He’s spent decades at the centre of some of the media industry’s biggest institutions, writes Sean O’Grady. So how will Neil’s GB News take on the main players?
Andrew Neil is what I think would nowadays be called a “grifter”. In the nicest of ways, I hasten to add. In his autobiography, Full Disclosure, published a quarter of a century ago, and badly in need of an update, there is photograph of a young Neil in the sixth form cricket team at Paisley Grammar School, circa 1967. Yes, indeed, cricket at a Scottish school, an early and characteristic marker of his often self-described status as an “outsider”. Anyhow, there he is in his smart blazer and shorts, with a fine thick head of dark hair, a hint of a smile playing around his lips.
To the group photo he adds this caption: “It might have been the start of a great cricketing future, but the local newspaper needed somebody to do match reports so I gave up playing for writing – almost certainly a sensible career move. It was my first experience of journalism – an opportunity for me which might have had something to do with the fact that my brother was editor of the Paisley Daily Express. On the other hand, there was nobody on his staff who knew much about cricket – or wanted to spend their Saturday afternoons watching it.
“I was delighted to do so, especially since the clubhouse bar was open all day and the tennis club next door was full of pretty girls. It was then that it dawned on me that newspapers were prepared to pay you to do what you do for free anyway. That seemed a pretty reasonable way to spend a life.”