'Beano' publisher in frame at SMG

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The Independent Online

DC Thomson, the secretive privately owned publisher of the Beano and Dandy, has been quietly building a stake in SMG, the troubled Scottish TV and Virgin Radio group.

The stake is currently less than 3 per cent so has not had to be declared to the stock market. But there is speculation that the publisher may be about to buy the 3.2 per cent held by TV personality Chris Evans, making it SMG's third-largest shareholder after Fidelity Investments and Granada.

The Dundee-based Thomson is also a major investor in Scottish Radio Holdings, with nearly 10 per cent of the group's stock.

Its investment in radio and TV has been driven by Christopher Thomson, 53, the son of the group's octogenarian chairman, Brian Thomson. Christopher is married to Claire Enders, who runs broadcasting research company Enders Analysis.

Speculation over SRH has been feverish since SMG sold its 27.7 per cent stake in the company to Emap last month.

Emap, which owns Kiss FM and is keen to expand its radio interests, is tipped as a possible bidder for SRH.

SMG has also been seen as a potential suitor for SRH. It owns Virgin Radio, which it purchased when it took over Mr Evans's Ginger Media Group. But it then fell out with Mr Evans, who lost a legal action for compensation from SMG last year after being fired from Virgin. The radio station admitted last month to the lowest listener figures it had recorded in the four years it has been owned by SMG.

The group is currently looking for a new chairman, after Don Cruickshank, the former chairman of the London Stock Exchange, said he would stand down in the summer. Michael Grade, a non-executive director of SMG, is widely tipped to take the role.

The City has been rife with speculation that SMG was forced to make the £90m sale of the SRH holding because it was short of cash and needed the money to maintain its dividend.

Despite these worries, SMG's shares have been strong, peaking at 135p last month before slipping back to close at 122.5p on Friday.