Saturday, 14 July 2007

Two Canadians

As Runyon might have put it, Conrad Black is not such a guy as I am wishing to give the large hallo to. However, it is difficult to ascribe to him the same level of infamy as, say Robert Maxwell, partly because our feelings for investors on the New York Stock Exchange cannot compare with those which we had for the Daily Mirror pensioners. And that ridiculous cardinal's get-up was a splendid effort: one cannot imagine Maxwell ever making himself look quite so silly for our amusement.

But anyone who doubts that Black richly deserves his sentence—or possibly a stiffer one—has only to assess his character by looking at the unsavoury bunch he used to hang out with, which apparently included Princess Pushy, Henry “Peace Prize” Kissinger and The Iron Lady. With friends like that, he must surely be the kind of man who should get at least twenty years in the slammer.

It is refreshing to turn our thoughts to another flamboyant Canadian magnate, though sad to learn that ‘Honest Ed’ Mirvish has died this week. He was 92, suggesting that his recipe for a long life—Keep breathing—worked better for him than it does for most people. The store in Toronto which made him a multimillionaire followed the policy expressed in the title of Jack Cohen’s autobiography: Pile it high and sell it cheap. Tesco later changed their approach, but Mirvish never did. He opened Honest Ed’s Famous Bargain House with the slogan: Our building is a dump! Our service is rotten! Our fixtures are orange crates! But!! Our prices are the lowest in town! Serve yourself and save a lot of money! and the store carried on that way.

Ed is one of the few Canadians ever involved in English public life who is remembered here with admiring affection. He saved the Old Vic from an uncertain future when, in 1982, to the delight of many, he outbid the unattractive Andrew Lloyd Webber for it; he then poured huge sums of his own money into it for fifteen years until he could no longer support the theatre’s losses, and sold it to a trust.

His death had already featured in an advertisement for the Toronto store: “When Ed dies, he would like a catered funeral with accordion players and a buffet table, with a replica of ‘Honest Ed’ on it made of potato salad”.

Let us hope his wishes will be carried out to the letter and that everyone has a good time. Such an occasion would put to shame all the lavish parties on which Conrad Black spent millions of other people’s money.

Ed got a CBE, but Conrad got a peerage.

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