Sale of Bedfordshire on Sunday marks the end of an era

By Jon Slattery

Bedfordshire
on Sunday founder Frank Branston said this week it was inevitable he
had to sell the paper and other titles in his Local Sunday Newspapers
Media group because he had no one to pass the business on to.

Branston told Press Gazette that neither of his two daughters, one
of whom is a City lawyer, were interested in taking over the company,
among the last independent groups forged in the free newspaper
revolution of the 1970s.

Speaking after it was announced that the
group had been sold to Cambridge Evening News publisher Iliffe News and
Media, part of the Yattendon Investment Trust, Branston said he had had
several approaches for the company over the past year.

“Yattendon
came up with a satisfactory figure,” said Branston. “They have
newspapers close by, including two dailies. It gives people who work
for our papers the opportunity to move into evenings. They have a
reputation for not interfering too much with papers or changing their
style. It is a nice deal but I guess it’s the end of an era for me and
a new era for the group.”

LSN was founded by former Bedfordshire
Times journalist Branston in 1977 with the launch of BoS and since then
the group has launched further free Sunday titles in Luton, Dunstable,
Leighton Buzzard, north Hertfordshire and most recently Milton Keynes
with the relaunch midweek of the MK News. LSN has a total group
distribution of around 350,000 copies per week.

BoS quickly won a
reputation as a fearless paper prepared to take on local authorities
and break stories. Its journalists have won a clutch of awards and the
paper won scoop of the year in the Press Gazette Regional Newspaper
Awards in 2001 for an exclusive on how a hospital chapel was being used
as a temporary morgue.

Branston, a former Provincial Journalist
of the Year, was one of the group of journalists and entrepreneurs who
became successful free newspaper publishers in the 1970s and 1980s.
They included Paul Morgan, Keith Barwell, Eddy Shah and Harry Lambert,
who all sold out long ago to the established newspaper groups.
Following his election as Mayor of Bedford in 2002, Branston resigned
as a director of LSN and stopped having a hands-on role with the paper.

The
price paid by Iliffe, part of the Yattendon Investment Trust, has not
been disclosed, but the deal will have made Branston a
multi-millionaire. Not bad considering BoS launched with capital of
just £9,000. LSN made an operating profit of £831,007 for the year
ending September 2004.

As well as the Cambridge Evening News,
Iliffe owns the Burton Daily Mail as well as six paid-for weekly
newspapers, 17 free weeklies, nine glossy magazines and 23 related
websites.

David Fordham, group publishing director of YIT, said:
“With our existing media interests in Cambridge and Hertfordshire, the
acquisition of LSN Media is a logical extension of our activities.”

Mike Richardson, chief executive of LSN Media since 2000, will continue to head up the LSN business as managing director.

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