Select Committee on Communications Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1715 - 1719)


Mr Roy Greenslade

  Q1715  Chairman: I am sorry to keep you waiting, but I notice that you have been here watching.

  Mr Greenslade: Riveting, yes!

  Q1716  Chairman: I hope you are going to be as riveting as well!

  Mr Greenslade: Andrew was my editor for three years, so I can see the joins!

  Q1717  Chairman: In your career you have been assistant editor of The Sun; you have been managing editor (news) at The Sunday Times; and you have been editor of the Daily Mirror.

  Mr Greenslade: A rackety career!

  Q1718  Chairman: I would like to come back to Mr Murdoch in a moment, but tell us about The Mirror. We keep on hearing about Mr Murdoch but who was your proprietor then?

  Mr Greenslade: Actually my proprietor did not get a mention previously but he was somebody called Robert Maxwell! The difference between Maxwell and other proprietors was really that he was an overt interferer. You have really heard about discreet interference. The difference with Maxwell was that he made it quite clear it was not only done privately, it was done to members of your staff so it leaked out. He liked to appear in the newspaper as often as he possibly could and he liked to have an involvement in virtually every story, not just in domestic politics but often in foreign politics. He seemed to know the mind of Monsieur Chirac and Gorbachev and any Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian Prime Minister that you care to name. So this put enormous pressure on an editor in the sense that you never quite knew where you were with him. You have heard Andrew Neil say that if you are not on the same planet it never works, and I was editor of The Mirror really only 13 months because it became clear within some months—and I tried to make it work—that we were not on the same planet and I had to go.

  Q1719  Chairman: And he interfered all the time?

  Mr Greenslade: He interfered in virtually everything. I could entertain you with amusing examples and I will do one for you. When Soviet troops went back into Lithuania briefly after the perestroika era Maxwell asked me what was on the front page and I said, "We have a picture of Soviet troops battering people outside the radio station in Lithuania; it amounts almost to a reinvasion," and he said, "Do not be so incredibly stupid, Mr Greenslade, Mr Gorbachev would have rung me if he was doing that." You will also know that he interfered in strange ways, so when I sent two people to cover the Gulf War in 1991 without my knowledge he called them up as they were on their way to the airport and said when they arrived—I think they were going to Doha—that they would meet one of his representatives who would supply them with Caxton encyclopaedias to sell to the troops in the trenches. Of course, they called me in some bate and said, "Will we have to do that?" and I told them not to be so silly. An example, also if I was away for a weekend he would regularly sack a member of staff so that I would have to come on the phone and sort that out and so on. So he interfered in staff matters, in the content of the newspaper and in resources, budgets, hirings, firings and so on, in a way that when I had previously worked for several proprietors, Lord Matthews, Rupert Murdock, they would never have got involved in such a way. But I think he was extraordinary and one should not take too much from that except that what he did personally in his relationship with the editor and with the staff is done in a much more discreet way, through channels of influence, through other figures in other newspapers, and I think one has to take on board the fact that he was a laughable buffoonish character but that he was not that much different in a way from, say, Beaverbrook before him, Cudlip in some ways at The Mirror before him, and other proprietors since, noticeably Richard Desmond at the Daily Express.

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