Debbie Kruger
4th December 1991


As chief executive of the ill-fated British Satellite Broadcasting, Anthony Simonds-Gooding presided over one of Britain's biggest business disasters. An incompetent manager or merely a scapegoat for media vultures? Either way, as Debbie Kruger discovered, he is unapologetic.

It is hard to find anyone who has met Anthony Simonds-Gooding who doesn’t like him. But it is easy to find the hundreds of people who haven’t met him who are ready and seemingly eager to run him down. BSB’s cumulative losses had amounted to over £1 billion by the time its shareholders decided to merge with Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Television. But it wasn’t the shareholders – including Pearson, Reed, Granada and French company, Chargeurs – who took most of the flack for the monumental corporate catastrophe. Critics in the press and the industry were, and still are, convinced that the management botched it from the start. In management the buck stops with the chief executive. Simonds-Gooding was a marked man.

More than a year since BSkyB emerged from the ashes of the satellite collision, and Simonds-Gooding was unceremoniously ousted, there is no bitterness from his side. There never was, he says. Dashing around the modest Chelsea offices of the Cancer Relief Macmillan Fund, where he is spearheading the fundraising campaign for the new Macmillan Nurse appeal, this is a man excited about the £1 million he just extracted from a single benefactor. The millions of pounds lost on the BSB venture are not forgotten, but nor have they stigmatised him. Pushed again into the spotlight with the publication of the controversial book, Dished! – The Rise and Fall of British Satellite Broadcasting, Simonds-Gooding seems bemused by all the fuss.

“Funnily enough, until this book came out, I’d really put BSB well behind me. My 1991 has been a rather crowded year, because my wife was diagnosed with cancer, which really took me out of any sort of physical and psychological circulation until the middle of the year.” This isn’t a disgraced former executive seeking sympathy. Simonds-Gooding is very matter of fact. He is sincerely affecting, and it is easy to see how he might have charmed those who worked for him.

“No-one will speak out against him on the record,” says one senior TV executive who has not met Simonds-Gooding and will not speak on the record. “Not the shareholders, not the people who worked for him. Why should they kick a man when he’s down? He lost his job, his wife got cancer. He’s down and out.”

In its detailed description of the set-up and short life of BSB, Dished! lays the emphasis clearly on managerial bungles and misdirection. Faced with yet another post-mortem on the saga, Simonds-Gooding remarks with a sarcastic grin: “The book tells you it all!”

But as he begins, with patience and good humour, to recount the circumstances, which he believes, led to BSB’s downfall, Simonds-Gooding’s eagerness to redress the balance is evident.

“This whole adventure was embarked upon by the shareholders at the end of 1986 when they got the franchise, bidding against five other consortia, and at the end of time, it’s fair to say, they based the adventure on five crucial assumptions, and of those, two were correct and three were wrong,” he says. “However, I think all five were reasonable assumptions at the time.”

The first of the two correct assumptions was that there was a market for people who wanted more choice on television, and that they would pay for it if it was good enough. BSB’s Movie Channel exemplified this, and Simonds-Gooding is firm, “that assumption is busy proving itself right.” The second was that it was possible to develop from drawing board to mass production the then new D-Mac transmission system, with high powered satellites and small aerials, “which was actually proved right as well, because it was developed, albeit nine months too late.”

The incorrect assumptions proved crucial. The first was the matter of government protection for BSB as a risk venture starting up against the well-entrenched duopoly of the BBC and ITV. He says: “It was going to need an awful lot of risk capital to get somewhere, and the government, in granting the franchise, were asking for certain obligations. You must use D-Mac. The question that people ask is ‘Why did you use D-Mac?’ There was no choice. And you must abide by the IBA rules – you’re a public service broadcaster, part of the British architecture of broadcasting: pace and decency and technical quality and ownership rules, etcetera, etcetera.

“So in return for these obligations, bearing in mind the risk, the shareholders expected a little piece of shelter. They thought about it very much in the context of the fifth terrestrial channel, which was being talked about then, and I don’t think we did get any shelter.”

But Simonds-Gooding, the IBA and the Government never counted on the European Astra satellite, which outside their jurisdiction started beaming to the UK.

Simonds-Gooding recalls: “But of course Rupert Murdoch came in and he used the Astra satellite not only for Europe but for the U.K, and the government decided that although the programmes were put together in Osterley and it went up from a BT uplink in the Isle of Dogs, because it hit a foreign piece of metal for a millisecond and came back to Britain it was a foreign non-domestic broadcaster, and therefore didn’t have any rules and regs and obligations that we had to carry. So that was the wrong assumption.”

The final straw was the recession, says Simonds-Gooding. Nobody, in 1986, could have foreseen the dire financial climate that would close the 1980s.

To join BSB Simonds-Gooding left Saatchi and Saatchi. For two years he had been the chief executive of the advertising and consultancy group’s communications division, effectively number two to the brothers. He engineered a merger between Saatchis and rival ad agency Ted Bates, and he headed a staff of 14,000. The Saatchi brothers’ tribute to Simonds-Gooding’s flair was: “We gave you a toilet and you cleaned it. Thank you.”

Simonds-Gooding had been ready to move on when he was headhunted for the BSB job. “Saatchis wasn’t exactly a bed of roses,” he says, “and nor indeed were my last three or four years at Whitbread, which was totally a world reorganisation, and very exhausting. I think life’s a journey, and [the time at BSB] was a very exciting and often trying time, but I’m not very good at looking backwards. It was a good punt and it didn’t come off.”

Prior to his time at Saatchis, Simonds-Gooding had been the chief of the Whitbread brewing group, having risen through the ranks after proving himself a marketing guru.

Whitbread was where he refined his attitude to the way he treats people in business. He says, “I have a great affection and respect and high regard for people. I think that it’s amazing that people have to work in large companies and are expected to be happy, and yet management don’t tell them what’s happening or value them. And I suspect that those views, which are built in to me, were heightened and developed at Whitbread, because I was 13 years there, and I imagine the workforce we had was somewhere around 50,000. That had to be shrunk down from ’72 onwards with the recession, to 30,000, with a lot of mergers and reorganisations. I was group managing director for my last three years at Whitbread, with a massive sort of reorganisation which was very, very, very painful and tiring and awful on people, and one learned this very important thing about valuing people, respecting people, helping people.

“At BSB I really went out of my way to brief and to talk and walk the floor, which again was a practice I had at Whitbread. I also think you have to be aware of what’s happening in the hinterland, in their private life, in the sense of strains of business; it really affects everything in the family, so if there’s a redundancy in the air and closures in the air and all that sort of thing, it’s very tricky. It’s tough for people to work under those conditions. I mean, the brewing industry was all about recession, and a seeking of efficiency and a decrease in beer consumption, and so there was sort of pour over the brewing industry where every week people would read about brewers being closed, rationalisation. So one had to manage that, and it was inevitable, but one was very conscious of the strain it put on people.”

The constant speculation about the survival of BSB was taxing on his staff, Simonds-Gooding recalls. “Everyday on television and in the press and in magazines, for the last 18 months of the three years, there would be questions: are they going to make it? Is the technology going to work? Are the studios going to pull out? Will people make the programmes? Which way is the trade going to jump? Ecetera, ecetera, day after day. Now you can imagine that if you are working in some department somewhere, that’s pretty tough, and you also have to help those people have a language, for when they go back to their friends who say ‘what’s happening?’”

That Simonds-Gooding cared for his BSB staff is not in dispute, not even in Dished!, which details lavish parties at the chief executive’s country home, and underlines his philosophy that the company should be one happy family. “I think one of the key tasks that I had at BSB was one of leadership,” he says. “To see all these people coming in, joining and doing different things. And I took very seriously the business of making the people at all levels in the business valued, really feel that they were part of something, and that they weren’t cogs, and that they understand the overall picture. And so I would have monthly meetings with everybody gathered together and say a few words. Everyone who joined I would meet in groups of ten for a couple of hours, and I usually spent about two evenings a week doing that. And every fortnight I would meet a cross-section of the upper management for lunch to go through how the business was going.

“Now think about. They’re joining this thing, which is moving very fast, and it’s very diffuse. I mean, you’ve got satellites, and there’s no other company that does its own satellites, its own reception equipment, its own aerials, marketing, selling, the whole panjandrum. Very complex technical matters, and I think there were nine huge information systems. And it was very difficult for everyone to know what was going on. It mightn’t hacve mattered, except that every morning they and their families — husbands or wives or girlfriends or kids or whatever — read in the newspapers endless doom watch about what was going to happen to us. Now that requires some leadership. And anyone who says that the people working at BSB got a comfy ride either financially or in terms of working conditions, is just ill informed.”

Simonds-Gooding is emphatic on the matter of salaries. “The only person who was paid way outside industry norms was me. I was the only person in the company.” His salary was in the vicinity of £400,000. In 1998, when BSB was set lose £330 million, Simonds-Gooding received £430,000. He is defensive about the package he received from the shareholders. “They gave me quite a lot, saying it was a high risk job. And you know I was earning that sort of money before, so that’s what they had to pay me. I didn’t ask to come."

He denies that his staff were overpaid and overindulged. “We had a very professional personnel director, Jennifer Haigh, and we had a thing called the Compensation Committee. No pay awards, no bonuses, no pay increases, and no senior appointments were made without going through the Compensation Committee, which was a committee of shareholders, which was a sub-committee of the shareholder board. Not one. On that shareholders board you’ve got the chairman of Thames Television, the chairman of Anglia Television, a bloke on the Yorkshire Television board, the chairman and chief executive of Reed, the chairman of Granada, the chairman of TV-AM — an accountant. And we would measure what we were paying against the market and the proposals would go to the Compensation Committee, and the shareholders would decide.”

But the rest of the industry is equally emphatic. One media consultant, who was in close contact with many BSB staff, says the statement that wages were within industry norms is “nonsense”. He insists: “They were all paid around double the norm. There were deals people could only dream of.”

Simonds-Gooding is also defensive of the working conditions, under which his “boys and girls” (as he called his staff) toiled. “First of all we worked up until about mid ’89 in three buildings — in a very unpleasant part of the IBA building, and another lot up near Oxford Street, and another lot near Marble Arch. And they’re all coming in all the time, being recruited and all the rest of it, not quite knowing what they were into.”

“We then moved to Marcopolo. The wonderful palatial Marcopolo.” The sarcasm is pointed. Marcopolo House, in remote Battersea, became an industry joke. It was architecturally magnificent, all glass and marble, with designer lifts and furniture streamlined in grey. Dished! describes how, like everything else BSB budgeted for, Marcopolo House cost more than originally planned. Conversion estimates were at £15 million, and the final cost was reportedly £26 million, with additional £15 million for equipment. £1.4 million alone was spent on furniture, according to the book. It was said to be a luxury palace.

“Well I tell you, don’t make me laugh!” Simonds-Gooding declares. “No canteen, no booze, a dry site, no smoking, no shops, no transport. If you put your car across the road, in the first two weeks there were 12 break-ins. And the reason we went there was £24 a square foot. Because it was cheap. A brilliant place to go, except for the people. Not so hot for them. I mean, if you’d been a young person there you’d have been sat in front of your green screen and that’s it. And they worked as many hours as god knows. For anyone to tell me they were overpaid or comfy, well I just think, I wish they’d come along. There are certainly no other companies in the television world that I know of that had similar conditions.”

The media consultant scoffs. “I would walk into Marcopolo House and tell it was losing money. It was exquisitely beautiful, but you could tell it wasn’t right. It was the grand eloquent gesture of a man with vision. And there was nothing worse in the media than someone with vision.” Comparisons can be drawn in fact with Australia’s fallen media mogul, Christopher Skase, whose head office in Brisbane was resplendent with waterfalls trailing off magnificent marble reception desks, and impressive antique vases scattered around the rooms.

There are also tales of profligacy with expense accounts. Simonds-Gooding’s response: “Absolute rubbish. Rubbish. Yes, if you think that out of 500 people there were no abuses – I haven’t worked in a company yet where they didn’t have abuses. There were people who were behaving badly, and they were sacked or punished. But my abiding memory is one of lots of very hard-working people working under very difficult conditions.”

He continues: “Another thing which makes me smile wryly to myself. There was a very good, outstanding finance director that I recruited, who was a really tough sort of party pooper, Ian Clubb. A very good bloke who was chief executive of a public company, so he was experienced. And again what people don’t remember is that he joined in the beginning of ’89, and we had three years of life. So he was there for two-thirds of it. And when we started off, and there’s people coming in, and there are three different buildings, we were very poorly controlled. It was a complicated mess, and we were trying to get things done, and we were badly controlled through ’88. Who decided that we needed much better financial controls and an upgraded finance director? I did. Who went to the headhunters and briefed and interviewed and got in Clubb? I did. And he arrived early ’89, ground his teeth and found what I knew we’d find, that it wasn’t right, and it gradually sort of got into shape.”

“And he was there for two years, and he’s very effective fierce little fellow. I’d ask him, as would the shareholders, look, we’ve got this delay here, is everything hunkered down as best as it can be in terms of cash? This is sort of from June, July, August ’89 onwards. ‘Tight as a tick’s arse,’ he would say every time. It looks as though he was sort of in this spendthrift company for two years of his life, not having any effect and not doing anything. It’s absolute junk. He came and he was asked to join because it wasn’t right; he found what wasn’t right, shouted a lot about it, and put it right.”

But why wasn’t a finance director appointed from day one? Graham Grist, the only executive appointed to BSB before Simonds-Gooding, had that function, he says. “I inherited him, he was the first man appointed to the company, and his portfolio was too broad, and he wasn’t very good at control, so I did something about it.”

Simonds-Gooding’s contemporaries in marketing and advertising said he was an organiser who could make sense of any business chaos. Reflecting on his handling of the whole episode, Simonds-Gooding admits: “There are certain people and situations I would have dealt with differently. I think I would have not given the benefit of the doubt to certain people and certain plans for quite so long. I think probably on certain issues I could have been a bit harsher. It was a tricky balance, because at the same time people were working immensely hard and doing some very difficult and unpleasant work, and so there was the whole business of trying to keep people buoyed up, and at the same time you had to face up to certain situations. There were the casualties, those from that top level who left, who had to go, didn’t fit. And of course, it takes time to know who fits and who doesn’t, because it’s not like joining a running concern, or a defined company or a defined job. It declares itself as you go along, it’s like climbing a mountain, and you don’t know how high the mountain is, and as the oxygen gets thin, people who when there was less strain looked fine, begin sort of show. And it takes time to reassess.

“It was very interesting for me because I’ve never done a job that was so in the eyes of the media. You know, you go ahead, you do some things right, you repair your fences quietly and privately. This is all so much in the public eye, particularly because of news News International. And you know, if I was to sack somebody, which I eventually did – Defection from BSB! Palace Revolution! So and So Fired! You know, all that media hype around everything we did, which was for me a new element, and I wasn’t quite used to that.”

Simonds-Gooding is adamant that the shareholders were with him on every decision he made. Andrew Neil, editor of News International’s The Sunday Times, and chief executive of Sky at the time of its launch, says: “It has always been a mystery to me… why its biggest shareholders let BSB throw so much of their money into a black hole for so long.” With such large sums being outlayed, responsibility for control must have been in their hands, too. There was no doubt of their support in the venture, but it was only around the time of BSB’s launch, in early 1990, that they got tough. An executive committee was formed, separate to the board, comprising different representatives of the major shareholders – Granada, Reed, Pearson and Chargeurs.

Frank Barlow, managing director of Pearson, was on that committee. “We decided we would get more deeply involved in the affairs and direct management. So we met Anthony Simonds-Gooding. I spent a day with him, and we went out to lunch. And we said that although he was running it as a PLC, it was a partnership. So we would need to be frequently involved. He asked how often, and we said weekly. I think his inclination was that it was too often. But that’s what we did. We felt that we wanted to have much more involvement.”

Simonds-Gooding says that there were even daily meetings with shareholders about specific subjects. The sales force dealt closely with Granada on retail matters, and Clubb was in close contact on financial matters. “I’ve never worked in anything where I’ve been involved with a closer relationship with shareholders. And it wasn’t one of my dogs watching rabbits or whatever. It was one of nobody here’s got a monopoly on wisdom, it’s their money, and we’re going into a journey unknown, and it’s very tough, and we all must hang together folks. I can honestly put my hand on my heart, and say that if there’s any shareholder anywhere who feels that there was a gap between them and the management, I’m amazed.”

Simonds-Gooding points to the refinancing of BSB mid-way through its three-year life. Clubb had to organise a £450 million bank loan, which the shareholders were prepared to match if the banks came through. “For the banks to put up their £450 million, they put in Arthur Little, the consultants, for months, to examine us. Arthur Little and the lending banks were around our management every single day. Every line of our plan had to be examined and certified, and then they had to write and make the presentation to the banks and the shareholders about what they thought about it. And on that basis, the banks were willing to put up £450 million. I can’t think of a more inspected management in my career. And in fact I gave amazing credit to the management, and I’m talking about the top 20 people, because they had to actually deal with a cross-questioning for half their day, every day.”

Therefore, Simonds-Gooding affirms, “I don’t feel at all personally an individual responsibility,” for the loss of the shareholders’ money. “I should really feel complimented by the book, and the articles I read in the press, because it looks as though I’m sort of an amazing tiro running around totally out of control with all these mega shareholders, and here I was a law unto myself, saying ‘Whoa!! Up yours!!’ Well it wasn’t like that. I felt absolutely in partnership, it was a very tough journey, a very tough assignment. If it had been a great success, and Sky hadn’t happened, then I would be the doyen, the king, and I should be generously sharing this praise with my shareholders and my management and my staff. Well. As it didn’t work out like that, I equally generously will share with others the responsibility.”

That shareholders continued to pump enormous amounts of money into BSB is a mystery to Andrew Neil and others but Simonds-Gooding argues that a write-off was not such a simple option. When Sky first launched in early 1989, there was no evidence to suggest that the unexpected rival would succeed. “It was doing rather badly and was being severely panned by the critics and by the world at large. There were no dishes, and nobody could get the distribution. Then there were all the jokes about the quality and the audiences, you know, like ‘Where’s Salman Rushdie hiding? He’s an announcer on Sky’. And in addition to that of course Murdoch didn’t have any encryption, which was being promised further down the track.”

Although the decision to delay BSB’s launch from September 1989 to Spring 1990 was a “low point” it didn’t look like the competition from Sky would pose a serious threat; it was “by no means much more than something to make fun of, so that was not the time to pull out,”says Simonds-Gooding. “I think that if you’d been with me and us and the shareholders in May, June, July ’89, you’d have thought oh, we’ll go on, we’ve put a lot of money into this and it’s going to get tougher but it’s very much an open race. Rupert then did a brilliant thing, and it was a very personally brilliant thing. It wasn’t his organisation but it was him personally who in September ’89 began to sell direct rather than via retailers.”

When Murdoch initiated direct selling of his satellite dishes it revived Sky, and dealt BSB a death blow. Sky’s critical mass built up a situation where “you were suddenly able to see the aerials everywhere.” By this time it was early 1990. “We were just about to launch,” says Simonds-Gooding, “where we’ve invested a lot of money, and that would be crazy time to pull out. But it’s not quite obvious that there is another real competitor in the market. Up until then maybe yes, maybe no, will he get his act together, and it wasn’t really until about January ’90 that it was quite clear that we would have a two-horse race. By which time we were literally months, weeks away from our launch.”

So BSB launched as planned — albeit six months late — and then the recession hit. “Which of course hit Sky and us, both differently, and of course with both companies suffering, that is always the season for a merger.”

Simonds-Gooding is disdainful of people who are wise after the event, who say Sky and BSB should have merged much earlier. “It is so pathetic, the naivety of it all, because they’re saying we should have merged at the beginning of ’89. I can’t think what we would have merged. What would we have merged?”

When the merger came in 1990, it was ruthless. Dished! implies that Simonds-Gooding was kept in the dark about the merger talks, while his own executives, Clubb and director of programmes, John Gau, participated in the negotiations with the shareholders. Frank Barlow says: “It was by design that Anthony wasn’t included in the talks, and he was party to that. If the three senior executives from BSB were suddenly absent that would have been suspicious.”

Simonds-Gooding is philosophical. “We are the mercenaries, we are the managers. They are the owners, and if you don’t like what you’re told by your owners, then you have the choice of resigning. At the end of the day it is their prerogative. And they did say we’re now talking about merging. And my riding instruction was that this might take a long time, it might leak, the merger might come to grief or it might not. While this is going on, you must make sure that the company continues to run and is maintained, and doesn’t become a rabble and all my efforts were to lead the people and keep the business going, so they had something to merge, something to talk about.”

When the end came, though, it was quick, and Simonds-Gooding had no choices. He was unceremoniously dumped when the merger was finalised and BSkyB was born. “In the end there could only be on chief executive,” says Barlow, “and we decided that Sky had the lead at the time and obviously Rupert Murdoch is a tremendous influence, a driving force. And Sam Chislom was very experienced.”

Simonds-Gooding says he did not feel betrayed by his shareholders’ decision, but was certainly devastated by the way it was done. He wanted to tell his staff personally, but he was denied access to Marcopolo House. “I was quite deeply distressed, and horrified,” he recalls. “I have great admiration for my shareholders, and the way they stuck it out, and I think the ones that were there are the end probably played with a very good and strong hand and I hope they’ll be rewarded.

“I have to say that that last bit was a very dark day, and I don’t know what pressures the shareholders were under, but I do know that Rupert Murdoch plays a very tough hand, and I think that they kind of lost sight of a few things which I wish they hadn’t lost sight of, to do with the people. I can think of nothing in the world more ghastly than to learn that your company’s been merged off the screen. I mean, I find that deeply dispiriting.”

He does, however, applaud the merger. “It was absolutely the right thing to do. Although I would have perhaps not done it the way they did it, because while I would have ceded programme control to Rupert, because that’s the bit he would want, and that’s fun for him, I would have held on to the technology for BSB, and in that way there would have been five channels unique to Britain, for this new company, which no one else can come up alongside and get into the same distribution of the dishes from Astra, then anybody can come along at a very low cost, and you haven’t got to pay any money to build up the distribution, and get in. A perfect example might be Thames.”

Simonds-Gooding watches Sky now. He’s ambivalent about its programming, still feeling that BSB’s more upmarket programming philosophy “would have bought home the bacon”. The most important aspect was viewer choice – more movies, more sport, more music, general entertainment. Sky offers that, albeit in an “Americana” fashion as opposed to the British broadcasting angle of BSB.

“I do feel terribly optimistic about BSkyB and, ironically, BSkyB is, give or take, exactly as we thought we would be when we started at the end of ’86: one player, subscription television under different standards, and the government not a factor”

It is difficult to say how important the different programming strategies of BSB and Sky were in a battle that barely got started. A crucial factor was the battle of the pay-tv movie channels.

When both satellite rivals were finalising their programming, it was a bidding war for rights to Hollywood studios’ output that drew much of the criticism for overspending. Dished! claims that $1.2 million was committed in payments and guarantees to Hollywood by both sides, with $700 million coming from BSB. BSB’s deal with UIP for Paramount and Universal films cost £200 million. It also had the opportunity to sew up Warner Brothers, and there is a theory that had BSB secured Warners, they would have won the battle of the movie channels, and therefore the battle of the satellites.

But the $40 million Warners wanted, for all current and future films, on a very reasonable commitment but no payment up-front basis, was vetoed by the BSB board. Simonds-Gooding has been blamed for that possibly fatal error, and laughs about it. “What, ASG spend even more money? Whoa! I love it. You can’t win. I mean, one moment I’m told I’ve been profligate with all the money I’ve spent on movies, and the next moment I’m told that if I’d only spent more money we’d have made it. Oh, who knows? The money just wasn’t there; it’s as simple as that.”

Observers now blame the BSB shareholders for not realising the “crucial importance” over the Warners deal. It would have finished Sky and most agree Simonds-Gooding must take some blame for not pushing harder.

A top media consultant has a sympathetic view towards the position Simonds-Gooding found himself in. He says there were three factors weighing against him. “Essentially he was a marketing man of a very high level, brought in specifically to be the managing director of a new media operation. New media operations are difficult to manage and have been historically disastrous in their early days. For example, ITV, TV-AM, and Sky, even now. It’s worth noting that US cable companies didn’t go cash positive for 20 years. As we speak BSkyB is carrying a £1.3 million debt, and will have to be cash positive for the rest of the decade to survive. Secondly, Britain has a problem about gold-plating institutions. Ruthless dirty solutions don’t come easily to British management. And thirdly, there were the regulatory constraints, especially the demand to operate an unproven technology.

“There isn’t a British media manager around who could have succeeded with those three burdens,” says the consultant firmly. “However, given those burdens, Anthony Simonds-Gooding was not the right choice, and nor were the line managers appointed the industry’s best. BSB is one of the biggest financial scandals of modern Britain. It’s damaged the city’s view permanently of media start-ups. Goldcrest was the nemesis of the film industry; BSB has damaged the high investor’s view of the new media. Even when we come out of the recession, media will be blighted.”

Barlow is clear on what led to such massive losses. “The bit of lavishness at BSB wasn’t the crucial factor. It pales into insignificance given the costs of the satellites and of going into that new technology. The costs of that, started on the basis that it would be a monopoly, was the thing that meant neither could prosper. Sky would have gone out of business, and BSB would have gone out of business, as the shareholders would not have continued to fund it. A lot of people are wise after the event. But as I said back then, two bad businesses put together could make a good business.”

Simonds-Gooding says he is at peace with himself. “I can honestly put my hand on my heart and I can’t quite see, other than pulling out earlier — and that’s a shareholder decision, not a management decision — what substantive things one could have done better. There are lots of other things I could have done better, I could have dealt with certain personnel problems a little quicker, but I could say this about every job I’ve done. There are lots and lots of operational things that one looks back on and says well, you know I could have moved a bit smarter on that, or a bit smarter on the other.

“There’s not a day of my life that’s 100%, and some days are very bad, but I can’t see how it could have been wildly different. I really can’t see it.”

He stands up, his large, stylish frame just a little weary from having lived through the ordeal yet again. “Anyway, this is my final catharsis,” he says. “As we go out that door you are seeing a man who will never speak about it again.”

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