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The BBC's Media Correspondent, Nick Higham
"Richard Desmond is an unknown quantity in newspapers"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 22 November, 2000, 19:16 GMT
OK! owner buys Express

Celebrity magazine publisher Richard Desmond has bought Express Newspapers from United News & Media for 125m ($180m).

The deal includes the Daily Express, Sunday Express and Daily Star.

Richard Desmond with his new titles
Richard Desmond celebrates his scoop
Mr Desmond's publishing company, Northern & Shell, fought off a rival bid by the billionaire brothers, Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja, who run the London-based conglomerate Hinduja Group.

Northern & Shell was understood to be keen to add the titles to its list ahead of a stock market flotation planned for next year.

United News & Media has been restructuring since its planned merger with Carlton was called off in July.

The sale leaves it to focus on its business media interests, having already sold its television assets to Granada.

United said one advantage of selling to Northern & Shell was that the deal would not have to be passed by the Competition Commission, as Mr Desmond had no other newspaper interests.

Heritage

Once the country's biggest-selling daily newspaper, with a circulation of four-million in 1949, the Express has struggled to maintain its popularity in recent years.

Founded in 1900, it was the first newspaper to carry news instead of adverts on its front page.

United bought the Express titles in 1996, turning them into firm backers of Tony Blair and New Labour.

'Milestone'

United chairman Sir Ronald Hampel said: "We are very pleased to have completed this important strategic move at an excellent price."

United chief executive Lord Hollick said: "We wish the papers and their new owners, who have made clear their intention to invest in the future growth of the titles, all the best for the next phase of their development.

"Today's announcement marks another milestone in the development of United as a world-class business media group."

Speculation

There had been press speculation that Mr Desmond, 49, had been in talks with Lord Hollick.

But the Hinduja brothers are understood to have believed their 100m bid was leading the running until this morning.

The Hinduja Group does not lack resources, spanning a huge range of businesses, from media to transport and banking to chemicals.

Announcing their bid last month, they had called the papers "great British institutions with a proud history".

Mr Desmond's stable of magazines includes soft-porn titles Asian Babes and Exotic Stories, as well as the popular OK! celebrity magazine.

Northern & Shell said it would combine "the leading edge of national and international news with unbeatable celebrity news, emotive features and crusading columns".

It said it would maintain the Express as a broad-based national paper but "draw new readers from among 18 to 34, intelligent independent-minded females".

It said: "The Star is already successfully targeting young high-spending fast-living males and their female counterparts.

"This direction will be sustained and reinforced by Northern & Shell."

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See also:

22 Nov 00 | Business
Northern & Shell wins Express race
16 Oct 00 | Business
Last chance Express?
15 Oct 00 | Business
Billionaire brothers bid for Express
04 Aug 00 | Business
United News sharpens focus
21 Jul 00 | Business
ITV giants ditch merger plans
18 Jul 00 | Business
ITV: What next?
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