Desmond breaks links with porn as he fights for 'Telegraph'

Richard Desmond, the pornographer turned proprietor of the Daily Express group who is bidding for the Daily Telegraph, took the first step towards reshaping his image yesterday by selling his pornographic magazines.

Mr Desmond sold 45 titles including Asian Babes and Big Ones to a pair of businessmen for about £20m, The Guardian reported.

Mr Desmond, who also owns the Daily Star, OK! Magazine and the Fantasy Channel, denied the deal was linked to the sale of the Telegraph Group.

He said he had been trying to sell the magazines for a decade. Those magazines have previously been reported to have included such names as Nude Readers' Wives, Skinny and Wriggly, Big and Black, Horny Housewives and New Talent.

Mr Desmond has sold the titles to a company called Remnant Media, owned by Simon Robinson and Aroon Maharajh.

Of the sale, Mr Desmond said: "It's a nice thing for the staff. They have been working for a company that was not interested in the magazines. They now have owners who have put the money up and will do a good job."

Mr Desmond is in a battle with the owners of The Scotsman, the Barclay brothers and the Daily Mail and General Trust group, among others to purchase the Telegraph group.

Last week, after a US court case prevented the sale set up by Conrad Black of the Telegraph stable to the Barclays, Mr Desmond was seen in some quarters as marginally favourite to take over the Daily and Sunday Telegraph.

He has the advantage of owning a half share in the Telegraph's printers, West Ferry, plus the right to buy the rest

Media regulator Ofcom would conduct a public interest test if Mr Desmond's bid for the broadsheets is accepted. Ofcom would be examining possible domination of the newspaper market and whether quality journalism can be assured to continue. The sale of the pornographic magazines could assist Mr Desmond with passing such a test.

Despite the magazine sales, Mr Desmond ruled out selling his Fantasy Channel TV business. His subscription channels are a highly profitable part of his Northern and Shell Empire.

There was alarm in 2000 when Mr Desmond bought the Express from Lord Hollick's United News and Media for £125m. In 2001, he came close to selling the porn titles but the deal collapsed.

Mr Desmond was quoted last year as saying, when questioned on why he had yet to sell his magazines: "Would it be better to be a former pornographer rather than a pornographer? I'm probably being more honest by keeping them. They serve a need. You could start saying that celebrity is pornography. You could start censoring everything. I would like to censor the Daily Mail on its horrible attitude to life."

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