Investigative journalist Tom Bower has made a name for himself over the years for producing what are called “unauthorised” biographies of the supposedly rich and famous. I first recall his involvement in this area when he authored “Maxwell: the Outsider”, a biog of the man that Private Eye called the “Bouncing Czech”. More recently, I’ve enjoyed his work on the life of Richard Branson (aka “Sir” Tricky Dicky), a must read for anyone considering so much as shaking hands with the great man.
However, Branson, although deeply unhappy with the picture of him painted by Bower, did not resort to legal action over the book, a measure of common sense restraint seemingly lost on others, one of whom is Richard Desmond. Desmond has taken Bower to court over a biography not of himself – after all, he might not qualify as important enough – but of the jailed and otherwise disgraced Conrad Black, and his wife Barbara Amiel. It’s the usual disagreement: Desmond claims to have been defamed, while Bower asserts that what he’s written is “substantially true”.
But, so what? Isn’t it just a routine example of sleb toy throwing? Well, maybe, but a probing of the Desmond empire and character tells much about the kind of person that passes as a media magnate nowadays. For starters, the reporting of the case in Desmond’s papers, highlighted by the Tabloid Watch blog, has been priceless: typically, any cross-examination from Bower’s lawyers is omitted. The reality of the hand being played by “Dirty” Desmond, as Private Eye has christened him, merely underlines his also-ran status.
A big seller for Desmond is OK! Magazine, a title created to ape the daddy of the glossy sleb-following market, Hello! And the pattern continues with the newspapers: the Daily and Sunday Express, which had on occasion sold four million copies per issue under the legendary Max Beaverbrook, now manage less than 750,000 – and many of those at less than full price. This makes the Express a distant runner up to its main rival, the Daily Mail. The dismally trashy Daily Star does less well: it comes in third in the red top field, well behind the Sun and Daily Mirror. And Desmond has not exactly been making friends among his rivals: Paul Dacre, the legendarily foul mouthed editor of the Daily Mail, has said that “As long as I’ve got energy in my body, I’m going to devote everything to try to see him off”.
But at least “Dirty” Desmond can point to his prominence in one niche market, that which caused Private Eye to give him his nickname: top shelf magazines and “adult” television. Look at all that revenue, Guv! Phwoorrh!!