The President of the Balearics Francima Armengol, pictured with Pere A. Serra's widow Margalida Magraner and his daughters Carmen and Paula, paid her respects and led the tributes at Bon Sosec Crematorium. | MIQUEL A CANELLAS
Most journalists don’t want to own a newspaper, just as the vast majority of cooks have no interest in running their own restaurant. You need the businessman mentality to make a newspaper (or a restaurant) into a financial success. The result is that I can think of only two people who have the journalist’s sharp eye for what’s news and what will appeal to readers, as well as the management and financial skills that can turn everyday news into a solid flourishing business. One is Rupert Murdoch and the other is Pedro Serra Bauzá.
Pedro is the only person I personally knew who combined being a brilliant journalist with making a newspaper turn a healthy profit. There are few people like that because the best journalists end up in top jobs in the editorial room and those with business acumen find their way to the boardroom. But Pedro wasn’t just a top calibre journalist and businessman. He also had the ability to see well into the future. And thanks to that talent the Bulletin came into being on 31 December, 1962.
When Pedro was a young reporter on the Baleares newspaper in the 1950s, he realised (long before most people in the travel business) that Majorca would soon become a veritable magnet for tourists from all over the world. He also foresaw that many of those visitors would be British and others would have English as a second language. He must have been the only person in those days who thought Majorca could do with a daily newspaper in English for the hundreds of thousands of visitors who were destined to come to the island on holiday.
Those were very early days in Pedro’s career. Not only did he lack the resources to start his own daily newspaper in English, he was much too young to raise the necessary financial backing. But Pedro was always very good at improvisation and getting round problems that didn’t seem to have a solution. He couldn’t have his own daily newspaper in English, but he organised a page of English news in Baleares. It was a modest start and at the time no one realised what it would lead to on 31 December, 1962.
Pedro was sure of one thing in those days: he wasn’t going to be a reporter for the rest of his life. He was that unusual species of journalist who wanted very much to have his own newspaper ... or newspapers. A few years later he was moving in that direction when he started his first publication in Spanish. It was a weekly sports magazine called Fiesta Deportiva. It was bright and breezy and its sometimes highly critical approach to football games, the players and the men behind the scenes, ruffled more than a few feathers. It was also one of the very few publications in Spain that criticised bullfights and how they were run. The matadors and bullfight impresarios did not like Fiesta Deportiva.
At that time, Pedro had branched out somewhat by using his small printing works to publish books under the trade name of Imprenta Atlante. These were mainly novels and collections of poetry that had won the City of Palma literary prizes awarded every year on 20 January, the day of Sant Sebastià, the patron saint of Palma.
So Pedro now had a sports magazine and was publishing books. But that wasn’t enough, either for his ambitions as a journalist or as a means of making full use of his business prowess and ideas. One idea that was still very much at the forefront of Pedro’s mind was a daily publication for British residents and visitors. That page of English news in the Baleares newspaper didn’t last for very long but by doing it Pedro had planted a seed. Now it started to put out roots in another direction.
The sports magazine was up and running very fast, but Pedro still didn’t have the resources to start a daily newspaper in English. That was what he wanted more than anything else. He had an old flat-bed printing press and a linotype machine in good working order (I have no recollection of it ever breaking down) and both were being underused. The businessman side of Pedro’s talents saw that here was a hole that had to be filled in. He did that by taking the Baleares page in English a stage further: he launched a weekly paper in English.
That was when I first met him. He dropped by at my flat in the old part of town to tell me about the magazine. The visit had to be an unannounced because in those days telephones were extremely difficult to come by and I didn’t have one. He quickly explained about Fiesta Deportiva and his plans for this new publication in English. I didn’t read Fiesta Deportiva but I knew the name from hearing the street sellers’ almost plaintive cries as they walked up and down the Borne and La Rambla until well into the night on Fridays.
That afternoon I went down to the printing works and offices in Calle San Felio and heard more about the proposed publication and also about Fiesta Deportiva. Pedro is a great ideas man and I very much liked the cover of that week’s sports magazine. It was a famous still from a western movie in which five cowboys are blasting away with their six shooters from the porch of a log cabin somewhere in the Wild West. Real Madrid were due to be in Palma that Sunday to play Real Mallorca. Those were the days of Di Stefano, Gento, Puskas and other top goal scorers. Pedro had superimposed the images on the Real Madrid forwards on the faces of the gun-blasting cowboys and the heading said something like ‘Puskas and his sharp shooters are in town’. And that was long before we had ever heard of PhotoShop.
I liked that cover and immediately thought that I could work with a journalist who had ideas like that. So I took part in the launch of the English-language weekly with the help of other journalists and writers such as Philip Jerome and Bill Karakas, whom many readers will remember.
As Pedro’s sports magazine was called Fiesta Deportiva, he had already registered the name of the English weekly as Fiesta Mallorquina. That was the name on the first few issues but it was quickly changed to Majorca Times. Producing the Majorca Times was easy enough. We could usually write it and proof read it over a period of three or four mornings each week. Some of that time included journeys all over the island to interview the famous who were holidaying here.
On one occasion Pedro drove me and a photographer over to a big house in the Puerto Pollensa area where Clare Booth Luce was staying. Among her guests was Alfred Eisenstadt, the world famous Life photographer. Clare Booth Luce was a writer of considerable repute but she was also married to Henry Luce, the founder of Time magazine, Life and other top publications. She had also been Ambassador to Rome or some capital like that.
When we got to the house, Mrs Clare Booth Luce didn’t want to see us. A pretty young Spanish maid was sent out to tell us that she wasn’t at home. When we told the maid we could see Mrs Clare Booth Luce on the terrace, the maid said: "La señora told me to tell you she’s not at home."
We took some pictures of the house and I wrote a piece about our attempts to see Clare Luce Booth. I deliberately mentioned her name throughout the text and every time I put in brackets ‘who used to be a diplomat’. The heading on the article was ‘Clare Booth Luce, who used to be a diplomat’. We sent a copy of Majorca Times to the Puerto Pollensa house and about ten days later we received a big envelope delivered by hand. In it were pictures Alfred Eisenstadt had done of Clare Luce Booth and her guests walking along the road to Formentor. And that was how the very humble Majorca Times came to publish pictures by one of the world’s greatest photo-journalists.
Putting the Majorca Times together was easy peasy and everyone (especially Pedro, I think) had a great time doing it. But none of us, with the exception of Pedro, realised that the Majorca Times was simply a dress rehearsal for another publication: the English-language daily newspaper Pedro had always dreamed of.
In the late 1950s, Manuel Fraga Iribarne was appointed Spain’s Minister of Information and Tourism. This was an important portfolio for two reasons. Franco’s Spain was still very much a dictatorship and the government controlled every media outlet and inlet: foreign newspapers and magazines were also censored before going on sale. Those that contained a news story, feature, picture or anything that didn’t meet the censor’s approval didn’t appear on the newsstands that day.
For the Spanish press, official censorship meant that every news item, every picture, every caption, every heading and every advertisement, had to have the official approval seal of the censorship office. The man at the top - Fraga Iribarne in Madrid - had to keep close tabs on all incoming and outgoing information.
Fraga lived in a flat at the top of the ministry building in Madrid and, being a light sleeper, he used to get up in the middle of the night, put on his dressing gown and go down to the teleprinter room where he read the news that was coming in and going out. Some years later, Fraga endeared himself to all journalists by doing away with official censorship. Newspapers no longer had to take the contents of the paper round to the censor in dribs and drabs. Censorship laws were still in place but now every editor was his own censor and that was a considerable improvement.
The other important part of Fraga’s work was the tourism portfolio. He was the prime mover behind pushing tourism to the forefront and opening the door to an era of unprecedented prosperity. Fraga allowed hotels to be opened everywhere because it gave work to builders, those in the hotel trade and also brought millions of people on holiday to Spain, who would then spend much needed foreign currency. He didn’t achieve this overnight, of course, but everything moved at a fast rate and it was obvious right from the start that Fraga wanted to open up Spain to the rest of the world.
Two years after Pedro launched the Majorca Times he decided to take the plunge and have a go at starting up a daily newspaper in English. His first step was to apply to the Ministry of Information and Tourism for a licence. It wasn’t a simple two-paragraph request to publish a new newspaper. It required detailed plans of the paper’s aims and its catchment area and, of course, we had to give it a name. We pondered long and hard over that name. Express? Mirror? Mail? Telegraph? Standard? There had been a weekly paper in the 1920s called the Palma Post but neither Post nor the other usual names sounded right.
I remembered that in Glasgow there used to be a weekly called the Bulletin. It belonged to one of the big Scottish newspaper groups and was mainly a picture weekly. That name had the right ring, partly because we couldn’t think of any other newspaper that used it, so it would have a novelty factor. But there was another reason for choosing it. In Spanish, Bulletin translates as Boletín and as the Official State Gazette is called the Boletín Oficial del Estado, we hoped the name Bulletin would give us an aura of sobriety that would appeal to the authorities and smooth the way towards a successful licence application.
The letter of application landed up on Fraga’s desk and he summoned Pedro to Madrid and a meeting at the ministry. He fired a salvo of rapid questions about Pedro’s future plans for the daily newspaper in what was more of an interrogation than an interview. When Pedro returned to Palma he was not at all sure if he had convinced Fraga that a daily newspaper in English would be good for Majorca and its residents and visitors.
Fraga, like Pedro, was a man gifted with great foresight. He already knew that Majorca had been an attraction for visitors as early as the 19th century and he could see that it would be the hub and motor of Spain’s coming tourism boom. A few weeks later, when the application had been pushed to the backs of our minds, a letter arrived from Fraga saying that the licence had been granted. The Bulletin was Spain’s first new daily newspaper since the end of the Civil War.
So Pedro’s dream had come true and he now had his long-awaited chance to give English-speaking residents and visitors a daily fix of local, national and international news in English But his problems weren’t over by any means. Indeed, they were just starting. Pedro’s financial resources were scant and he had to run the Bulletin on a very short shoestring.
We didn’t have an English language news service, for instance, or even a Spanish one. We received local, national and international news via the Baleares newspaper, which in those days was published in editorial offices and a printing works next to the law courts in Plaza Santa Catalina Thomás. Even Baleares, then the island’s top daily newspaper and part of the Prensa del Movimiento (the government’s own newspaper group with publications in every provincial capital), didn’t have a modern teleprinter news service.
Their national and international service arrived via a tiny tickertape machine that spat out the news on a ribbon of paper no broader than a strand of tagliatelle pasta. A journalist sitting at a typewriter tore off strips of tickertape and then typed the contents on to a sheet of paper, making three or four carbon copies for the paper’s own use and one for us. We were always given the bottom copy which was sometimes more than a little faint. But we were grateful for what we got. At around 2am Pedro walked over to Baleares to pick up the news and I sometimes did it when he wasn’t there. It was a pleasant little chore during the summer when the temperature had dropped to its lowest.
Right from day one, Fraga granted Pedro an amazing concession. In those days press censorship was in full force and Spanish newspapers and magazines had to send every bit of text, including headings and advertisements, to the local office of the ministry to get the necessary seals of approval. But the Bulletin’s news and articles never had to be vetted by the official censors. It was an incredible privilege for those days.
Eventually we had two teleprinters and received news and features in English, first from Reuters and later from United Press International. Pedro was given an even greater concession here. The government censors not only controlled everything that was being put out by Spanish publications, but also every line of news and information that came into the country via international news agencies. An international financial company in Madrid or Barcelona that was interested in stock market news and movements could be a subscriber to Reuters but the service they received first had to go through the censors in Madrid. Once it was passed, it was then redirected to the subscriber.
The ministry gave Pedro a much better deal. The Bulletin’s Reuters and UPI services came straight to us without having to stop off in Madrid to be checked by the censor’s office. That meant the Bulletin heard of the big news stories long before the other papers in Palma. We worked closely with Ultima Hora so I would alert their editor when, for instance, some world famous personality had died. The Bulletin was the only entity in Spain receiving Reuters and UPI services that completely by-passed the the filters of the Madrid censors.
As soon as the Bulletin started up, Pedro’s journalistic and business talents went into top gear. The overheads for a daily newspaper, even an eight-pager as the Bulletin was in its first days, are enormous. Every day, huge sums of money are being paid out and very little is coming in. So Pedro was having to come up with ideas that would boost sales and bring in advertising. Immediate solvency was at the top of his list of priorities.
He didn’t have to worry about the day-to-day bookkeeping side of the business. That was in the capable hands of his wife, Margarita Magraner, who was in charge of general administration. Although the Bulletin, like any new publication needed a quick inflow of cash, the first cheque that arrived for the payment of an advertisement didn’t end up in the Bulletin’s bank account.
In those days, a Baleares journalist had a column called Banco de los Pobres (Poor People’s Bank) written by ‘Cojuelo’ and through which he raised money to help poor people in financial difficulties. If a family couldn’t pay the electricity bill, say, the woman of the house went along to see Cojuelo and explained how the electricity would get cut off if she didn’t pay within three days. Cojuelo took the bill and paid it.
Well, when the Bulletin received its first income from advertising, Margarita didn’t pay the cheque into the Bulletin’s bank. Instead, she took it round to Cojuelo to add to the Banco de los Pobres fund. It was one of those cases when charity didn’t begin at home.
In those days, Spanish newspapers never printed pictures of bikini-clad girls unless there was a good reason for doing so. Pedro thought the Bulletin should have pictures of pretty girls so he invented the Miss Happy Day contest. A Danish girl with the lovely name of Pipsen Hegermann-Lindencrone, who was Denmark’s water-ski champion and whose father was the country’s most celebrated music critic, went round the beaches taking pictures of pretty girls of any nationality. These were printed with a thumbnail sketch of the girl. At the end of the month, 12 of the girls were chosen to take part in the Miss Happy Day contest, which was held at a Palma restaurant or nightclub.
The winning girl and a friend then spent a very happy day during which they went round top shops in central Palma where they received gifts such as shoes, gloves, handbags, jewellery, perfumes and clothes of all kinds. The happy day also included lunch and dinner at the best restaurants and the girls finished off at a nightclub, usually more than a little exhausted after receiving gifts non-stop for 12 hours.
Another idea that helped to boost Bulletin sales was also connected with pretty girls and beaches. At that time, when the tourism boom was just getting under way, it was easy for English-speaking visitors to find work in the hundreds of hotels, bars, shops and restaurants that were opening up everywhere. Many young people came here on holiday, liked the life and looked for a job so they could stay on.
Pedro made use of that situation by having young girls sell the Bulletin on the beaches east and west of Palma. The girls, who would have been going to the beach anyway, picked up their batch of Bulletins and spent the morning selling them on the beaches at Arenal, Ca’n Pastilla, Illetas, Palmanova, Magalluf and sometimes further west. Their most successful sales period was during the Israel-Egypt Six-Day War. At that time the English papers arrived a day late and there was no satellite TV or internet, so anyone wanting to keep up with an ever-changing international event like that had to read the Bulletin.
The beach girls‘ Bulletins were selling so quickly during the Six-Day War that they were telephoning by 10am to say they had sold out and asking for more papers. And at the newsstands the Bulletin was also being snapped up.
As the weeks went by and then the months and years, the Bulletin progressed on every front: sales were going up and advertising was coming in. Some bars and restaurants took ads simply because the owner got a kick out of seeing his business advertised in an English-language newspaper. That doesn’t happen nowadays: everyone is so much more sophisticated. But in those days it was a novelty and that is always attractive.
Pedro had an abundance of a quality that all top businessmen must have: he kept ploughing a big part of the profits back into the Bulletin. Our ancient flat-bed printing press was soon sold to some small printing works and the Bulletin got another press. It was still a flat-bed but it was a modern German make that fed the paper into the machine automatically and could reproduce pictures in three colours. A few years later, everyone was going over to off-set printing and so did the Bulletin: Pedro bought a rotary press that allowed us to do much bigger papers at a much faster rate.
Unlike British press barons who simply employ others to do all the work, Pedro was very much hands-on in every field. He had an incredible capacity for work and in those early days he was sometimes putting in 18-hour days. Pedro didn’t have the luxury of taking the winter off, but he did reserve Sundays for having lunch with the family in Sóller and ... sleeping.
Pedro’s ambition had always been to have an English-language daily newspaper for English-speaking residents and visitors to Majorca. Now he had it and that could have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t: his greatest journalistic and managerial triumph was just around the corner.
Palma’s Ultima Hora newspaper was first published in 1893, which makes it the island’s oldest daily. It was a family business whose other interests included theatres and cinemas. Ultima Hora, an evening paper, was almost a sideline. I know little of the paper’s early years but when I arrived on the island, Ultima Hora was a bit of a disaster. It didn’t go on sale until about 7pm whereas in London and other big British cities, evening papers were on the streets by 11am and did several editions up until about 4.30pm.
Even so, Ultima Hora had a certain cachet and the dedicated readers who bought it every day enjoyed it. The family owners continued to spend money on improvements. Ultima Hora was, for instance, the first daily newspaper in Spain to go over to an offset printing press. But there came a time when the paper’s financial situation was in meltdown and the bank wanted to take over. Ultima Hora had always been an independent paper run by an old illustrious Majorcan family. The last thing they wanted was to lose the paper to a bank.
That was when the family approached Pedro. They wanted him to take over and turn Ultima Hora into a going concern. I have no idea of the financial arrangements that were made, except Pedro ended up with control of more than 50 per cent of the shares, thus allowing him a free hand to give Ultima Hora a complete makeover.
From the very first day under his leadership, Ultima Hora was on the newsstands by 5pm instead of its usual 7pm appearance. He kept bringing the paper out earlier and earlier until it was on the streets at midday. Then 10am. And soon after that it was a morning newspaper on sale all over the island when the newsstands opened between 7-8am. It was an incredible turnaround.
But there was more to it than that. Turning an evening paper into a morning publication was in itself an achievement, but it wasn’t enough. Of the three dailies in Palma, Ultima Hora was right at the bottom of the league. Indeed, in circulation figures it wasn’t even in the same division as the other two. Pedro’s next step was to make Ultima Hora essential reading for all and to get the paper into the hands of potential daily readers all over the island. He did this partly by having teams of young men sell Ultima Hora at key entry points to the city while cars were stopped at the traffic lights. It was a huge success and sent sales figures soaring.
Ultima Hora was the first daily in Palma to do a weekly TV programmes supplement, a nice little service for the readers because it meant they didn’t have to buy one of the special TV magazines. Other supplements were later added, including a glossy magazine for women and a free copy of Pronto, Spain’s biggest selling weekly publication. It came as no surprise that officially audited sales figures continued to rise every six months. There soon came a point when Ultima Hora was outselling the other dailies by a gigantic margin.
There’s some very neat graphic proof of how Ultima Hora dominates the sales figures. If you’re ever in El Corte Inglés in Jaime III when it opens at 11am on Sundays, go to the newspaper and magazine section in the first basement. The mainland papers are laid out flat but the three top-selling Palma dailies are in vertical piles. The column of Ultima Horas towers above the other two like a skyscraper. It is actually higher than the other two combined. That’s what Pedro’s Ultima Hora makeover achieved.
In the meantime, Pedro also found the time and energy to get involved in starting up local radio stations, TV channels and book publication. And he somehow managed to set aside time for adding to his considerable art collection, which meant trips to Paris, London and New York to attend auctions and visit salesrooms.
Pedro was a hard businessman who knew what he wanted and how to get it. But there was also a soft side to him that very few people knew about. Except, of course, those who were fortunate enough to be on the receiving end. He will be greatly missed by all those who knew him.