EEndless columns have been filled with comparisons between the recently concluded HBO series Succession and the real-life dynastic struggles of the Murdoch clan. But for seasoned media observers, a far more dramatic generational transfer has occurred, and it involves the empire once owned by David and Frederick Barclay.
Jane Martinson tells the story of these twins and the business they built in You May Never See Us Again. Martinson is a former editor of the Guardian, now professor of financial journalism at the City of London (for the sake of full disclosure, I should say that we have been colleagues at both institutions).
And what a story: divorces, bankruptcies, courtroom clashes, secret recordings and brothers turning against each other – after decades of being so close that they created a joint family crest with an intertwined D&F to adorn a palace that they had built on desolate land. Channel Island of Brecqhou.
Martinson deftly recounts how the Barclay twins, with almost no formal education, rose from poverty in west London to build first a property and then a hotel business, before becoming owners of two of the most prestigious titles in British media : the Telegraph and the Spectator.
Last month, Rupert Murdoch pulled off a successful transition of power to his son Lachlan that went so smoothly it was boring. At the risk of spoilers, that’s not how Barclay’s dynastic succession played out: When David died in 2021, family members had been feuding for years. Frederick, meanwhile, was blindsided by a divorce petition from his wife – with £120million demanded in payment.
David’s sons fought with Frederick and his family for control of the businesses. The ensuing fight, in court and beyond, is described in great detail thanks to Martinson’s meticulous reporting.
But the book’s real strength lies in demonstrating the ruthlessness with which the brothers built their empire – as well as their uncanny ability to exploit the British establishment for their own benefit. From the start of their operations, the Barclays operated in secret, with convoluted structures that made it unclear who controlled what and how. Martinson explains that in the 1970s the brothers managed to exploit their relationship with the state-run Crown Agents to obtain huge property loans on favorable terms in a perfectly legal way – losing ultimately millions of pounds of public money when the bubble burst. .
One particularly striking example of composure sticks in the mind. When entering into a buyout deal, the chairman of the target company expected that the new owners would ask him to stay on. However, “instead of the big glass of something proper that he had expected to celebrate the deal and the new role,” says Martinson, “he had received a letter from David Barclay accusing him of breach of trust and asking him for his opinion. immediate resignation. He was in shock. »
This ferocity was not isolated: to build and manage their home in the Channel Islands, the Barclays went to war against the population of the neighboring island. They fought their business rivals tooth and nail in court. They have fought journalists in libel suits in the UK and elsewhere. They eventually turned their hostility against each other. So for Martinson to report everything she has so colorfully and comprehensively as this is no small feat.
And it was worth it. Those who aren’t media-obsessed may find some of the details of the trade deals a little tedious, but overall it’s a tour de force – about how power and money can be won, and how easily they can be lost.