My life with Kelvin MacKenzie

Posted by Dom

I’ll be watching tonight’s Celebrity Apprentice on BBC1 with interest, and not just because I wrote last year’s MSN Apprentice blog.

Joining the Boys Team tonight, alongside Phil Tufnell, Lembit Opik, Hardeep Singh Kohli and Nick Hancock, will be the infamous tabloid legend Kelvin MacKenzie.

Kelvin’s reign as editor of The Sun is a topic for another blog, as is his infamous front cover that he ran on the Hillsborough disaster (I’ve been a Liverpool fan all my life; sales of the paper on Merseyside have never recovered after its highly controversial reporting on ‘the truth’ of the day’s tragedy).

No, my humble personal interest dates back to my time as a magazine editor back in Bournemouth. I’d started at the company formerly known as Paragon Publishing in 1999; Paragon ultimately became such a major player in the magazine industry that by 2003 it had attracted some serious interest from its rivals. Highbury House Communications ultimately stepped in to buy us in a deal worth around £32m.

Then the problems really started. To cut a very long and complicated story short, by 2005 the future of the whole company was looking extremely bleak. Mounting debt and a volatile magazine market were conspiring to leave Highbury in an extremely perilous financial position. In September, as a last throw of the dice, Kelvin MacKenzie came in as executive chairman (and some sort of uber trouble-shooter).  

At the time, I was plugging away as editor on a magazine that started life riding the internet boom as a beginner’s publication entitled Internet Made Easy. By 2005, it had evolved into the snappily titled (not) eBuyer and Online Seller – a monthly guide to the ever-growing world of eBay.

The fact that I was slightly unsure whether such a guide needed to be published in the first place was perhaps reflected in the underwhelming sales figures, which peaked around the 15,000 mark and generally floated somewhere around 10K.

Nevertheless, the magazine had a little niche carved out, and I had a fairly comfortable life, knocking out a 116-page monthly magazine with a very small team of writers and designers.

The comfort that I and many other editors were wallowing in didn’t last long after Kelvin started, however. Unsurprisingly, given his controversial tabloid reputation, the man quickly inspired a mixture of fear, admiration and loathing in his staff. After less than a week of his stewardship, a whole series of probably apocryphal tales about his fearsome editorial floor walkabouts had already sprung up.

Soon it became my turn to be granted an audience with the man, at one of our monthly publishers’ meetings where strategies for the various magazines would be outlined and debated.

In the space of a highly charged half hour in an executive boardroom, where he constantly called me ‘sonny’ (easier than remembering people’s names, I guess), he outlined his plans for my magazine. For some reason, in a company that still boasted highly popular PlayStation, Nintendo, Xbox and movie titles, he’d decided that my little mag was to be one of the flagship publications of the new, brave risen-from-the-Ashes Highbury. If not *the* flagship.

Page count was to go up from 116 to around 180 or so (every three-and-a-half weeks or so, on a shoestring budget and with, ooh, two other members of permanent staff on the team), and my title was going to be *the* guide to EVERYTHING on eBay. My vague concerns about how on a monthly title we could accurately discuss eBay listings, which by the time we hit the magazine shelves would be out of date or over, were batted away. The new eBuyer and Online Seller was going to be EXCITING and VIBRANT and appeal to a whole new YOUNG AUDIENCE of magazine buyers and internet users.

The plans were mad, ridiculously challenging and unrealistic, and I walked out of that meeting in a daze – yet still excited that I might finally get to be in charge of a magazine with some serious clout behind it.

A week or so later, the magazine was closed down.

The company’s turmoil had made me learn not to be surprised by anything in the world of magazine publishing, but even I found the contrast between Kelvin’s battle-cry and the ‘oh by the way we’ve closed it down’ statement I received pretty shocking.

By late December, Kelvin had quit. And as we trooped to work in early January 2006, we were greeted with a serious-looking note pinned on the front door of the building where we worked. Highbury was officially dead, and a whole load of us were to lose our jobs (me included, although at least I had the chance to take Voluntary Redundancy).

It’ll be interesting to see if Mr MacKenzie brings his ‘individual’ approach to man-management to whatever challenges tonight’s Apprentice brings… one thing’s for sure, he’s unlikely to sit in the background and be a shrinking violet. Kelvin v Sir Alan is one battle I’d pay good money to see.

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15 Responses to My life with Kelvin MacKenzie

  1. Charles says:

    What an appalling man, a bully and a blusterer in the time-honoured mould of Maxwell and Murdoch. On Sunday he could be seen on television on the Andrew Marr Show ranting about the poor being driven out of London and foreign millionaires encouraged to take their place with the incentive of non-taxable income. So no place then for essential workers like nurses,and other health workers, transport workers etc. A vile advocate of social cleansing!!

  2. Ryan says:

    If Britain wanted a home-grown Rush Limbaugh, that bloated bigot McKenzie would be it.

  3. Steve says:

    not nice man at all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. terry says:

    mckenzie walks on water.

  5. roger says:

    Kelvin MacKenzie (note spelling) should be put in charge of the world. It would soon be a better place. Fact is, none of Kelvin\’s critics could live in his company for five minutes.
      He\’s also a master of the wind-up. Get real you couch potatoes. Kelvin is paid to make your minds work. (Not much hope in most cases, it seems). 
      PS. Maxwell was a bully and blusterer. Murdoch is not.  

  6. Dave says:

    I cannot beleive as a liverpool supporter you could work with such a vile man – youre a disgrace and so is Manckenzie and the BBC

  7. dominic says:

    MacKenzie taking time off from peddling his diseased tabloid yellow journalism (  pitched to the Sun reading neanderthals of Britain as "common sense" of course ) on Alan Titchmarsh\’s witless daily tv show. The man is nauseating & nothing he says rings true…"tongue in cheek" the bigotted apologists for MacKenzie\’s call his views…no, not tongue in cheek, just cowardly because like all bigots MacKenzie does not have the strength of his convictions, he just likes the sound of his smug voice.

  8. Rosalind says:

    Dave – you are such a lucky man! Obviously you have the wealth and talent (although not the spelling) to be able to walk out of a job the moment somebody you disagree with walks in. I think you might find that the writer of the blog was merely giving an interesting commentary on what it was like working briefly with Kelvin; I don\’t know about you, but I can \’t seem to find the bit where he spoke at length of his love for the man. As a Liverpool supporter he didn\’t need to mention his views on Kelvin\’s \’journalism\’ – even I (not a Liverpool supporter) thought that was self-explanatory.

  9. Unknown says:

    I suspect that Sugar will give him an easy time, because he will not want to alienate him. The funny thing is that MacKenzie has failed at nearly every enterprize  He actually lost readers at the Sun during his reign, he lost listeners at Talk Sport when he was in charge. Others enterprisers have failed and shut down.  He is great at PR for himself, but not so great at running things.  I wouldn\’t pay him to run a whelk stall given his record.

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