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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 December 2007, 09:33 GMT
Larger-than-life media tycoon
By Torin Douglas
Media correspondent, BBC News

Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel
The free-spending lifestyle of the Blacks attracted attention
Conrad Black's long-drawn-out fall from grace is spectacular - the extravagant peer of the realm found guilty of swindling millions of pounds from shareholders, yet showing no remorse and protesting his innocence.

But he is not the first media tycoon to sail close to the wind, or find himself on the wrong side of the law.

Hugh Cudlipp, the great Daily Mirror editorial director, once wrote of newspaper proprietors: "Megalomania is their vocational disease."

Conrad Black fitted the bill.

Old school

Lord Black of Crossharbour - to give him the title for which he renounced Canadian citizenship - was a press baron of the old school, keen to use his newspapers as much for political and social influence as to make money.

For most of the 20th Century, there was a small queue of rich, would-be newspaper owners ready to snap up an ailing broadsheet or tabloid or two.
Only a few hundred women in the world can afford to dress like Mrs Black, and Mrs Black may not be among them
Canadian journalist

Like those other larger-than-life proprietors Beaverbrook, Murdoch and Maxwell, Black wasn't born in Britain.

Like Beaverbrook and Lord Thomson (a more retiring media mogul, who owned The Times before Rupert Murdoch), he came from Canada, one of the old colonies, taking pride in the acquisition of influence in the mother country and a seat in the House of Lords.

Lavish spending

Black was not alone in treating the company's money as though it were his own.

His defenders point out that much of his entertaining was for the corporate good.

Nicholas Coleridge wrote a book about the world's newspaper tycoons, Paper Tigers.

After Black's fall, he wrote in The Times that he found him "far and away the most fascinating and impressive of the 28 tycoons; bigger, cleverer and vainer than all the rest".

Mr Coleridge described how he and his wife would attend the "highly enjoyable summer drinks for 400 people, held in the garden and enormous first-floor drawing room of the Blacks' palatial house in Cottesmore Gardens, Kensington".

"If you get a kick out of milling about with present and former prime ministers, Cabinet ministers, minor royals, dukes, editors, vastly rich Americans, distinguished historians, gossip columnists, playboys and lots of pretty 'it' girls, then this was the place to be," he writes.

"Most of the senior staff of the Telegraph were included in the mix, and, frankly, it never crossed my mind that the party wouldn't be paid for by Black's company, Hollinger International.

"I very much doubt that similar events given by other media barons are paid out of their own pockets, and this was quite clearly a semi-corporate party."

Robert Maxwell
Robert Maxwell's crimes came to light after his death

It was this very lavishness - and the scale of other spending that had less obvious corporate benefits - that led to Black's downfall.

His glamorous wife, Barbara Amiel, didn't help, once famously saying, "My extravagance knows no bounds."

"Only a few hundred women in the world can afford to dress like Mrs Black, and Mrs Black may not be among them," wrote one Canadian journalist.

A good proprietor?

But many would say Conrad Black was a good newspaper proprietor, saving the Daily and Sunday Telegraph from financial disaster and interfering far less in editorial matters than some media magnates.

Instead of picking up the phone and barking orders to editors, he would sometimes actually write letters for publication.

And most would judge him favourably compared with Robert Maxwell, who famously plundered his employees' pension funds to fill a gaping hole in his empire's accounts.

Had Mr Maxwell not disappeared at sea, he too would have ended up in court and presumably jail.

But it's unlikely that he would have spent his sentence writing heavyweight political biographies, as Conrad Black is expected to do.

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