Lovely movers, those Barclay brothers. So says The Times, anyway, revealing that the twins at the heart of the latest Telegraph excitement are both “real twinkle toes on the dance floor” and regulars at the Monaco Ballroom Festival.
But it’s their financial quickstep that has caught the eye of City and media analysts this week thanks to an audacious move that looks like landing them control of one of the crown jewels of British newspapers.
While other bidders concentrated on the auction being organised by the Hollinger board, David and Frederick Barclay went straight to Conrad Black and agreed a deal to buy his holding in the company which gives them control of the newspapers.
It’s as though they walked in through the side door of the swanky club while everyone else was out on the front pavement arguing with the bouncers about the smartness of their shoes.
The Independent called it the media deal of the decade. Even the Daily Mail, whose parent company Associated Newspapers was also a bidder, praised their “speed, boldness and opportunism”. The Daily Express, whose boss was also keen, couldn’t quite be so graceful. “Barclays overpay for Telegraph deal,” it said, amid flying sparks from grinding axes.
For the Telegraph staff, though, the duo would represent one of the better results of the bidding war.
Better, for them, than a Richard Desmond, who they feared would cut headcounts and take too much of a direct personal interest in matters editorial.
Better, too, than an institutional investor who would make them greater slaves to shareholders demanding ever-increasing margins.
If the Barclays do end up in the driving seat – and there are plenty of legal and regulatory obstacles in the way yet – then there’s no reason to believe they would do anything other than invest in the newspaper. They’ve already put tens of millions into The Business, for example, a title that others may have viewed as a lost cause. (An interesting offshoot of the deal will be how thwarted bidder Associated will now view the piggy-back ride it currently gives The Business by distributing it free with The Mail on Sunday.) For the majority of Telegraph staff, the Barclay ownership should mean good news – although a few at a senior level may not feel quite so comfortable in their chairs.
The general mood at the telegraph Group is not great, with a strike ballot under way over a disputed pay claim and uncertainty about whether to follow the Indy and Times into the compact world.
Sorting that out might take some fancy footwork indeed.