Boy from Bootle who conquered the Big Apple

Boy from Bootle who conquered the Big Apple: Les Hinton was a lowly messenger when Rupert Murdoch sent him to get a sandwich — he ended up running his empire

  • Les Hinton recalls his rise to becoming Rupert Murdoch’s confidant in new book 
  • He was able to meet Murdoch whilst working as a Adelaide News messenger boy
  • He worked various roles in Murdoch’s News Corporation and became executive
  • Les claims you can get anything done if you don’t care who gets the credit



by Les Hinton (Scribe £20)

The poor boy from across the tracks who rises to fame and wealth by dint of hard graft, talent and a slice of luck is a familiar tale told in film and fiction.

Dickens pretty much invented the formula in Great Expectations. Now, we have a real-life Pip taking us from the grimy back streets of suburban Liverpool to a Fifth Avenue apartment in New York, having acquired wealth and power along the way.

The twist in Leslie Hinton’s story — and one that Dickens would have appreciated — is a fall from grace, followed by redemption and a fight to recover the prestige, if not the power, he once possessed as head of Britain’s biggest newspaper company.

Hinton’s memoir begins in the poverty of post-war Britain, where working-class families survived on rationed food in crumbling terraced houses with outside lavatories and ripped-up copies of the Daily Mirror as toilet paper.

Les Hinton (pictured centre with Prince Charles and Rupert Murdoch) recalls his rise to success in the publishing industry in a new memoir 

The weekly bath in a zinc tub in front of a coal fire, the adventures of Dick Barton on a Bakelite radio, the rag-and-bone men, lamp lighters and chimney sweeps, all crowd into a young life described with the warmth of well-nourished memories.

From the moment he was born in the front parlour and placed on the floor in a laundry basket, strong women circled young Hinton and were to play a big part through his life.

His ‘uncrushable’ Grandma Bruce, widowed mother of ten, and his mother Lillian, an ardent Tory and Protestant, shoulder their way through the early chapters much as they did the tough and sooty streets of Bootle. The area, jammed against the Liverpool docks, was heavily bombed in the Blitz. Lillian said life there was hell.

Les’s father was a cook in the British Army and his overseas postings allowed the family to escape. Hinton found himself moving from school to school in the sand-blown outposts of the British Empire: Egypt, Libya, Eritrea and, finally, Singapore.

He describes his childhood as ‘broken randomly into disconnected pieces, a life so ephemeral that permanence came to be seen as unnatural’.

Finally, the family reached Adelaide, in Australia, where 15-year-old Hinton was sent out to work as a messenger boy on the local paper, the Adelaide News.

At this stage, we are on page 90. Hinton’s chaotic childhood through a dozen schools in so many years has been charmingly told. Like the author, we come with relief to a turning point.

Les (pictured as a boy on Merseyside) became a loyal executive and ensured Murdoch always got credit 

Enter ‘a plump-cheeked man smoking a cigarette’. Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Adelaide News, glances at the scrawny messenger boy cowering in a corner and sends him out for a ham sandwich.

Here, the memoir takes wing. Murdoch is on his way to creating a global media company. And Hinton is on his way through a whirligig of different jobs within Murdoch’s News Corporation, to become executive chairman of News International in 1995. The one-time messenger boy and his master had become close enough for Hinton to be labelled Murdoch’s henchman, right-hand man and confidant.

How on earth did this happen? Almost certainly, the beginnings of Hinton’s career in Adelaide and his later stint as a reporter for The Sun helped: Murdoch cares deeply about both his Australian roots and the creation of the tabloid newspaper that broke the mould of popular journalism.

But something else about Hinton caught the eye of his master — and it wasn’t the rapid delivery of a ham sandwich.

Les (pictured with Rupert Murdoch) admits he carried out brutal firings in the companies he ran in the U.S

There are few clues in the dizzy succession of jobs Murdoch gave Hinton in the U.S. — the boy from Bootle found himself in charge of film, magazine and TV companies with little more than quick wits and sharp elbows on which to survive. He made big mistakes. It didn’t matter. Murdoch was behind him all the way. Again, we ask why.

Hinton provides one answer: ‘You can get anything done as long as you don’t care who gets the credit.’ Hinton made sure that Murdoch always got the credit. Editors and executives in the Murdoch empire who promoted their own success above his did not last long.

The frustrating subtlety of this book is that, while Hinton gives us a penetrating insight into the mind of Murdoch, he himself appears only as a modest, loyal executive whose extraordinary rise from the back streets of Bootle is a matter of good fortune. Come on, Mr Hinton, there’s a bit more to it than that, isn’t there?

The answer, I think, lies in the way Hinton came to understand Murdoch better than those around him, perhaps including his own family. Hinton saw that Murdoch relished being the outsider, the new man in town dismissed by rivals because of age and inexperience.

Les (pictured left) claims senior people in Murdoch’s company were going through a lot of trouble to stitch him up during the phone-hacking scandal 

Success stripped Murdoch of the underdog’s ability to surprise and subvert. ‘Never again could he be the little guy with not much to lose and so much to gain, the upstart with the impossible ideas and boundless conviction,’ says Hinton.

Despite the close relationship between the men, Murdoch is not spared: he could be unfair, capricious and exasperating. This is hardly surprising. The pressures of a global media company do not make for saintly leadership. And Hinton is candid about the brutal firings he himself carried out in the companies he ran in the U.S.

Hinton’s fall is all the more poignant because it is Murdoch — his mentor and ally — who effectively ends his career.

The final chapters, on the phone-hacking scandal at the News Of The World, make painful reading — not least because, as Hinton notes, ‘senior people in the company were going to a lot of trouble to stitch me up’.

THE BOOTLE BOY by Les Hinton (Scribe £20)

Here, I declare an interest. I worked at News International throughout Hinton’s time at the company and was, and remain, an admirer.

Hinton resigned as head of Dow Jones in 2011, having been left no choice but to walk the plank.

The fall was followed by redemption in 2016. After various police inquiries, he was cleared of all involvement in the phone-hacking scandal.

Hinton’s break with Murdoch was not final. The two remain in contact. But the boy from Bootle has had to start over.

The gypsy life of his childhood and vagabond career as a reporter have left him well equipped to take to the road again with another strong Liverpool woman at his side — his second wife, Kath.

Hinton has written a book that tells us a lot about the warmth of working-class family life amid the poverty of post-war Britain. The diamond days of newspapers in Fleet Street shine brightly in these pages. And we come a little closer to understanding the authentic colossus of Rupert Murdoch.

But the author himself? Rather like Pip at the end of Dickens’s masterpiece, he vanishes without allowing us to see the man behind an epic story.

One thing we do know: Les Hinton is a survivor. Grandma Bruce and his mother Lillian would have been proud of him.


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