Musical chairs for the editors: The executive changes at the Daily Mail could herald a reshuffle at other national newspapers. Simon Midgley investigates the likely repercussions

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The Independent Online
LIKE one of those fairground roundabouts that spin on and on, stopping every now and then to let the riders change horses, Fleet Street convulsed itself this week in one of its periodic spasms.

At 4pm on Friday, Sir David English, the editor of the Daily Mail, told a stunned news conference that this would be the last under his editorship. As of Monday the new editor of the paper would be Paul Dacre, editor of the London Evening Standard.

Also as of Monday, Stewart Steven would give up the Mail on Sunday editorship for that of the Evening Standard, Jonathan Holborow, deputy editor of the Daily Mail, would move to the chair of the MoS, and Dee Nolan, an assistant editor at the Daily Mail, would take over the editorship of You magazine from Nicholas Gordon. Sir David said he would remain Editor-in-Chief.

Meanwhile, over at the Times's evening conference, Simon Jenkins, the editor, told his executives that Paul Dacre was at one stage being considered as his successor but had now accepted the editorship of the Daily Mail. To his embarrassment, Jenkins was forced, somewhat prematurely, to reveal that at a meeting with Rupert Murdoch in March this year he had agreed to stay on as editor for one more year while his successor was decided.

A tentative approach was made to Paul Dacre about the Times job a week or so ago. Dacre subsequently asked Murdoch if he was serious and the latter said yes. Dacre was then asked to arrange a meeting with Simon Jenkins and Sir Edward Pickering, executive vice-chairman of Times Newspapers Ltd, because the appointment had to be ratified by the Times's independent directors. Dacre appeared to be unwilling to set up the meeting.

Instead, in a stylish bout of Fleet Street brinkmanship, he phoned Lord Rothermere to tell him of the Times offer. On Thursday Sir David was summoned to meet his proprietor in France and on Friday the round of musical chairs was set in chain.

For Dacre, 42, the editorship of the aggressively partisan and middle-class Daily Mail means national prominence. A longstanding Mail executive, he took over the Evening Standard 16 months ago after the early retirement of the late John Leese. Leese, aware that people were increasingly getting their news from radio and television, invented the idea of a daily central magazine section focusing on health, property, leisure and so on, in which readers would be offered finely crafted feature articles.

Dacre built on this idea by placing features and news features throughout the paper. A workaholic, he gets into the office before 7am and rarely leaves before 8pm. Asked to describe him, one colleague said: 'Incredibly on the ball. He works like a dervish. If he could write, sub-edit and layout every piece on the paper he would. I have never come across anybody with quite such an immediate grasp of the issues of the day . . . He knows almost instinctively in Daily Mail terms exactly what the story is.'

Impatient, aggressive and not one for diplomatic niceties, Dacre is not universally popular. 'A classic sort of bully . . . quite a few people would kick him if he was lying prostrate on the floor,' a colleague says. In moments of stress one of his mannerisms is to put his arm behind him and scratch his back 'to the extent of drawing blood through the shirt . . . like some sort of primate . . . there have been occasions when the back of his shirt was almost dripping blood.'

'What he will do at the Mail is to appeal to all that is worst in the English middle-classes,' another dissenter says.

Meanwhile in the rest of Fleet Street the key questions are: who will take over from Jenkins? And will there be any further repercussions in other national newspapers. The smart money is that Andrew Neil will, eventually, get the Times, and Roy Greenslade, the former editor of the Daily Mirror the Sunday Times.

Some observers would not be surprised if owner Conrad Black was not prompted to make some executive changes at the Daily or Sunday Telegraphs. Watch this space.

(Photograph omitted)