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Thursday, 25 January, 2001, 16:11 GMT
A resignation waiting to happen

By media correspondent Torin Douglas

Rosie Boycott's departure had been expected ever since the takeover by Richard Desmond, two months ago.

Many of the Express's top writers had already left and her exit was delayed only, it seems, by wrangles over her pay-off.

Editor and proprietor were never likely to get on.

His stable of soft-porn magazines and web-sites, and the adult TV station The Fantasy Channel, sat unhappily with her feminist and liberal views.

And even after the group announced it planned to sell the top-shelf titles - though not, significantly, the TV interests - there was no suggestion that she and Mr Desmond would ever make comfortable bed-fellows.

But it is not clear if any editor will find life comfortable with the Express's new proprietor.

Acting editor

No successor has yet been appointed and the word is it could take some time for a long-term appointment to be made.

The group says it had no meaningful discussions with candidates while Boycott was still in the job.

The Star editor Peter Hill has been tipped, as has the Express's royal editor Robert Jonson.

In the meantime, an acting editor is likely to be appointed from within.

The favourite for the job - since Boycott's deputy Chris Blackhurst has also quit - is the number three on the paper, Chris Williams.

Desmond is famous for his robust management style and language - Boycott publicly criticised the "heavy-handed" treatment of several dozen staff he had made redundant from the Express's web-sites.

Despite announcing that he would invest in the papers' marketing and editorial to challenge the Daily Mail, the new proprietor has actually imposed cuts and frozen budgets.

Merge

Promises to support the papers with TV advertising and increased print runs have not yet been met.

Most of the big names that have left have not been replaced, though a sports writer has been poached from The Sun.

Journalists fear that now Boycott has gone, up to 100 jobs could follow.

There are reports that Desmond wants to merge the sub-editors' desks, so one production team would serve the Express, the Sunday Express, the Daily Star and even Desmond's flagship celebrity publication - OK! magazine.

Party politics is likely to have little impact on the appointment. Boycott moved the traditionally-Conservative Express to the left and made clear today she was proud to have done so.

And despite her support for much of the government's work, the Express was one of those which made it most clear on its front page that Peter Mandelson would have to go.

But unlike the Express's founder Lord Beaverbrook, who made it one of the great British papers in its heyday, Desmond has no interest in newspapers as political vehicles.

Celebrity, sport and titillation are the expected order of the day, whichever editor eventually gets Boycott's job.

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See also:

25 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Rosie Boycott quits Express
25 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Boycott's climb to the top
25 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Daily Express: A chequered history
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