A billion pounds and an 11 o'clock banana


A billion pounds and an 11 o’clock banana


All rather curious. One day, Richard Desmond was Tarzan of the Fleet Street jungle, thumping his war chest as he announced that Commerzbank had given him a billion-pound line of credit. Now he was set to build "the biggest media group in Britain".

Next day, Commerzbank (which lent him £97m to buy Express Newspapers for £125m) was telling The Daily Telegraph there was no arrangement to advance Desmond a billion, sound customer though he was.

That figure had emerged during an FT interview interrupted by a flunkey entering with a silver tray bearing Desmond’s 11 o’clock banana (his first of the day; the second arrives at 5pm). Might the FT’s concentration have been affected?

Apparently not. For Desmond mentioned that same billion to The Times, whose writer arrived between bananas and was distracted only by Desmond bashing away at the drums and cymbals he keeps in his office.

Conrad Black’s Spectator repeated the Commerzbank disavowal published by Conrad Black’s Telegraph. But there was no sign of any comeback from Desmond, on holiday in Majorca. Was he out of range of mobile, e-mail, fax or gofer with cleft stick?

He had flown easyJet, the better to see what the punters were reading. He was also blazing a trail for 20,000 free flights plus 110,000 cut-price, endorsed "As seen on TV" (meaning as seen on Express TV ads).

The voice-over was by Jason Fraser, now ex-executive director but eager to take credit for the promotion. His claim would likely go unchallenged if too many could not get their heads round the small print. Booking was online only. Readers without access were invited to make their way to easyEverything internet cafŽs in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow or Manchester.

How many living in Birmingham, Cardiff, Newcastle, Leeds, Belfast, Bristol or Liverpool would bother?

Last week’s Any Questions? demonstrated that Desmond’s image unfortunately remains that of the purveyor of various skinmags to a top shelf near you. Jonathan Dimbleby introduced Peter Hitchens as the Mail columnist who quit the Express when it was taken over by "a porn publisher".

After nine months as Express proprietor, Desmond is still denied the mantle of Beaverbrook. The Times puts him down as "a very big talker". OK, so if Black, Rothermere and Murdoch won’t accept him as an equal then see how they like it when he beats them.

Which is where that billion comes in. Or does it?

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