Lloyd Webber eyes pounds 300m Express titles

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Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, the founder of the theatrical and music copyright company, the Really Useful Group, confirmed yesterday that he was interested in making a bid for the Express group titles.

"He has been interested in newspapers for a very long time and he is certainly interested in the Express group," a spokesman said. "But I cannot say who his partners are and I am not at liberty to confirm how far any talks might have gone."

However, one established player ruled itself out of the possibility of adding the Express titles to its stable. "There's no substance or truth to these rumours at all," said Daniel Colson, chairman and chief executive of the Telegraph group, after speculation that the group's Canadian proprietor, Conrad Black, was in talks over the Express group titles. "It's just the latest attempt by the Times City desk at fiction- writing," added Mr Colson.

Another group that has been mentioned as a possible buyer, Tony O'Reilly's Independent Newspaper Group, which owns a shareholding in Newspaper Publishing, publishers of the Independent, declined to comment on what it said was "market speculation". However, it is believed that there have been talks between Dr O'Reilly, who has long had an interest in the Express group, and Sir Andrew, which could lead to a bid, possibly with Independent Newspaper Group as a partner or even Newspaper Publishing, in which Mirror Group also has a large shareholding.

City sources close to United News and Media, which owns the Sunday Express and Daily Express, were keen to dampen speculation that a sale was being planned. City analysts doubted that any purchaser, with the possible exception of Sir Andrew or Michael Green's Carlton Communications Group, would be prepared to pay the pounds 300m plus needed to persuade United's Lord Stevens to let a sale go through.

The rumours of a possible sale have been fuelled by the recent appointment of the merchant bank, Hambro Megan, to come up with a strategy for the titles, which have struggled in competition with the more successful Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday.

The Really Useful Group was floated in 1986 but was taken private again four years later when Sir Andrew felt he would do better without enduring the rigours of a stock market quote. The company, now 30 per cent owned by Polygram, the entertainments giant, is expanding into the audio-visual sector and multimedia.