Branson Says 'No Comment': Newshounds Ecstatic

01 October 2007

LONDON: Back in the Swinging Sixties, master prestidigitator Sir Richard Branson tamed the wolves of the planet's press to eat from his hand. Forty-odd years later, ten unscarred digits still wriggle from his wrists.

And in the Nasty Noughties, a compliant press corps remains ever-ready to roll over on its back on sight of the permagrinned knight.

Or so it seemed at a press conference last week when Branson entertained reporters at his home in rural Oxfordshire in a bid to drum up excitement for the launch of Virgin Media's new Virgin 1 channel.

But the pack's interest in this relative non-event waned with the second glass of Albanian sherry. What about Virgin Media's thwarted attempt to merge with ITV, they wanted to know?

Sir Richard, seasoned media warrior that he is, wasn't about to fall for that one. He was "not sure he could comment on any fresh plans to take over ITV for regulatory reasons".

However, when asked if ITV remained a long-term goal for Virgin, he replied: "We'll just have to sort of watch this space."

Which in an archetypal leap of journalistic creativity transmuted into a MediaGuardian headline: 'Virgin Still Wants ITV'!

The pack's attention then turned to recent speculation that Branson - Virgin Media's largest single shareholder since NTL:Telewest's takeover of Virgin Mobile last year - is mulling the disposal of his shares in the struggling US cable company.

"I think it's extremely unlikely the Virgin brand would ever be withdrawn from Virgin Media and we never said that we'd be selling our shares," riposted The Master, to whom the monosyllables 'yes' and 'no' are No-Go areas.

"I think if anybody wanted to buy Virgin Media it would be because it's got the brand."

After which a round of high-fives and whoops ensued as Sir Richard was borne around the room on the shoulders of cheering journos.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff