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June 10, 2014

Richard Ingrams: Oldie departure was result of disagreement with publisher over £15,000 Arts Council grant

By William Turvill

Former Oldie editor Richard Ingrams has said his exit from the magazine he founded 22 years ago came about because of a disagreement over the publisher's application for a £15,000 grant from the Arts Council.

In an email to contributors this afternoon Ingrams said the "row" between himself and publisher James Pembroke had been "simmering for some time".

But he said it came to a head when Pembroke made the grant application for the Soho Literary Festival.

Ingrams announced his resignation from the magazine on Friday 30 May after being summoned to a disciplinary hearing brought by Pembroke.

Last week, he indicated that he would be willing to rejoin the magazine as editor under the right conditions, and Press Gazette understands he still holds out hope.

But Pembroke, speaking to Press Gazette for the first time on the matter today, ruled out the possibility.

He said in an email: “There really is no chance of our ever taking Richard back. Today, he also accepted a handsome offer for the shares we gave him seven years ago.”

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Private Eye today reported that Ingrams was concerned that Pembroke's application to the Arts Council contravened the body's rules and that, as the public face of the magazine, this would lead to bad publicity for him. 

This week's edition said Ingrams was concerned that the application contained misleading statements, including that the Soho Literary Festival was an "arts organisation". In fact, it said, the festival is run by Oldie Publications.

The Eye reported that Ingrams was concerned that the money was supposed to go towards a "new marketing executive salary", when actually it went towards paying the salary of the magazine's exisiting editorial assistant, who organises the festival as part of their job.

Pembroke said in a statement to Private Eye: “I have not made any misleading statements to the Arts Council. The Oldie is mentioned throughout the application; it is clear that the festival is part of Oldie Publications Ltd.

“The Arts Council is fully aware of this and have told me it is legitimate for a company supporting a self-contained arts project to apply for a grant. I voluntarily asked for their approval of certain changes and they said they were ‘absolutely fine’.

“The SLF is fully accountable; in due course the Arts Council will see a full report, including profit and loss.”

Ingrams said in his email to staff: “James is currently interviewing candidates for the editorship who have been told they will be expected to work regular office hours (9.30-5.30). This has come as a blow to some of the hopefuls…

“James is obviously planning on 'business as usual' but if enough people make that difficult for him it may still be possible to restore the status quo ante.”

Since Ingrams announced his resignation from The Oldie, Sir Terry Wogan, John Sweeney, Sam Taylor, Alice Pitman and Peter Lewis have said they will no longer work for the magazine.

Now, Candida Lycett, who wrote the Unwrecked England column, “Spook writer” Rebecca Wallersteiner and occasional writer Patrick Cockburn, of The Independent, have said they will no longer be contributing to the title.

Describing the magazine as “one of the best in the world” Cockburn said: “The idea that it can be ‘business as usual’ without the person the magazine revolved around is completely absurd. The obvious thing to do is to restore the status quo ante.”

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