LONDON – The twin tycoons who have struck a deal to take over Conrad Black's press empire defy the tradition of the flamboyant media baron. They are rarely photographed, almost never interviewed and live in luxurious isolation on their own island.
Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay, 69, this weekend announced their plan to buy a controlling interest in Hollinger Inc. (HLGc.TO), the Toronto-based parent company of newspaper publisher Hollinger International Inc. (HLR) which owns London's Daily Telegraph, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Jerusalem Post.
Hollinger said Saturday it had fired Black as chairman and was suing him for more than $200 million it alleges was improperly diverted to him, an associate and entities he controls.
If the Barclays' $466 million deal clears regulatory approval, the brothers will expand media holdings that already include The Scotsman, an Edinburgh, Scotland-based daily, and The Business, a struggling weekly.
"It's a done deal," David Barclay was quoted as saying in an interview with The Guardian newspaper of London.
"There will be no regulatory problem, none at all. It's a formality," The Guardian quoted him as saying in a report published Tuesday. However, he said that gaining regulatory approval was a condition of completing the deal.
Newspapers are one facet of an eclectic portfolio built by the twins, self-made multimillionaires who left school at 16.
The sons of Scottish migrants to London, the brothers reportedly worked as painters and decorators before getting into property development by buying boarding houses and converting them into hotels.
Over the years they have owned shares in hotels, casinos and Liverpool's Cavern Club, where the Beatles got their start. They bought a foundering newspaper, The European, in 1992, and closed it six years later.
They also own British newspapers the Edinburgh Evening News, Scotland on Sunday, the Littlewoods catalog clothing retailer and London's landmark Ritz Hotel.
Last year, the Sunday Times estimated their worth at $1.16 billion.
Because they run a private company, the Barclays had an advantage over others interested in acquiring The Daily Telegraph and other Hollinger assets.
"This may look like a cheap price. But this purchase is not without risks. No public company could have transacted with Black without open-ended indemnities he couldn't have afforded to give," The Guardian quoted David Barclay as saying. "But we can take that risk. We were the only game in town for Black."
Barclay was quoted as saying the brothers attached few conditions to their offer.
"The conditions are that we pass the regulators and that under Canadian law we have to tender an offer to the other shareholders open for 35 days. If during that 35 days there is a 'material change,' we can call it off," he said.
The brothers are more detached newspaper proprietors than Black, who made sure his papers reflected his right-wing views and wrote sharp letters to the editor for publication when he disagreed with the paper's line.
David Barclay suggested that The Daily Telegraph, a staunch supporter of Britain's opposition Conservative Party (search), might take a different line under the brothers' direction.
The Scotsman supported Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor Party in the last election, "and we were very happy about that. Where the government are right, we shall support them," Barclay said.
Roy Greenslade, veteran media columnist with The Guardian, said the twins had a reputation for investing in their newspapers, but often to little effect.
They lost millions when The European closed; The Business, which is distributed free with the Mail on Sunday newspaper, reportedly does poorly. The Scotsman has a circulation of 69,000, down from a peak of more than 100,000, and has churned through half a dozen editors since the Barclays acquired it in 1995.
Still, the twins have helped bring about constitutional change in one of the world's last bastions of feudalism.
The brothers live in a granite mock-gothic castle on Brecqhou, an islet off Sark, a tiny English Channel island owned by the British monarchy but not part of the United Kingdom. The Channel Islands, long-established tax havens, have their own laws and are not bound by acts of the British Parliament.
In the 1990s, the Barclays successfully campaigned to change Sark's 400-year-old constitution — which prevented women inheriting land if there were male heirs — so they could leave their estate to all their children.
The brothers were knighted in 2000 for services to charity. Yet one of their first acts on acquiring Littlewoods in 2002 was to scrap the firm's generous charitable donation program.
After his investiture as a knight by Queen Elizabeth II, Sir David said the honor was "a great example of what can be achieved in this country from whatever background or education or humble beginnings."
Asked to name the brothers' biggest break in business, he quoted Oscar Wilde: "All success is luck. Ask any failure."