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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 June, 2003, 08:36 GMT 09:36 UK
Evans' entertaining court fight
Nick Higham
By Nick Higham
BBC media correspondent

Chris Evans has always been a one-off. He's one of the most talented broadcasters in Britain - funny, inventive, charming, occasionally scurrilous. His abilities come close to genius.

Chris Evans
Evans bought Virgin - but when he sold it, his relationship with it went sour
He's also a maverick, a man prone to falling out with his bosses and with his friends, a prodigious drinker, a self-publicist, easily bored, always restlessly looking for new challenges.

Scottish Media Group is a mini-media conglomerate which started life as Scottish Television, and still owns Virgin Radio and a string of other interests. It's run by the sort of men in suits that City investors find reassuring.

For seven weeks earlier this year Chris Evans and SMG went head to head in the High Court, in a chalk-and-cheese contest which served as a reminder, if nothing else, of just how difficult it can be for conventional organisations like publicly-quoted companies to manage unconventional creative people.

Chris Evans first pitched up at Virgin Radio in October 1997. At the time Virgin's future was uncertain - Capital Radio was trying to buy it - and Evans was employed as a stop-gap breakfast presenter.

He and his team had just come from BBC Radio 1, where they had created a highly successful breakfast show but then fallen out with the management of controller Matthew Bannister.

Within weeks of arriving at Virgin, Mr Evans astonished everyone by buying the station himself.

Two years later he sold it, along with his production company Ginger, to SMG for 225 million. He was himself Virgin's biggest asset, his successful breakfast show the ratings powerhouse on which the station's commercial success was founded.

Strained relations

But he seems to have found it hard to go back to being a mere employee, albeit at a salary of 1.7 million. By early 2001 relations between Mr Evans and the Virgin management, led by chief executive John Pearson, were distinctly strained.

Chris Evans
Evans took his old Radio 1 show to Virgin
In June 2001 they parted company. Mr Evans sued for payment of 8.6 million-worth of SMG share options still owed to him as a result of Virgin's sale. SMG counter-sued, alleging breach of contract.

The result was a court case which often proved almost as entertaining as one of Mr Evans's own shows.

In court SMG's counsel, Geoffrey Vos QC, accused Mr Evans of "overbearing arrogance and conceit", of being "dishonest and manipulative", of sometimes being "too hungover" to broadcast and of "damaging relations with advertisers".

Marriage

There were allegations Mr Evans rewrote commercials he didn't like without consultation, refused to follow the Virgin playlist and, after scrapping his show's existing format, introduced an inferior replacement.

The court heard that on two occasions Mr Evans went Awol from his show. On the first he went to America with his girlfriend Billie Piper, and promptly married her in Las Vegas.

On the second occasion, in June, the station said he was ill, suffering from stress. The newspapers told a different story. He had gone on a three-day bender, culminating in a trip to Waitrose where he and Billie were pictured in the papers wheeling a trolley piled high with booze.

In the end the station's management decided he was deliberately trying to humiliate them and fired him.

Chris Evans
I had not seen anyone so frightening since I looked at myself in the mirror six years earlier
Evans on his boss at Virgin
In court Mr Evans and his friends gave as good as they got. A new programme director at Virgin, Paul Jackson, was accused by an old colleague of the presenter of promoting a "climate of fear" at the station.

Mr Evans himself said Mr Jackson was a frightening character.

"I had not seen anyone so frightening since I looked at myself in the mirror six years earlier," he told SMG's counsel.

'Childish'

In the witness box Mr Evans admitted his behaviour had been "childish", but not cowardly or unprofessional.

He said the station's management "showed a lack of respect for his opinion and experience": almost the last straw, it emerged, was their refusal to let Evans and his new co-presenter, John Webster, stay on air all day on 6 June, the day England played Greece in a crucial World Cup qualifying match.

He also accused the Virgin management of a conspiracy to sack him and replace him with another presenter. The company denied it - but Virgin Radio's chief executive, John Pearson, was recalled to the witness box twice to answer allegations that he'd conspired to cover up potentially damaging evidence.

As the case ran on it emerged that Evans never read the contracts he signed (he left that to his agent, Michael Foster), never opened his post and frequently broadcast while hungover.

Indeed, tales of his drinking featured heavily. At one point the Media Guardian website reported the following exchange between Mr Evans and SMG's counsel, Geoffrey Vos, discussing whether the presenter had been ill with stress during his second absence from the show:

Mr Vos put it to Mr Evans that he clearly was not ill when a solicitor watched him in The Nag's Head drinking one-and-a-half pints over lunch, being the most talkative person in the party and crawling around on all fours while impersonating a female journalist.

Mr Vos added that the star's agent, Michael Foster, had said he was "in a dark place".

"I was in a very dark place", said Mr Evans.

"A pub?" suggested Mr Vos.

"I was going to say that but I didn't want to be flippant in court," responded Mr Evans.


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