Rupert's Bootle Boy
Monday, July 23, 2018
Justinian in Critics' Corner, Rupert Murdoch

Peter Lyons in The Dart reviews Les Hinton's The Bootle Boy ... Journalism, ruthless Rupert, hacking, politics & human frailty ... From Liverpool, to Adelaide, to New York, to London ... Globe trotting insider who clung to the boss 

Les Hinton: the hack from Merseyside went all the way with Rupert

IN Les Hinton's compelling autobiography, The Bootle Boy, he writes about a colleague at The Sun called Keith Deves, a journalist who was used to reporting serious stories.

Deves had been a war correspondent at Reuters, knew Kim Philby before he was exposed and had been shot in the leg in Beirut.

He was sent to a house in London to interview a Miss Whiplash. As he was leaving, she told him she had forgotten something. She opened a cupboard door "to reveal a naked and agitated old man, gagged and bound.

"Now calm down, judge," she said, "I'm only showing this nice man from The Sun newspaper around."

Deves was perturbed. "Was it really necessary to tell the poor old judge that I was a reporter from The Sun?" he asked.  

"Don't worry," said Miss Whiplash. "It's all part of his torture."

Leslie Frank Hinton, 74, was born in Bootle, "a very poor suburb, jammed hard against the docks of Liverpool and shattered by war."  His childhood was spent with the unsmiling and tough women of Merseyside. Their husbands were coming back traumatised from the front. He writes of alcoholics and wife-beaters; the religiously polished doorsteps and his Sunday baths in the small zinc tub. 

His Dad was in the army and the family travelled to many places. He ended up in Adelaide working for The News where a former prisoner of the Japanese, Rohan Rivett gave him a job.

One day, the owner of the paper, described by Hinton as a plump-cheeked man with a cigarette, handed him 10 shillings and said, "Can you buy me a ham sandwich please?"

It was the first time he had been spoken to by Rupert Murdoch. For 15 years, he says, we discussed nothing more elevated.

Hinton rose to become one of the most powerful men in the media world. He became CEO of News America Publishing, Fox Television and Dow Jones as well as Executive Chairman of News International.

He worked for Murdoch till 2011 when he stood down over the phone hacking scandal. He says he was ignorant of what went on but felt it proper to resign. He was cleared, too late, of a cover-up at News International and misleading the Parliament's Privileges Committee.

The relationship with Murdoch is at the heart of the book. The Dirty Digger comes across as utterly ruthless. We knew that already but what is surprising is Hinton doesn't shrink from criticising Murdoch. 

He is required to fire a lot of people for his boss. He also gives us a guide as to when Rupert does not like someone. He says that although Rupert's sackings are brutal, the fired ones always get an over-generous payout. But, he writes, "I consoled over drinks more than one tearful editor."

Murdoch could be "savage with senior people who displeased him". 

He assesses Murdoch's driven nature, distrust of politicians and honours and the feeling that as an Australian he is underestimated.

As you would expect from a 60s newspaperman, Hinton tells a good story. I don't want to be a spoiler, but you learn new things about Princess Diana, Bill Clinton and Gordon Brown; his next-door neighbour in Los Angeles whose wife was murdered when he was there (a chap called O.J. Simpson); Tony Blair, Walter Cronkite and Israel's "cold-eyed" Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Even Johnny Rotten gets a guernsey.

There are good stories about Australian hacks and the drinking culture of Fleet Street, which today seems crazy.

The book also has some fascinating insights about the death of print journalism. Hinton is self-deprecating (he admits he couldn't read a balance sheet when he took over one of Rupe's businesses). He is never boastful, but you get the impression that he still cannot believe his luck.  

I shall break my rule and relate one more story 

Ages ago Hinton was enjoying a job in America when he was asked by Ian Rae (formerly editor of TV week in Australia) to be editor of a tabloid called The Star. He refused. He didn't want to be "sitting on [my] arse all day worrying about UFO invasions and who's screwing who on Dallas". 

Not long afterwards, Murdoch came to lunch. Incredibly, he hadn't dined with the boss before.

"We were at the restaurant door on our way out when I felt Rupert's arm around my shoulder. 

'Les,' he said. "I just want to thank you for helping out at The Star. I'm very grateful and I know you'll do a fine job.'

'You've got it wrong, Rupert. No way am I doing that job. I keep telling them, but no-one will listen to me.'

"Well, they're not exactly the words I used. What I said was, 'Oh, you're welcome, Mr. Murdoch, you're very welcome'. 

Maybe a panel of psychologists could explain why I folded so quickly, but I guess being weak-kneed isn't a clinical condition."

If you are interested in journalism, politics, power, celebrities, human nature and simply funny stories, get this book. If it has a weakness, there is no index, but then perhaps they didn't have enough paper.

You finish wondering why Les Hinton stayed with Rupert Murdoch for so long. Possibly, like the old judge, it was part of his punishment.

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (http://justinian.com.au/).
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