When the Telegraph Group was sold last year, no one was sorrier than me that the Mail group had not acquired it. The Daily Telegraph was the first newspaper for which I worked, and will always have a special place in my heart. I thought the Mail would run the Telegraph well, and respect its traditions. As a columnist on the Daily Mail, I could hardly express my preferences in the press column that I then wrote for The Spectator, but I silently hoped the Mail's bid would prevail.
The Barclay brothers won. Because they do not have shareholders, they could pay over the odds, whereas the Mail, though controlled by the Harmsworth family, is a FTSE 100 company with shareholders to consider. Yet, despite this setback, some odd things began to happen. Some of the human furniture with which one was familiar at Associated Newspapers - the Mail group's national newspaper arm - began to be reassembled at the Telegraph.
The Barclays recruited Murdoch MacLennan, managing director of Associated Newspapers, as their chief executive. It has to be said that no one at the Mail wept many tears over this defection. Then Mr MacLennan took on Lawrence Sear, who had just stepped down as managing editor of the Daily Mail to enjoy a well-earned retirement in Italy, for a similar job at the Telegraph. Mr Sear would supposedly work for only three months, before departing for his charming villa in Latvio, but six months have passed and he is still ensconced at the Telegraph.
Then, last week, Guy Black, Michael Howard's press secretary, was hired by Mr MacLennan as the Telegraph's director of communications. Why the newspaper needs such a person is unclear. With whom will Mr Black be communicating? Perhaps he will ensure that the Telegraph's - or Mr MacLennan's - case is heard the length and breadth of the land. Perhaps he will persecute innocent press columnists. We will see. The interesting point about Mr Black - apart from his being, in my view, a slightly sinister cove - is that he has excellent contacts at the Mail group. I have no doubt that he will be 100 per cent loyal to his new employers, but such devotion may not be incompatible with continuing friendly relations at the Mail.
One can also not help noticing that the Daily Mail has seemingly forsworn carrying any disobliging stories about The Daily Telegraph, and vice versa. Last week, for example, it emerged that Nigella Lawson, the cook and author, had pulled out of a scheduled appearance this week at The Daily Telegraph Home and Garden Fair. Many assumed that this was her way of expressing displeasure at the brutal ejection of her brother, Dominic, from the editorship of The Sunday Telegraph. Normally, one would have expected such a story to feature in the Daily Mail's Ephraim Hardcastle column, or one of the newspaper's other diaries, but there was only silence. Ephraim Hardcastle (aka Peter McKay) used to be a merciless scourge of Conrad Black, the former proprietor of the Telegraph, and his wife, Barbara Amiel, but the current goings-on at the newspaper seem not to interest him at all, and one wonders whether even a very fabulous scandal would secure a passing mention.
The evidence, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, points to some sort of concordat between the Telegraph and the Mail groups. Mr MacLennan is something of an expert in this field, having negotiated a ceasefire agreement with Richard Desmond at the Express, while he was still managing editor of Associated Newspapers. What could be the reasons behind the new entente cordiale? Hopeful souls may conclude that this is an example of newspapermen cooperating happily in a way that triumphantly refutes the Archbishop of Canterbury's recent dictum that journalists are forever engaged in pointless feuds. Others may seek a different explanation.
Before airing an outlandish theory, I should stress that I have not spoken to any Mail executives in preparing this piece, since I would hate to put them in a position in which they might feel obliged to dissemble. No, what follows can only be pinned on my own propensity for reckless speculation, and even as I unveil the theory I realise how preposterous it will sound. Sensible people may choose not to read beyond this point.
The Mail was understandably disappointed when it failed to buy the Telegraph. But it may have consoled itself with the thought that the Barclay brothers, who are very far from being in the first flush of youth, have no experience of running national newspapers, and might run into difficulties from which more experienced hands would be needed to rescue them. This is my mad idea: the Mail does not consider that its interest in the Telegraph Group is necessarily over.
As I say, this is almost certainly wide of the mark - as wild as the suggestion being put around that Mr MacLennan has engaged a well-known media pundit to help him write his speeches. But I do rest on this certain fact: a concordat between the two groups exists. As to the reason, doubtless there is someone who can supply a better explanation than me.
Press Awards 2006 hang in the balance
Paul Potts, chief executive of the Press Association, has invited national newspaper editors to a meeting on 1 July to consider the future of the British Press Awards. He is offering himself as an honest broker. Readers may recall that after this year's awards ceremony in March, organised by the journalists' magazine Press Gazette, a number of editors said they would consider alternative arrangements. The occasion had been marred by a more than usual amount of swearing and buffoonery.
Since then, Piers Morgan and the PR man Matthew Freud have bought Press Gazette, and are responsible for organising the lucrative awards ceremony, if they can persuade enough newspapers to enter, and editors to attend. Mr Morgan's difficulty is that he is associated in some minds with the worst aspects of the ceremony, having last year come to blows with the motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson. He is at pains to persuade everyone that he is a reformed character, and that the awards ceremony will be conducted with a sense of decorum that would do credit to a speech day at a girls' public school. The front page of the current issue of Press Gazette carries an apology by Bob Geldof, whose behaviour disfigured this year's ceremony.
The problem now is not so much Mr Morgan as Mr Freud, whose deeper pockets are assumed to have produced the bulk of the money to buy Press Gazette. Mr Freud, or his company, consorts with red-top newspapers and represents celebrities. He is, moreover, the son-in-law of the press proprietor Rupert Murdoch. The question is why dissenting editors considering alternative arrangements should put any faith not only in Mr Morgan but also in Mr Freud. Could an awards ceremony held under the latter's aegis ever be fair or seemly? The two men are believed to be preparing their case. It will have to be a good one.Reuse content