It was a racing certainty as far as the rest of Fleet Street was concerned but the swiftness of former celebrity photographer Jason Fraser’s resignation from a £1m-a-year job after only four months as executive director of Express Newspapers has surprised everyone.
The turning point for Fraser appears to have been the recent row between the group and Los Angeles press agency Zuma Press, with the agency claiming the Express halved a £79,000 fee Fraser promised for pictures of the Chris Evans/Billie Piper wedding.
Colleagues say Fraser was very upset about the incident. Deeply unhappy about the way the deal had been handled, he felt his reputation as a straight dealer had been sullied.
On top of the 12 to 14-hour working days he was putting in (he did not take a day off for the first two months), Fraser had been growing increasingly tired of office politics which curbed his get-up-and-go enthusiasm, say insiders.
Getting exclusive pictures was only a small part of his job, which was mainly concerned with setting up promotions, such as obtaining tickets for Madonna and Party in the Park concerts for readers, undermining the rival Mail promotions, directing TV advertisements and doing deals for all Northern & Shell’s publications.
He had at least two offers of jobs with other newspaper groups while he was at the Express, one only three weeks ago, but has not pursued them out of loyalty.
His resignation statement was still resolutely admiring of his boss, Richard Desmond. The pair, with Desmond’s family, were at the Party in the Park together on Saturday and appeared happily together on the Express and Star newsroom floors after the resignation was announced.
Fraser is adamant their personal friendship is undiminished. He has, he said, just "decided to move on". He will remain with the company until the end of this month to complete projects he has initiated.
After the dispute with Zuma, Express sources claimed Desmond had started to look at all the deals Fraser had been pulling in and felt he wasn’t getting value for money.
However, Desmond has made clear that there still will be a special relationship between Fraser’s company and Northern & Shell, "which will continue to give our titles an edge over our rivals".
Fraser is unlikely to be replaced. The job was tailor-made for him. And he is unlikely to be out of pocket. He made his first £1m at 30 and his earnings last year were £650,000. His high Express salary was thought to have been necessary to tempt him to work exclusively for Desmond.
Fraser told Press Gazette he had very enjoyable relations with the editors and that they had been a close-knit, professional team.
The picture editors certainly got some brilliant scoops in his tenure because of the relations Fraser had built with freelance photographers and agencies. Whether they will continue to sell exclusively to the Express after he leaves remains to be seen.
By Jean Morgan