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January 13, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 9:56am

Billionaire Telegraph owner David Barclay dies aged 86: ‘He rescued a great newspaper’, says Boris Johnson

By Dominic Ponsford

The Daily Telegraph’s joint-owner Sir David Barclay (pictured left)  has died after a short illness aged 86, the newspaper has reported.

Along with his identical twin Sir Frederick, Sir David built a vast business empire which began with hotels and expanded to include shipping, retailing, and, since 2004, ownership of the Telegraph Media Group.

The paper said the Barclay brothers had “operated as one” throughout their business career, while steadfastly avoiding personal publicity and media scrutiny.

Sir Frederick said in a statement: “It was a great journey in everything that we did, the good, the bad, the ugly … we experienced it from being bombed out of our beds in Coventry to the deals that we made and the ones that got away.

“We were twins from the beginning until the end. He was the right hand to my left and I was his left hand to his right. We’ll meet again.”

The pair – who live on the channel island of Brechot -turned to media ownership in 1992 by buying the weekly newspaper The European from Robert Maxwell. They closed it in 1999 after circulation slumped from 150,000 to 50,000 and it reportedly lost £74m.

They bought The Scotsman titles in 1995 for £85m and then sold them in 2005 to Johnston Press for £160m

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After first expressing interest in The Daily Telegraph to its Canadian owner Conrad Black in May 2003, and while a private deal was overruled by a US court in November of that year, the Barclays eventually acquired the paper at auction seven months later for £665m. They outbid Daily Mail and General Trust, Richard Desmond and Axel Springer to acquire the Telegraph titles and The Spectator.

The paper quoted a colleague of the brothers as saying Sir David was distinct from Sir Frederick in that he was “more attuned to taking a risk, and Frederick was generally willing to have a look but would never bet the farm”.

Sir David and Sir Frederick were born into a large family in Hammersmith on 27 October, 1934, with David the older by ten minutes.

Their father, also Frederick, was a travelling salesman from Kilmarnock who died when the boys were 13.

David and two of his brothers were evacuated several times during the Second World War, the Telegraph said, and ultimately the twins left school aged 14.

Sir David was always a voracious reader, obsessed with newspapers, business, economics and politics, and always said he had been educated at the “University of Life”, the paper said.

Hundreds of journalism jobs have been cut under successive waves of redundancies at the Telegraph titles under the Barclays as they have switched from print-first to digitally-focused production.

In recent years the Barclays have been rumoured to be keen to sell the Telegraph group.

In the latest accounts (for 2019) Telegraph Media Group reported turnover of £265.8m (down from £271.3m in 2018) and retained profit for the year of £5.7m (up from £700,000).

According to The Sunday Times the Barclay brothers had a combined wealth of £7bn.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was paid £275,000 a year for a weekly column in the Telegraph whilst a backbench MP, said: “Farewell with respect and admiration to Sir David Barclay who rescued a great newspaper, created many thousands of jobs across the UK and who believed passionately in the independence of this country and what it could achieve.”

The Barclays are one of four billionaire families who control the fast majority of the UK national press, the others being: the Harmsworths, Lebedevs and Murdochs.

[Read more: Who owns the media? Top newspaper, website and magazine owners charted]

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