COLUMN

Red ink and Toronto’s Lord Black

Allan Fotheringham December 23 1985
COLUMN

Red ink and Toronto’s Lord Black

Allan Fotheringham December 23 1985

Red ink and Toronto’s Lord Black

COLUMN

Allan Fotheringham

If there is one thing this admiring department admires, it is a chap who can adjust his aim. Some of us, told that the turnips are off the menu, can switch to carrots instead. A tire is flat? Take the bus to work instead. These are the mighty choices most of us have in life. Not Conrad Black, boy tycoon. His choices are more global. When he can’t become a press baron in one country, he simply goes off and buys another country. Not exactly a country, I suppose, but purchasing the London Daily Telegraph, the largestcirculation quality newspaper in Blighty, is roughly equivalent to grasping that tight little island by the short and curlies. You must be told something about The Telegraph and about Mr. Black.

The Anglican church on that sceptered isle has been defined as the Conservative party at prayer.

If so, The Daily Telegraph is its Bible. It sews up the Tory middle class, especially anyone who lives on the land. There have been marketing surveys to see if it could be printed on tweed rather than newsprint. Its star political columnist could not be named anything but his name, which happens to be Peregrine Worsthorne.

It’s given wisdom on Fleet Street that if you want the real dirty stuff, the details about the naughty bits, you don’t buy the sleazy Sun with its barebreasted maidens, not The Daily Mirror, not The News of the World, also known as the Nudes of the Whirl. What you do when any juicy scandal comes up is buy The Daily Telegraph. There, buried in its dull grey columns in voluminous detail, are all the secrets about the court charges pertaining to the vicar and the choirboys, the headmaster and the games mistress. The sharp-eyed little ladies who form the base of the Telegraph circulation know what they like, and the staid editors never disappoint them.

As mentioned, once denied a bauble in one country, Conrad simply switches oceans. A terribly literate man with

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.

a taste for power that goes back to when he was 8, he worships Napoleon and owns a string of absolutely dreadful little papers in obscure corners of British Columbia. That is only because he couldn’t land larger fish. Making money has always been a trivial bother; he vowed to become a multimillionaire by age of 30 and hit it easily. Now all of 41, his main interest is becoming a press lord. He is one of those strange rich men who is sort of a press club groupie. His friends include Toronto Globe and Mail London correspondent John Fraser and the CBC’s Brian Stew-

art, with whom he shared school backgrounds, and the Montreal Gazette boulevardier Nick Auf der Maur, whom Black likes, one suspects, because of a similar raffish approach to life—one plush, the other bereft.

Black’s dream, when he wasn’t playing dice with the Argus Corp.’s bits and pieces on Bay Street, was to grab The Globe and Mail, Canada’s “national newspaper,” which betrays its soul by refusing to put a Toronto dateline on its local stories. He was beaten out on that one due to the North Sea oil money of Lord Silverspoon, sometimes known as Ken Thomson. We will never know, perhaps, whether he was the secret raider behind the suspected takeover bid this year of the Southam newspaper group—an apprehended hijack fought off when Southam formed a friendly alliance with The Toronto Star.

So here we have the scenario, in the dying days of 1985. The Thomson money has The Globe and Mail. Southam

has stubbornly protected its family name and tradition. The Toronto Star, of Beland Honderich fame, is safe in a trust that cannot be violated. Boy Conrad had his childhood dream denied: no press lord he in Canada.

So? So we do what history has dictated. History dictates that despised colonials, once sufficiently emboldened and enriched, return to ravage the now-satiated Mother Country. Britain has never recovered from the First World War, the flower of its youth left dead in French trenches. The grasping Beaverbrook, late of exciting Fredericton, found it easy to lay waste Fleet Street, become Churchill’s most dynamic war minister and turn his Daily Express into the most jingoistic propaganda machine lovely London has ever seen. The senior Lord Thomson, who shamelessly pursued his title and bought The Times of London, had neither the political brains nor skills of Beaverbrook, but he had a counting-house mind and the innate knowledge that Britain had lost its balls —certifiably so g when it was so easy to _ buy a seat in the House of I Lords.

The vulgar Rupert Murdoch from, of all places, Australia has simply rubbed it in; picking up The Times from the fed-up Thomsons and installing in recent weeks as editor a former Glaswegian copy boy whose demeanor and language makes Jack Webster appear as Mother Teresa.

So here we have it. Colonial Beaverbrook outstripped Fleet Street with his energetic backwoods ways, not bothering about chinless wonder proprieties. Colonial Thomson simply walked in with a chequebook, not bothering about table manners. Colonial Murdoch, who was sent to Oxford by a rich father and so learned legitimately to detest the English, marched into London with jackboots and stepped on all of them.

And now? Boy Conrad, more brilliant than almost all of them, a man who talks as well as William F. Buckley Jr. and is several times richer, is about to achieve his aim: purchase a title that will make him Lord Black of Red Ink.