Media Perspective: Telegraph gains an old pro as Allwood returns to industry

Last weekend was a good one for commercial television. Despite the BBC's impressive audience for its international football coverage, ITV1 bounced back with some strong Sunday-night figures for its Bergerac-meets-Jonathan Creek series Midsomer Murders.

Sky One screened the most amusing content of the weekend, though, with its "celebrities versus legends" football event The Match. This pitted the skills of D-listers such as Ralf Little and Tommy out of Coronation Street against fat old footballers such as Trevor Francis and Chris Waddle.

Predictably the fat old pros won, yet the programme was much better than expected. Watching ludicrous old men desperately attempting to hang on to former glories is a damn sight more entertaining than most reality TV.

Which brings us to the return of John Allwood, a newspaper veteran who has spent the past four years as Orange's executive vice-president, to the newspaper industry. Uncharitable observers might dismiss the 53-year-old's call-up to the Telegraph Group management as a chance for him to relive past glories played out at News International and Mirror Group Newspapers.

More accurately, his new boss, the Telegraph chief executive Murdoch MacLennan, describes him as having "one of the best newspaper business brains around".

The word "business" is vital here. Allwood is an accountant by background, not an editorial firebrand or an ad-sales whiz. He plotted his way through uncompromising territory, first handling the accounts at the then heavily unionised News International, then as Mirror Group's finance director following Robert Maxwell's death.

His experience in overhauling newspaper groups (as Mirror Group's chief executive he engineered its merger with Trinity) might be valuable at the Telegraph, with MacLennan and the paper's new owners, the Barclay brothers, reviewing its operations. Reports have suggested that Allwood, as the executive director, will be handed a wide remit to identify savings and strategic objectives. His arrival has already led to an impact on the positions of top Telegraph Group management personnel, with the departure of the managing director, Hugo Drayton, and the finance director, Niamh O'Donnell-Keenan.

Two comments from a Campaign profile of Allwood two years ago reveal something of his style. He emerges as a "tough-but-straight-talking" manager straight out of central casting, a Yorkshireman who "rolls up his sleeves and gets actively stuck in". His impact will be quickly felt when he leaves Orange at the end of October.

Perhaps conscious of the burden of the Black regime, MacLennan has moved quickly to get a firm financial hand on the tiller. Any thoughts that the Barclays would run the Telegraph as a barely profitable trophy must now have been dispelled.

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