Won’t some billionaire step in to save the Express?

NORMAN GILLER laments for his old stamping ground of Express Newspapers, where 200 job cuts are being implemented

What chance of us all clubbing together and buying out Richard Desmond before he kills off what used to be the great Express Newspapers? OK, none at all, but it’s nice to dream of removing the man who has become as welcome in our industry as David Mellor is to black cab drivers.

Express logoI was lucky to write for the Daily Express in the golden, broadsheet days of a 4.2 million circulation, when we were proud to be leaders with agenda-setting news and sports stories, stunning photos, compelling features and regional reporters of the highest quality.

Now, frankly, the paper has become a joke, with front-page leads that are laughingly predictable, features that read like sponsor hand-outs, and sports coverage of the skeletal variety.

I don’t heap the blame on the editorial staff, because it has been so reduced by profit-mad Desmond that the outnumbered journalists are stretched to breaking point trying to compete with their buoyant rivals in the tabloid jungle.

The insider who provided background facts on what is happening at the Express is just about hanging on to his job as bodies fly all around him.

“It’s like working in a graveyard,” I was told, “and you wonder who is next to be buried. We’ve been told to cull 200 editorial jobs, and about a hundred have been persuaded to take the pathetic redundancy terms. Now those of us who have survived are watching our backs to see who is going to get the old heave-ho as they chop the staff for all the company’s nationals to a shoestring 450.

“The Express always had the strongest regional offices, but now we rely on stringers and the internet. We no longer produce localized sports editions. Our TV and City pages are outsourced, and we have just one full-time specialist business writer when the economy is the major topic as we approach a General Election.

“Morale is on the floor, and we honestly wonder if Desmond is deliberately running the papers into the ground for some undetectable reason. It seems he will not be happy until his papers are produced by skeleton staffs, and ideally without proper journalists.

Today's Express front page: apparently, eating healthily is good for you, and it is cold in the winter months. Who knew?
Today’s Express front page: apparently, eating healthily is good for you, and it is cold in the winter months. Who knew?

“We would love to stand up to Desmond, but what have we got to fight with? The NUJ are toothless, our editors kowtow to him, and if we foot soldiers dare speak up we will quickly join the exodus. It’s heartbreaking.”

If I were still at the Express I would be going cap in hand to those billionaires paving the streets of London with their gold and begging one of them to buy out Desmond, before he squeezes the life from papers that have lost their pride.

You don’t have to be a prophet to say that Desmond is interested only in profit.


AS WE SAID a sad farewell to Guardian sports maestro John Samuel at a suitably English country church at Cuckfield on Friday, I was reminded of my last conversation with one of the finest gentlemen to cross my path on life’s journey.

It was two years ago and John, then 84 and enjoying his retirement in his beloved West Sussex, heard I was writing a biography of Sir Henry Cooper, with the blessing of the heavyweight idol’s two sons.

John had been trusted with writing Our ‘Enery’s autobiography, a best-seller back in 1974 when he was masterminding the Guardian sports pages.

“Just wondered if you’d like to see my notes, old boy,” John offered. “There was loads of good stuff that I couldn’t get in.”

That generous gesture summed up John Samuel, a man who even when a high-powered sports editor treated his staff like a loving father, guiding them through life’s minefield.

He brought together one of the most gifted teams of sportswriters ever herded into one sports department. Marching to the Samuel drumbeat were giants of our profession such as John Arlott, John Rodda, Frank Keating, David Lacey, Albert Barham, David Gray, David Frost, Dai Davies, Matthew Engel, Paddy Barclay, John Roberts and Ian Ridley.

Samuel encouraged them to write from the soul in what were memorable years for the Guardian.

For this gentle, dignified man the written word was king. I wonder what he would have made of Richard Desmond?

My Henry Cooper book was called A Hero for All Time. That would have sat nicely on John Samuel’s shoulders.

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