26 SEPTEMBER 1998, Page 33


Instead of Max, Paul sacked Jonathan, while Max sacked Adam but will Max be sacked next?


Alas, events have made a nonsense of my resolution. There have been developments at Associated Newspapers, owner of the Evening Standard, which jolly well nearly involved Max. Or, to put it another way, imagine a murder mystery in which it is confidently expected that character A (let us call him Max) will be bumped off. In fact character A lives to fight another day, but character B is found with the handle of a stiletto protruding between his shoulder blades. The onlooker is left wondering why A should have been spared and B killed in his place. The story begins with the death in June of Sir David English, chairman and editor- in-chief of Associated Newspapers. In July Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, in which post he still resides, was made editor- in-chief of Associated in Sir David's place. (Let me again mention that I write a col- umn for the Daily Mail.) Mr Dacre's eleva- tion was a double blow to Mr Hastings. In the first place, Mr Hastings — or at any rate his friends — had entertained not unpardonable hopes that he might himself have been given the job that went to Mr Dacre. In the second place, Mr Dacre, who had himself once edited the Evening Stan- dard, was not thought to be among Mr Hastings's very keenest admirers. When Viscount Rothermere, proprietor of the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and the Evening Standard, died at the beginning of this month, it became clear that still more power would flow into Mr Dacre's hands. Mr Hastings's friends began to light candles for him. His defenestration was expected any moment. In these trying con- ditions Max behaved like the good military man he is and actually sacked someone himself — Adam Edwards, the long-serving and rather talented editor of the Evening Standard's magazine. His own life hung by a thread. Imagine, then, the relief and sur- prise of all who love him when the sword fell not on Max's neck but on that of Jonathan Holborow, editor of the Mail on Sunday.

Officially, Mr Holborow retired at the age of 54, but he has said enough for it to be clear that he did not go entirely willing- ly. Much has been made of various gaffes he presided over, but gaffes can be forgiven if they are accompanied by great flair. The justification for Mr Holborow's departure is that the main section — the only part of the Mail on Sunday for which he was entire- ly responsible — was rather dull. A paper that had once had Julie Burchill and John Junor as its leading columnists now boasts Norman Tebbit and Jane Gordon. It has few writers of any note. Mr Holborow's supporters point to the rise in sales during his six-year editorship (from some 2 million to 2.2 million copies a week), but this can be largely attributed to the paper's new sec- tions, particularly Night and Day. The Mail on Sunday is a triumph of packaging.

We will have to see whether Mr Hol- borow's successor, Peter Wright, can inspire the paper. Mr Wright has been Mr Dacre's loyal deputy on the Daily Mail. His appointment suggests to me that Mr Dacre's editorial control of Associated Newspapers will be considerably greater than that of his predecessor, Sir David English. For although Sir David could and did interfere in Max Hastings's Evening Standard, and kept a direct eye on the Mail on Sunday, his writ did not really run within Mr Dacre's successful Daily Mail. Now Mr Dacre finds himself in total command of his own newspaper and with a loyal ally run- ning the Mail on Sunday. That leaves just the Evening Standard.

What will happen to Max? A sort of superstitious feeling holds me back from predicting his demise in case he lasts for a `Cool'. thousand years. But certain facts are unde- niable. Under Mr Hastings's editorship, the Evening Standard's sales have held up in a difficult market, partly as a result of new `add-on' magazines and partly thanks to promotions. The price has been pegged at 30p for seven years. And yet Max's greatest admirer could not claim the Evening Stan- dard is exciting. It has more good colum- nists and writers than the Mail on Sunday, but not as many as a dazzling metropolitan title should have. One is reminded by Max's articles this week on D-Day what a brilliant military historian he is. This is not a firm prediction, but I can't help feeling that before too long Mr Dacre, and perhaps even Max himself, may come to the conclu- sion that his true genius lies elsewhere.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the case of James Hughes-Onslow, sacked by Rosie Boycott, editor of the Express. Mr Hughes- Onslow was one of several ex-employees, some of them of very long standing, who have been rather shabbily treated by Express newspapers. He has not gone qui- etly and speaks of engaging his friend Cherie Blair (aka Cherie Booth, QC) to represent him.

Last week, Ms Boycott struck back in a letter to this magazine. She did not address my suggestion that when she sacked Mr Hughes-Onslow she may have been unaware of his close friendship with Tony Blair. But she did challenge Mr Hughes- Onslow's version of events. His case was `not a redundancy. His job has been filled. However, we were keen for James to con- tinue to write for us on a freelance basis. Unfortunately, he turned this offer down.'

All this makes Ms Boycott sound very generous and reasonable. But her account is not only at odds with Mr Hughes- Onslow's, it is also contradicted by her own managing editor, Lindsay Cook, who had broken the news to Mr Hughes-Onslow that he was no longer wanted as a colum- nist. Ms Cook wrote to Mr Hughes-Onslow on 9 September, 'No offer of freelance work has formally been made. It may be something we can discuss once the issues relating to the termination of your contract have been resolved.' This strongly suggests to me that, contrary to Ms Boycott's asser- tion, Mr Hughes-Onslow was indeed made redundant.