a media industry resource

Beaverbrook & Express Group: Desmond


This page looks at contemporary magnate Richard Desmond, who gained control of the Beaverbrook papers after they were offloaded by United Newspapers.

It covers -

  • introduction
  • Desmond
  • acquisition of Express
  • studies


Why do people buy newspapers? Some apparently do so purely as a business move, to make money. Others do so for political power, a motivator for Beaverbrook. Others appear to be attracted to the excitement associated with publishing - a more potent form of the buzz experienced by backers of a theatrical production - or the aura surrounding media magnates.

One attraction, of course, is the power (real or merely perceived) that comes from being a mogul - and the deference accorded those who are seen to wield power. Acquisition of a national newspaper has been a traditional vehicle for entry into the establishment: acres of newsprint or a few broadcasting stations can, it seems, wash away stigmas as effectively as a large donation to the elite's preferred institution or campaign fund. That was evident in the UK, with for example Lord Burnham, Lord Cowdray, Beaverbrook, Northcliffe and Rothermere, and the Astors.

The motivation of Richard Desmond isn't clear.


Richard Desmond's family was associated with the Pearl & Dean cinema advertising group in the UK, now part of SMG. After working as an advertising salesman for the Meat Trades Journal he acquired two record shops and launched International Musician magazine in 1974 before licensing the UK edition of Penthouse in 1982.

Desmond expanded into other adult publications - titles include Asian Babes, Horny Housewives, Readers' Wives, 40 Plus, Big & Black, Big Ones International, Spunk-Loving Sluts, Double Sex Action, Fifty & Over and Mothers In Law - and telephone sex lines. In 1995 he launched Television X: The Fantasy Channel, an adult entertainment television channel (now supplemented by a range of web sites).

In 1993 his Northern & Shell group launched OK!, a celebrity and lifestyle magazine, and sold ten newspapers to UK regional publisher United Newspapers. Other N&S publications include "gay lifestyle" magazine Attitude and the Arsenal football club magazine.

Acquisition of Express

Beaverbrook Newspapers had been acquired by the Trafalgar House Investments conglomerate in 1977 and renamed Express Newspapers. In 1982 Trafalgar spun off its media and shipping interests as Fleet Holdings, acquired three years later by United Newspapers. United was absorbed by the MAI group in 1996 and renamed United News & Media (UNM).

In 2000 United sold the Express newspapers group to Desmond for £125 million, rejecting a bid by the Barclay brothers. The group comprised the national Daily Express and Sunday Express Newspapers (each with a circulation around a million), the Daily Star (537,000), a 50% stake in the Truckstop free newspaper for lorry drivers (48,000) and a 50% stake in West Ferry Printers Ltd and Independent Star Ltd. The latter publishes the Star in Eire. West Ferry is 50% owned by the Hollinger-controlled Daily Telegraph. Northern & Shell controls Broughton Printers in Preston.

Desmond was the subject of controversy after making a £100,000 donation to the UK Labour Party around the time the UK competition regulator approved his takeover of the Express Group.


There has been no major study of Desmond.

For Trafalgar, MAI and UNM see the separate United profile and works such as Nigel Broackes' self-congratulatory A Growing Concern: An Autobiography (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1979) and volume 5 of David Kynaston's The City of London (London: Chatto & Windus 2001).