A calm but not-altogether convincing Conrad Black brushed off his fraud conviction Thursday night as a guest on Britain's top-rated satirical news show, but audience members said it was tense when Mr. Black was shown videotape of himself shifting boxes of documents from Hollinger offices in Toronto in 2005.
"He shrugged it all off but I found it a bit squirmy. …Why is it a purely British trait to admire criminals?" said Rod Barnes, one of several hundred who lined up outside the Thames River studio to be part of the audience for the BBC program Have I Got News For You.
Some found the 68-year-old Mr. Black "a bit dreary, banging on." One woman said Mr. Black appeared "quietly proud of Canada." But many in the crowd also said the former media baron held his own under difficult questioning by Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye magazine and the irreverent host of Have I Got News For You, a 22-year-old show that prides itself on pricking the inflated egos of politicians and newsmakers.
The BBC program's airing on Friday caps Mr. Black's week-long London blitz to sell his new book and rehabilitate his reputation among Britain's elite who elevated Mr. Black to the House of Lords. Mr. Black indicated he has every intention of retaking his seat in the Lords.
It has been a difficult week for Mr. Black, however. On Thursday, he lost his bid to make oral arguments as to why he should keep his 1990 Order of Canada, although he can still make written representations.
While Northern District of Illinois Judge Amy St. Eve may have decided prison had made Conrad Black "a humbler, more sensitive person," Mr. Black's cuddly side hasn't been on display during his London visit.
An angry Mr. Black on Monday called respected BBC interviewer Jeremy Paxman a "gullible fool" asking "bourgeois" questions. Prisoner No. 18330-424 insisted he was not a criminal and ended the interview by telling Mr. Paxman he was glad he was not "getting up and smashing your face in."
Mr. Black's attack on Mr. Paxman was followed by his chastising of seasoned Sky News presenter and political commentator Adam Boulton for asking "predictable questions."
After four days antagonizing and alienating Britain's media celebrities, Mr. Black's appearance on the BBC could have been his coup de grace, but he appeared calm and collected – quiet, even – to many of the audience members questioned after the show.
"He was less mad today," said Michael Mccafferty. "He was great, very eloquent."
Mr. Mccafferty's friend, Louis Brooke, was less impressed. "He was trying to shove his nose up the … British establishment."
Mr. Black discussed his Canadian background and British peerage in factual rather than emotional terms during the taping of Have I Got News For You, audience members said.
The TV show's panel quizzed Mr. Black on his video and the tabloid headlines of the major news stories of the week which generally leads to jokes and rants, particularly during the "Missing Words Round" where newspaper headlines are displayed, with choice words blanked out for the panel to fill in.
Have I Got News For You was taped over a period of about two hours, but viewers will only see the 30-minute edited version after the BBC lawyers requested cuts of potentially defamatory material.
With two high-profile media bust-ups already under his belt, it was little wonder the media were banned from the BBC show at the door Thursday.
Mr. Black's London book launch for A Matter Of Principle was held in a private member's club on Wednesday night with about 40 guests in attendance, among them Jonathan Aitken, the ex-Conservative cabinet minister who served time in a south London prison after he was jailed for perjury and perverting the course of justice.
"It was just like the old parties but Conrad looked younger," William Cash, editor of Spear's, told one reporter. "Prison has been good for his health."