Richard Desmond, an erstwhile trafficker in mammary mags turned national newspaper proprietor, is pathologically peeved at German publishing giant Axel Springer's interest in acquiring Lord Conrad Black's former fiefdom, Telegraph Newspapers.
Or so it seemed when Desmond and his cohorts met late last week for their monthly meeting with senior executives from the Telegraph to discuss finances at their jointly-owned printing facility.
Desmond, among others, recently pulled out of the bidding for the Telegraph properties when the stakes soared beyond their pockets [WAMN: 30-Mar-04].
There are various explanations for what happened next. Some believe it was the chagrin of losing out in the Telegraph race that went to Desmond's head. Especially as he had sold his lucrative sex magazine empire in the hope of passing the government's 'suitability test' now applied to wannabe national newspaper owners.
Those of a more charitable disposition believe it could be the effect of printing fumes or a piteous encephalic condition. Any of these theories might account for Desmond's ensuing behaviour.
"Guten morgen," was his greeting to Telegraph ceo Jeremy Deedes as he entered the meeting room. This was intended as a witty reference to Axel Springer's pole position in the race for the Telegraph (Desmond's humour is not always appreciated outside of the Express bunker).
Failing to get a laff, Desmond tried again. "How do you feel about being owned by f--king Nazis," he reportedly enquired of Deedes. Replied the latter: "That's a totally inappropriate thing to say", suggesting they should both sit down and get on with their meeting.
At which suggestion the proprietor of Express Newspapers went ballistic, giving a passable imitation of the high speed 360 degree head-swivel performed in The Exorcist by Linda Blair whilst vomiting a Niagara of green bile.
Those at the meeting report he yelled at Deedes: "Don't you tell me to sit down you f--cking piece of sh-t", later referring to other Telegraph executives as "f--king c-nts" and "f--king w--kers"
It gets worse (or better, depending on your appreciation of the ludicrous). Desmond then gave a 'Seig Heil' salute and invited Deedes outside to sort the matter out. The latter sensibly declined, reporting that the man who in a nightmare scenario might have become his boss "was holding two fingers up making a moustache and making Nazi salutes."
When Deedes and his colleagues prepared to leave the meeting, Desmond instructed Express managing director Martin Ellice and publishing manager Chris Haslum to sing "Deutschland über alles". It is not reported whether they complied. [Presumably so: they are still in their jobs.]
Invited later by The Independent to comment on the alleged fiasco, an Express spokesman replied: "The comments are an interesting interpretation of what was a very productive one-and-a-half hour meeting."
[WAMN apologises for the bowdlerization of expletives. Some spam filters would object to the unexpurgated version!]
Data sourced from: Financial Times and The Independent; additional content by WARC staff