British media a marketplace for 'outsiders'

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

A new Australian media tycoon has suddenly arrived on the British scene to join Rupert Murdoch, proprietor of The Times of London.

He is Robert Holmes A'Court who has taken over the giant Associated Communications Corporation (ACC) and its extensive film and television holdings.

The L7 million ($20 million) deal virtually ends the career of Lord Lew Grade , Britain's equivalent of Sam Goldwyn, and one of the most colorful people ever to enter the entertainment world.

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Into Lord Grade's shoes steps a soft-spoken millionaire whom many see as determined to displace Murdoch as the most powerful media proprietor in Britain.

Holmes A'Court has extensive mineral interests in his native Australia, and has lately been branching out into newspaper and television ownership. He has just bid L78.5 million ($145 million) for Australia's Herald group of newspapers.

If he is successful he would have bigger press holdings in Australia than Murdoch.

Lord Grade's ACC has been in trouble for some time. Backer of the famous ''Muppets'' and other highly successful television shows, the Russian emigre sank millions into movies, hoping for success in the United States.

One of them, on raising the Titanic, was a financial disaster. Ever since, talk of takeover bids for ACC has been rife. Grade and Holmes A'Court became friendly last year, and both men say they are happy with the outcome.

As well as possessing a cinema and entertainment empire, the corporation also has big holdings in independent (commercial) television in Britain. Holmes A'Court is believed to be especially keen to develop this side of ACC.

Despite his connections with Perth, Western Australia, where last year he launched a newspaper, the Western Mail, Holmes A'Court's family origins are largely British.

His quaint, heraldic name is inherited from 19th century English landowners. His parents traveled from Britain to Rhodesia between the wars to run a farm and later moved to Australia. Part of Holmes A'Court's education was at a New Zealand university.

His arrival on the British scene means that three ''outsiders'' now hold highly influential positions in the media world here, with Murdoch owning The Times and Sunday Times and ''Tiny Rowling,'' chairman of the giant Lonro Corporation, the London Observer. Rowling is of German origin, and Lonro is powerful in Africa.

Special interest is centering on Holmes A'Court because, before his ACC bid, his name was mentioned in attempts to acquire The Times and the Observer. At Fleet Street it is believed he wants to control an influential newspaper to match his newly acquired film and TV holdings.

Associates describe Holmes A'Court as a cool, determined intellectual fond of chess. He is a lawyer by training, and a financier by instinct.

He and Murdoch regard themselves as genial rivals in Australia. The tone of their competition may change now that they both have big holdings in Britain.

Murdoch's acquisition of The Times is causing him financial problems, although he is reported to be eager to make the paper profitable. Fleet Street insiders say that if Holmes A'Court is looking for a paper to buy, The Times is likely to be the one he tries for.

That would almost certainly produce a major battle between two Australian media tycoons, both notoriously keen on winning takeover struggles.

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