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Beaverbrook Rupert Murdoch KIng

Maxwell and all that: Could Warren Buffett more than fill his shoes?


By Noel Young | Correspondent

May 6, 2012 | 6 min read

Do I detect a note of wishful thinking in some journalists' musings as Sly Bailey packs her bags? A yearning for the good old days of Robert Maxwell. . . or even Lord Beaverbrook?

Robert Maxwell: stocking soles

It's certainly there in this comment from Roy Greenslade, "A flagship national title needs constant attention. In truth, it needs love. Historically, that was the Mirror's strength, even under that most mercurial and monstrous of publishers, Robert Maxwell."

I was an editor for three years under Maxwell and I have a lot to thank him for. In 1988 when the editorship became vacant of the Sunday Mail (where I was deputy editor) I was packing my own bags for a three-week family holiday in Australia.

"Just go ," a colleague counselled me, "He's already chosen a new editor, a woman." So I went.

Checking into my hotel in Melbourne, I was handed a note: "Phone the office. Mr Maxwell wants you back RIGHT AWAY."

So back I went - after the shortest holiday in Australia on record. Sitting facing Maxwell the next week he quizzed me relentlessly for half-an-hour about why I had gone to Australia. There was no way I was going to say I heard someone else had got the job! I prevaricated. I certainly didn't name the colleague.

Eventually, after a few perfunctory questions about the paper, he leaned back and said, " You handled that well. You've got the job."

The Daily Mirror, previously run by a man from a building society, had certainly been galvanised by the arrival of Robert Maxwell. He pushed the Mirror into bigger and bolder Page Ones than for years, and a dash into colour way ahead of the Sun.

Maxwell was influenced in that move by how well the Daily Record, the best profit earner in the group, had done by moving into web offset colour in 1971.

That success was not, however, to prevent him introducing a so-called "survival plan" for the Scottish market leader a few years later.

With the Record HQ "protected" by barbed wire from protesters, the late JIm Wilson, deputy editor of the Record and I were despatched to Manchester to arrange to print the Record there. It was all of course a huge bluff, and as the railways shuffled their schedules to get all these papers North, the dispute was resolved and Maxwell got his savings, making the Record even more profitable.

At one point Maxwell was even to "save" the cash-strapped Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.

A perk of being on the Maxwell payroll were lunches at the top of the Mirror building in Holborn Circus with the great man. He had two phones beside him on the table and liked to show off to lunch guests by bawling out people foolish enough to phone .

Once the pilot of his private jet was fired for failing to check that gold taps in his new plane were up to standard.(I believe he was later reinstated).

Sometimes in stocking soles, fly undone at others, often running two lunches simultaneously, this was Robert Maxwell, media mogul, in full charge of the bully pulpit - in more ways than one.

With 14 or more people at the table , the lunch was best enjoyed if you were out of his line of sight, or if he forgot your name in his round-the-table question session (a frequent occurrence).

The Mirror of course had prospered previously under two larger than live individuals - Hugh Cudlipp and Cecil King. King was behind a Mirror Page One telling Harold Wilson "Enough is Enough" in what sounded like a call for a coup. That one was pulled before the Mirror Presses actually started.

But in Glasgow , the presses were already running with the story and for the first ( and only time) in my life I got to go down to the Press Hall and yell "Stop he Presses".

Does the Mirror need a new dynamo-dictator then? Beaverbrook was another model in the 1950s. Rupert Murdoch certainly proved it could still be done when he, ably abetted by Larry Lamb, catapulted The Sun past Lamb's old paper.

The Sun has been battered by the storm surrounding News International over the past two years but no-one has been there to take advantage of that: To outshine the Sun.

Cost-cutting, Bailey-style, doesn't do it.

What it does need is a man with access to plenty of cash.

We've had Beaverbrook (Canadian), Maxwell (Czech by birth) and Murdoch (Australian). So how about an American?

Left-leaning billionaire Warren Buffett last year paid $200m for the Omaha World Herald, his local newspaper . Just this weekend he told a company meeting that he might buy more newspapers. He's 81, the same age as Murdoch, and like him , has no plans to retire.

So how about it Mr Buffett?

Beaverbrook Rupert Murdoch KIng

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