I first met Allan in September 2003, the same month he was getting lap dances with a visiting Aussie parliamentarian, shortly after I left the Washington Post to start a gossip column at the News. We were at a party at Soho House, and even though I was working for the enemy, he called me “mate.” After that, he was always matey, but with a hint of aggression.
Two encounters stand out. Around 1 a.m. on a frigid winter night in 2004, as both of us were leaving “Page Six” editor Richard Johnson’s 50th-birthday party at the Chelsea nightclub Marquee, Allan offered me a lift in his chauffeured sedan—one of the perks of being editor-in-chief (along with a salary somewhat less than the News’s Martin Dunn’s $1.2 million a year). But instead of dropping me home, he ordered the driver to stop at his rented townhouse on West 71st Street and insisted I come in for a drink. While his wife and four children slept upstairs, Allan boozily steered me into his unheated dining room, uncorked a bottle of red wine, and, pouring glass after glass, harangued me about his intention to put the News out of business. “Dear boy, never get into a price war with Murdoch—it’ll end in tears.” Shivering, I could barely keep my eyes open. “Col,” I slurred, “can I go home now?” It was almost 3 a.m. when he finally relented and let me escape.
In March 2006, he was rounding out yet another long, vinous dinner at Elaine’s with his then-deputy, Fleet Street veteran Colin Myler, and their wives. He invited me to join them for postprandial drinks. In due course, Allan started cataloguing the shortcomings of the News, and I parried by questioning the Post’s decision to play inside, rather than on the cover, the story of a young woman who had been savagely raped, murdered, and wrapped in packing tape before being dumped on a roadside. The Post had it first, but when the News followed with a page-one splash, it took ownership of a story that dominated the local media for weeks. “With all due respect,” I said, “I think you underplayed it.”
Instantly, Allan and Myler exploded at me, shouting and cursing, their eyes glinting. If the Post’s top editor hadn’t been recovering from a recent appendectomy, I thought he might have lunged across the table. His deputy actually boxed my ear as he called me “cheeky” and bared his teeth, a facsimile of a smile. Sharon Allan and Carol Myler—who apparently had seen it all before—just laughed.
Allan has enjoyed his share of barroom brawls, even though “I don’t think he ever won one,” says his longtime friend and News Corp. colleague John Hartigan. Allan’s lack of pugilistic prowess earned him the nickname “Canvas Back.”
Allan’s flaming temper and scary management style long ago earned him another nickname, “Col Pot,” and he encourages similar pugnacity in his troops. After “Page Six” leg man Chris Wilson was ejected from a party during the 2004 Republican National Convention for spitting a mouthful of whiskey on my then-assistant, Hudson Morgan, the editor-in-chief good-naturedly demanded, “Why didn’t you punch him?”
And the rage isn’t just for fun. In March 2003, when the News scooped the Post on the memoirs and identity of Trisha Meili, the so-called Central Park Jogger, who was savagely beaten and gang-raped in 1989 by young thugs, Allan fired off an ominous e-mail to Meili’s literary agent, Joni Evans, with whom he had been friendly. “After seeing today’s daily news I am contemplating two courses of action,” Allan wrote to Evans, “taking a blunt axe to the jogger—we know a lot about her,” he threatened, or “taking the view this book was never written—not a sentence, not a word shared with our 2.2 million readers. Which of these two options would you recommend?”