Dear Andrew Lloyd Webber
The homes of Middle England already hum to your tunes; must you invade them through newspapers, too?
Monday 13 November 1995
You have amassed your reputedly vast wealth - pounds 381m was one figure quoted and that is almost certainly too low - not just by writing jolly good tunes, but by having your finger or perhaps your ear to the pulse of middle England. You know what it yearns for and the strange scenarios it finds entertaining. Middle England will flock by the coach-load to see hideously disfigured chaps yearning for the love of a beautiful girl, or biblical chaps in brightly coloured raiment, or Mary Magdalene sobbing out her love for Jesus. They'll watch cats and skating and dictators, but not butlers ... bit close to the snobbery nerve, perhaps? Anyway, apart from the failure of Jeeves you've sussed out middle England's likes and dislikes to a tee.
This instinct for what people respond to is a rare talent and an invaluable quality in a newspaper proprietor. For it is a paradox of successful ownership that a good media magnate knows his mind but keeps his hands off. He is more likely to see his profit curve soar by being sure about what he stands for and - equally important - what he won't stand for, than by running his empire like a business, according to the rules of accountancy and the bottom line. Anybody half-way diligent and numerate can do that: except that most of them seem to fail.
Do not think that getting newspapers on to the nation's breakfast tables will be as easy as getting its bums on your theatre seats. If you succeed in taking over the Expresses, you will find yourself contemplating a long line of broken newspaper dreams. You may remember Hugh Cudlipp's pre-Murdoch Sun, or Eddie Shah's attempts at a daily paper for the north. Or the demise of the London Daily News and the Sunday Correspondent.
Things aren't looking too healthy over at Express newspapers, I'm afraid. Circulation has dropped by half in the last 15 years. The Mail, for so long a neck-and-neck rival, is surging ahead. Ask yourself, Sir Andrew, can you reverse that decline?
I can't help wondering why you should want to. What are your motives? Good reviews? - you've got 'em already. Protection of your private life from malicious gossip? Your marriage looks pretty harmonious and anyway, buying the Express wouldn't stop the other papers speculating. You say you want to limit the Tories' domination of the media and encourage more debate. Amen to that ambition.
Let us hope you avoid the Phantom of Fleet Street ... the squat, scowling ghost of Lord Beaverbrook, who has put a curse on every proprietor who tried to follow in his footsteps. I have a sneaky feeling he would have taken to you, Sir Andrew...
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