Dick Tales

Richard Desmond’s autobiography The Real Deal promises a look at Britain’s Most Controversial Media Mogul. But anyone reading it would be hard pressed to understand why he bills himself as controversial. We all understand what he means, but you wouldn’t get it from reading this book. He’s awfully, awfully quiet about all the pornography. Now why might that be?

It can’t be easy being Richard Desmond. Pipped to the top spot in almost every area of his expertise, he is a perpetual also ran.

As a press baron, he is dwarfed by Rupert Murdoch. As a self-made British businessman, he’s never enjoyed the sort of acclaim that, say, Richard Branson has; nor does he have the celebrity status of someone like Alan Sugar (despite Desmond’s best efforts to constantly shoehorn himself into his own magazines).

His Health Lottery lives in the shadow of the National Lottery. He’s the biggest financial supporter of UKIP, but Nigel Farage is the one who takes all the glory. And as far as his one true passion goes – drumming – he is so far down the pecking order that people are more likely to remember Shovel from M People before they remember Dickie Desmond of the RD Crusaders.

Saddest of all though, the only arena in which he could lay a legitimate claim to a throne, is the only one that he seems hellbent on downplaying: pornography.

Ever since the death of notorious sleaze merchant Paul Raymond – and with Hugh Hefner seemingly content with the American market – there has been an opening for the position of Britain’s Big Porn Baron. As the erstwhile publisher of Penthouse, Big Ones and Horny Housewives, and still the owner of Television X and Red Hot TV, Desmond was perfectly primed to take the title. Yet, after all that, he seems reluctant to fulfil his destiny.

Nowhere is this clearer than in his autobiography The Real Deal. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the extent of Desmond’s involvement with pornography was that he once found some in a hedge down by the rail tracks for the amount he mentions it (and, not – as the case actually is – profiting from pornography to the tune of millions per year).

But, understandably, he’s a bit bashful about it. More bashful than you’d expect a man who built his empire selling magazines like 50 and OverBig and Black and Red Hot Pack – as well as broadcasting such shows as Friends With Benefits Street, Down On Abby and Cum Dine With Me across his various subscription-service TV channels – but there you have it. He is who he is: a bitterly embarrassed pornographer.

Don’t believe us? How many times do you reckon Television X is mentioned in his book? That’s right, none. Now guess how many times he mentions his ‘friend’ P Diddy?  Twice. His ‘friend’ P Diddy.

Imagine for a second P Diddy ever thinking about Richard Desmond. Even if they were in the same room – even if they were in the same conversation. P Diddy has never thought about Richard Desmond. It just isn’t happening, is it? And yet, rather than talk about his profit-turning businesses of twenty years, he ignores them entirely in favour of pretending he’s rubbing shoulders with hip-hop royalty.

It happens all over the place. Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple gets name checked more than Asian Babes, one of his flagship titles. Jeremy Beadle provides more plot points than any of his experiences with Electric Blue Publishing. Even the Malaysian Airline flight MH17 gets discussed more than Red Hot TV.

And it’s not just omitting pertinent details, or airbrushing history. The series of excuses that Richard Desmond gives for getting involved in the world of adult entertainment are some of the flimsiest and farcical imaginable.

For example: How did Richard Desmond end up buying the license to publish Penthouse in the UK? Oh, it was the most charming misunderstanding! An advertising exec named Sidney Shepherd was telling Desmond all about how he should buy Penthouse, and Richard Desmond ended up explaining that he already had “a very nice house in Southgate.”

Richard Desmond thought it was a real estate proposition! Can you believe it? What a mix-up!

In the end he ended up buying the license to publish the adult magazine Penthouse – but only because he was bored of a meeting and wanted to get home! He didn’t even want to publish top-shelf pornography, guys! Honest!

Expanding his portfolio of ‘leisure magazines’ wasn’t his idea, either. That was a guy named Roger Cook – who suggested forays into “the ‘big breast market’, the ‘over forties market’, the ‘readers wives market. Oh, and of course, yes, Asian Babes.” Richard Desmond could never have dreamed up any of that. He thought it was ‘unfortunate’ that these new titles were “reinforcing the stereotype of us as adult publishers” – but that’s the risk you run when you publish titles like Mega Boobs, Readers’ Wives and, of course, yes, Asian Babes.

But the finest moment comes when he makes his excuses for how he ended up buying a porn video business. It truly is a remarkable bit of buck-passing.

The scene is this. Someone (anyone other than Richard Desmond) has suggested that he take a meeting with a man named Adam Cole, who owns Electric Blue. Electric Blue make porn movies and someone (anyone other than Richard Desmond) thinks it might be good for him to branch out.

So he decides to take the meeting, but Cole turns up an hour and a half late. An hour and a half is too long for Richard Desmond to wait for anything – especially for pornography – so his famous temper flares up.

Desmond tells the guy, in no uncertain terms, to fuck off and to never waste his time again. Adam Cole politely agrees, apologises and leaves.

Anyway, it transpires that the reason Adam Cole was late to the meeting was that he had been at his son’s funeral. He had been so busy burying his own son, that selling pornography to Richard Desmond had momentarily slipped his mind. It happens.

Richard Desmond felt so bad about it that he claims he agreed to the terms of the very first deal that came out of Adam Cole’s mouth. That deal just so happened to be him agreeing to print and sell advertising for a stable full of jazz mags. Well, what’s a guy to do? We’ve all become heads of our own multi-million pound pornography empires because we’ve acted improperly in a meeting before.

Tale as old as time.

You can buy The Real Deal, if you want to read Richard Desmond drop a bunch of names that you’ve never ever heard before. You can do it here.