June 4, 2010 / 10:32 AM / 9 years ago

UK Express owner signals interest in buying Sun

* Desmond says industry consolidation has to happen

* OK! publisher indicates has 1 bln pound warchest

LONDON, June 4 (Reuters) - Briton Richard Desmond, porn publisher and owner of Express Newspapers, indicated on Friday that he would be interested in buying the country’s top-selling daily tabloid, the Sun, pledging to run it more efficiently.

The founder of Northern & Shell, which also publishes various celebrity magazines including the popular OK!, said he expected consolidation in the newspaper industry and that he hoped to play a leading role.

“I think consolidation has to happen, has to happen,” he told BBC radio. “I’m not going away, and I don’t play golf, so I would hope to be in the vanguard.”

When asked which newspaper he would like to buy, Desmond said: “It’s pretty obvious isn’t it who I’d like to buy, so I’m not going to answer it and you can work it out for yourself.”

He made clear he was not interested in buying the tabloid Mirror or the right-leaning Daily Telegraph.

When pushed on whether it was the Sun, published by Rupert Murdoch’s News International, he replied: “Work it out for yourself.”

The owner of the Daily Express and Daily Star said he had enough money for the purchase, suggesting he was sitting on a 1 billion pound ($1.46 billion) warchest, but added any deal would need a willing seller as well as a willing buyer.

News International, the British publisher owned by News Corp (NWSA.O), later said the paper with a circulation of around three million “was not for sale”.

“News International are proud owners of the country’s favourite paper,” it added.

Desmond, who left school at the age of 14, is one of Britain’s richest men, having built up a fortune based on the adult industry and newspaper business.

He became known for wielding the axe at the Express titles after paying 125 million pounds for them in 2000.

Desmond said he had no idea whether News International would sell, saying it would depend on a variety of factors including price.

“I think we would run it in a different manner which would be more efficient in today’s marketplace,” he said.

He would not say whether he had discussed the matter with News Corp Chief Executive Murdoch, only saying they had spoken about many things.

Sales of the racy Star have been robust during the general downturn but circulation of the Express has dwindled over the years.

Media commentator Roy Greenslade suggested Desmond’s comments should not be taken seriously and that he would face a “rather high competition hurdle”.

"Surely, he is having a laugh," he wrote in his blog on the Guardian website. here

Writing by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Michael Shields

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