, in order to discover his breakfast cereal preferences. The book has pictures; but where are the telephoto shots of 'Sad Rupert' weeping at a funeral or embracing a cancer-stricken relative?

Murdoch, we are told, missed his own father's funeral. But the last rites of his good friend and financial adviser, Maxwell Newton, in 1990 might have provided a suitable substitute photo-opportunity. Newton, Shawcross reveals, was an alcoholic former brothel keeper, pimp, hardcore pornographer and condom wholesaler. He was so dedicated to the new religion of responsible hedonism and free markets that he was buried with his platinum credit card, 'just in case'.

Instead, the author has relied on the old-fashioned ploy of talking to as many people involved in the story as possible, meticulously compiling and checking facts, and then delivering them in strict chronological order. More than 500 sources are given as evidence of the author's four years of interviewing, research and writing.

New material comes mainly from Murdoch associates and, most importantly, from a series of interviews with the mogul himself. Much of this deals with Murdoch's early life, revealing, for example, that the infant publishing genius hated school and lived in a house with eucalyptus trees lining the drive.

There is much speculation on the psychological traits Murdoch may have inherited from his parents and grandparents, and repeated references to ancestral influences coming to the fore at crucial moments during his later career. Potty training and related matters certainly seem to have had an enduring influence.

The wish to honour the memory of his father Keith is given as the explanation of a rare example of sentiment coming before profit. Keith covered Gallipoli as a young reporter during the First World War. In the 1980s Murdoch paid for the production of a financially unpromising feature film about the campaign. The subject matter was so obscure to most Americans that it was apologetically sub- titled: 'From a place you've never heard of; a story you'll never forget.'

Beyond this, Shawcross paints the familiar picture of Murdoch as a colonial outsider and underdog who pitted himself the British Establishment (a group of people that appears to stretch from the Royal Family to Nupe members and primary school teachers united mainly by the fact that they do not work for Rupert Murdoch).

The Murdoch we see as a young man at Worcester College, Oxford, was already determined not to be a loser. We learn that he displayed a bust of Lenin on his mantlepiece and was blackballed from the cricket team. He lost an election for the secretaryship of the Oxford University Labour Club to Gerald Kaufman, whom Murdoch still remembers as a 'fucking greasy know-all'.

Underpinning the book is an intellectual thesis that casts Murdoch as only a bit player in a dawning Information Age where everyone from Timbuctoo to China will watch TV constantly, while interactive fibre optic cables beam messages around the world in nanoseconds.

To describe the New Order, Shawcross revives the 1960s notion of a shrinking Global Village, and uses it as a location for parts of his narrative. So when Murdoch is thinking about Sky TV he is located, according to Shawcross, in The Village. (Robert Maxwell, meanwhile, appears in a minor role as a sort of Global Village idiot.)

Shawcross's book is not the first biography of Rupert Murdoch, and it may not be the last. The tycoon's own version was ghost-written by an American journalist last year. But, according to Shawcross, Murdoch was so preoccupied with his debts that he returned his dollars 1m advance to the US publishers Random House and shelved the manuscript.

Nevertheless, unless Murdoch changes his mind and produces the info-tainment version, this book will remain the definitive account of his life.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution