MACLEAN'S REVIEWS

THE PRESS

Portrait of the next Lord Thomson — and some news of the one after that

HARRY BRUCE February 8 1964
MACLEAN'S REVIEWS

THE PRESS

Portrait of the next Lord Thomson — and some news of the one after that

HARRY BRUCE February 8 1964

THE PRESS

Portrait of the next Lord Thomson — and some news of the one after that

ROY THOMSON, press baron, flew home from London to Toronto on the same Saturday that Paul VI flew to the Holy Land. Paul is the first pope in 1,900 years to visit Jerusalem so the Toronto press had trouble deciding whose visit deserved the most space. 1 think Thomson won. His thick glasses, sleek white hair and chubby smile showed up first in the afternoon editions of New' Year’s Eve; the frontpage story was that Queen Elizabeth had named Thomson a real baron.

'Phis fact, and the complications concerning Thomson’s Canadian citizenship, inspired the Toronto papers to tell us, among hundreds of other essential things, that Thomson owns neither yachts nor mistresses; that he loves newspapers, money and Canada; that he’s happy; that he’s “just plain granddad” to his granddaughters: that Mayor Philip Givens considered giving him gold City of Toronto cufflinks but decided against it; and that Thomson's daughter-in-law Marilyn, a pretty former model who was once Miss Cheer Leader of Toronto, says, “I sometimes get annoyed at stories that say I was a beauty-contest winner."

We also got meaningful photographs. There was Thomson with his children and grandchildren; Thomson in his kilt, reviewing troops: Thomson beside a tiny suit of armor; 'Thomson watching a girl pluck a dart from a board: Thomson with Ontario Premier John Robarts; and Thomson just sitting on a subway reading a paper, like any commoner. In one picture. Thomson is signing the guest book at City Hall; his son Ken is peering over his right shoulder. In another, Thomson is trying to

look interested while Toronto Telegram publisher John Bassett shows him page 8 of the Lely: Ken is peering over his father’s left shoulder.

Ken, in fact, was only one tactful step behind Roy throughout all those joyful, hectic public days and it w-as in Ken’s lush little office that Roy held a pretty sweaty press conference. (“Men, men, men,” Ken’s secretary recalls, “men all over the place, falling over each other looking for phones.”) The hot news was that even though Ottawa had ruled he’d lost his Canadian citizenship when he formally became a British citizen, Roy Thomson, in his heart, would always be a Canadian.

Part of my interest in all this was personal; my seventh-floor office on Dundas Street in Toronto is only a couple of hundred feet by air from Ken’s office in the Thomson Building on University Avenue. With a following wind, I’m sure I could throw a tightly rolled Edinburgh Scotsman far enough to hit the corporate headquarters of the greatest private empire of mass communications the world has ever known. The Thomson enterprises are probably worth $84 million. They included, at this writing (they’ve probably increased in the days since), 108 newspapers, 92 technical and trade publications and assorted radio and television stations. Thomson has interests not only in (’añada and Britain but also in the Caribbean, Thailand, Australia, and the Deep South of both the United States and Africa. Through a series of share-holding devices that are almost incomprehensible to a layman, the w'holc business comes under two Canadian companies that have offices in the building on University Avenue. One is Thomson Newspapers Ltd.; it’s at the top of the North American organization and Ken Thomson runs it. The other is Thomson Internationa! Ltd., and all the non-North American holdings filter back to it. Ken Thomson, of course, does not make the daily decisions that affect the dozens of companies under Thomson International. But he will make them some day. just as he. too. will have his Jay in the House of Lords. Here, it seemed to me, was the story the newspapers were missing — tomorrow’s press baron today — and so I dropped around the corner to meet the next international giant of the publishing business.

The first person ! saw on my way in was

Roy Thomson on his way out. The papers were right. He looked happy all over. He was grabbing handfuls of his own clothing to show a rotund radio technician how much weight he’s been losing lately. “J had to take it off.” he said. “I can’t afford to die. My bank loan's too big. Ha! Ha!” Ken, who is forty, is half a head taller than his father, w'ho is sixty-nine; Ken had the same flush of excitement and, though he's less flamboyant, the same folksy, confidential style with people. ( Roy Thomson is a frustrated politician. Ten years ago he ran as a Tory in a Canadian federal election and. thirty-two years ago. he tried for the mayoralty of North Bay. He lost both times. Ken has never run for public office but he was a public relations man for a while.) Ken’s hair is neat and wavy. His glasses arc not so noticeable as Roy’s. When I called on him he wore a dark gray flannel suit, a light gray tie, gold watch, black socks and black shoes. Since he looked pleasantly British I asked him if he thought he'd settle in England eventually.

“Let’s be callous about it,” he said. “Every year that goes by makes the inevitability of it more complete.” Roy has been flying his son to business conferences in London every two or three months in recent years. (In 1963 he even took Ken along on a trip to Moscow to meet Nikita Khrushchov.) But the grooming of the second Lord Thomson really began at least fifteen years ago. His first civilian job. after wartime service with the RCAF and two good years at Cambridge, was as a reporter for his father's first paper, the Timmins Press. His second job, much longer, was in the advertising department of the Galt Reporter. Now he’s boss of an organization that controls thirty newspapers in Canada, eight dailies and several weeklies in the United States, an insurance company, “a nice little trucking business,” and several other concerns.

THE DESTINY OF A BOY NAMED DAVID

Ken’s son David, who is six and attends public school (Ken finds boarding schools repugnant), is the only male Thomson of his generation. Jn his photographs he has the good looks of his mother (Marilyn, the Miss ('heer Leader) and, already, a trace of the solid, genial manner of his grandfather. I asked Ken if he wanted the third Lord Thomson to carry on the business. “It would be a matter of great pride to me,” he said. “It would be different if I had three or four sons and the younger two, say, wanted to be a doctor and maybe an artist. But all our hopes are pinned on him. It’s only human.”

Ken’s office is a rich-smelling blend of dark wood and leather and creamy broadloom. The walls are lined with minor Hogarths, Gainsboroughs and a Constable but he says the real extracurricular passion of his life is collecting small ivory and boxwood sculpture from the fourteenth up to the eighteenth centuries. 1 said I’d read in the afternoon papers that “Mrs. Thomson is as avid a collector as her husband.”

“Confidentially,” Ken said, “they’re not always too accurate. My wife has good taste and a few n’ice pieces but to say someone’s a collector, he’s got to be a nut about it. He’s got to be obsessed, the way my father is about collecting newspapers.” HARRY BRUCE