29 Jul


by Les Hinton

I did a brave thing recently. I volunteered to appear in the BBC epic Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty to speak positively about Rupert himself.

For years, I had uniformly declined to help with TV shows and books about him. The approaches from producers and authors were always amusing — “It will not be a stereotypical portrait; we want it to be a thoughtful and insightful profile” …. “It’s the right time to produce an historical document” …. “Our ambition is to make the definitive series on Rupert Murdoch”. Yeah yeah.

But this time I accepted. The reason was self-serving: my memoir was out in paperback (buy it now — The Bootle Boy: an untidy life in news. Amazon, £9).

Two bright young men interviewed me over three days in Manhattan and London. I posed for them in a park across my street; they filmed me looking meditatively out my window; and I did my best to talk about Rupert — his trials, triumphs, and his blunders — without coming across too much as a blindly loyal lifelong fanboy. I worked for him fifty years and trust me there were plenty of warts.

They asked tough questions and sometimes I regretted my answers; good interviewers make you do that. I’m not complaining.

They maybe took a few things I said out of context, but who among us in the media hasn’t been rightly accused of that?

I didn’t think they were working on a paean. I knew they wouldn’t be going out of their way to reveal him as a generous, gentle, misunderstood genius.

They lined up the usual hit squad, people who’ve been repeating the same things for a decade at least.

There were Max Mosley and Hugh Grant, whose altruistic worries about the conduct of the tabloid press might be heightened by revelations of their own famous indiscretions.

Dennis Potter, the playwright who’s been dead a quarter of a century, was brought back to life to remind us he named his fatal cancer Rupert.

Alastair Campbell told us again how he had to wash his mouth out with soap every time he was nice to the Murdoch Press.

And Tom Watson, the former Labour MP whose political career evaporated last year for reasons too distracting to enter into here, repeated his favourite line about the company being a mafia operation.

Watson also got personal with me, describing me as beneath his contempt, which I’m fairly confident put me in excellent company.

He was provoked into saying this by my suggestion he was motivated to orchestrate a political storm over phone hacking because of Labour’s distress at The Sun for rejecting the premiership of Watson’s hero and puppet master Gordon Brown. I’d always thought it was a point of pride for him.

Defenders were thin on the ground in this three-hour epic. The most prominent among them was an over-excited Nigel Farage, which struck me as mischievous casting.

My own contribution differed from others in acknowledging some of Murdoch’s non-fiendish traits.

There wasn’t much else positive said about him.

He’s not perfect, far from it, but they might have ticked off a few things on the plus side of the ledger to punctuate their list of crimes. Such as how he rescued British newspapers from an early death in the 1980s and then upended the suffocating duopoly that ruled broadcasting before the advent of Sky.

At the end of the final episode, there’s a clip from a Murdoch interview in which he is sceptical about the causes of climate change. Straight after that, the show cuts to a raging inferno — an Australian bushfire, I think.

The implication was clear: on top of everything else, Rupert Murdoch was now guilty of setting the world on fire.

No doubt the Murdoch loathers loved it.  For them, tales of Rupert the demon are like favorite bedtime stories. They’ll listen to them over and over.

For my appearances, the accolades from them poured in on Twitter —  “lickspittle …. bag carrier…..shoe polisher….lying twat…… a f****** worm”

But I don’t know anymore about the BBC. She’ll be 98 years old in October and the old girl’s age is beginning to show. It’s a sure symptom of cranial decay when someone keeps boring us with the same story.

The BBC has been updating its version of the Rupert Murdoch story for decades. In their version, Murdoch is Britain’s default demon and the source of just about everything that’s gone wrong in this country in the last five decades or so.

The BBC can’t help itself. They must see it as a solemn duty to keep returning to this story to reset the nation’s moral compass lest it forget the devil among them.

But some understanding is called for.

While the BBC loathes Rupert Murdoch, it’s fair to say the feeling is entirely mutual.


  1. MIKE LYNCH July 29, 2020 at 11:15 pm #

    A balanced overview of the recent Murdoch BBC profile/documentary/expose? Interesting when the BBC is fighting to retain its license monopoly that they turn to the old Murdoch ideological pinata–maybe with enough blows it will eventually fall apart–but you can beat yourself to death as well. The BBC, like the NHS, was/is one of our cherished national institutions but unlike the NHS the BBC no longer garners that sort of respect and its credibility is in shreds after its ‘fence-sitting’ on Brexit (don’t pay heed to the hoary old phrase ‘balanced objectivity’) Murdoch is a rich old capitalist (don’t worry his heart is in the wrong place) Don’t cry for Rupe.–he will be okay, but he is only a part of a greater cultural media revolution and in revolutions (on both sides of the barricades) the just and the unjust alike get hurt. He may have exploited the media landscape rather than enriched it but he is not alone in that. I would not say the 3 part profile was a hatchet job; more of a bungled assault with a dull metal comb. Let the bard summate:
    “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
    The evil that men do lives after them;
    The good is oft interred with their bones;
    So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
    Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
    If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
    And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.

  2. Anthony Doran July 30, 2020 at 7:26 am #

    Les, the BBC film wasn’t boring. We learnt a thing or two we didn’t know before. You were fine. Tom Watson wasn’t terribly convincing. Neither were the BBC if it was meant to be a hatchet job. Those of us who know something about both sides of the Murdoch story felt it was just about OK. As a young reporter I was able to compare him with Maxwell. Both of them were bidding to buy the broadsheet SUN. When people condemn Murdoch I throw in that story. Bit repetitive but they raise an eyebrow when they hear it.

    • leshinton44 July 30, 2020 at 3:42 pm #

      I remember Maxwell inviting us all to meet him with the man he planned to make editor, Mike Randall, who had been editor of the Daily Mail. Maxwell never stood a chance, thank goodness

  3. Simon July 30, 2020 at 7:59 am #

    You forgot to mention how Rupert inadvertently made English football better. When Sky got the Premier League the free to airs were forced to screen Italian football. The fans suddenly realised how awful the local game really was and the clubs had to change. Interesting too that no Assie broadcaster has picked this BBC job up yet.

  4. neil July 31, 2020 at 12:45 pm #

    Hardly mentioned the ever wonderful Max Clifford ….and nice to see Piers reminding people what a failure he has become at almost everything –

  5. John Rafferty August 4, 2020 at 11:13 am #

    Absolutely spot on Les. Mr Murdoch has provided a really good living for thousands upon thousands of people all around the world. As you said the organisation is not always fair or even handed but it does know how to survive and prosper and it does look after its employees


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