He went back to Australia in 1982. Ten years later, the 39-year-old Allan had risen to become editor-in-chief of Sydney’s also-ran tabloid, the Telegraph. By almost every measure, his reign was a triumph. Picking fights with high government officials and ordering up snappy headlines (A NATION OF BASTARDS he famously titled an otherwise humdrum story about the rise in children born out of wedlock), he turned the paper into Sydney’s must-read, spiking circulation to nearly double that of the Morning Herald. Allan once ordered the Telegraph’s New York correspondent to fly to Washington, obtain a sheep, and tie it to the White House gate to protest U.S. import quotas on Australian lamb. It was also at the Telegraph that he perfected his management techniques—which included an unnerving alpha-dog habit of urinating in his office washbasin during editorial meetings. Today, Allan insists the washbasin was behind a closet door.
In Sydney, he met Lachlan Murdoch, who, barely out of Princeton, had been appointed deputy CEO of News Limited, overseeing News Corp.’s Aussie properties. Many came to think of Allan as the Falstaff to Lachlan’s Prince Hal. In the fall of 2000, it was Lachlan who told him he and his father wanted him to return to New York to replace an unsuspecting Xana Antunes as the Post’s editor-in-chief.
“I needed to find someone who didn’t think I was crazy when I said I wanted to beat the News,” Lachlan Murdoch said in an e-mail. “Col was the only person who was as crazy as I was.”
A week after Antunes’s defenestration, a jet-lagged Allan arrived at the Post’s newsroom on the tenth floor of News Corp. headquarters at 1211 Sixth Avenue. Waiting in his office was a pedestal washbasin gift-wrapped in a red ribbon—less a welcome than a hazing. Allan soon repaid the favor by firing half a dozen senior editors—including the man suspected of giving the gift, managing editor Stuart Marques—along with legendary columnist Jack Newfield. The newsroom was shocked; some wept. Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin, a pal of Newfield’s, publicly wondered if the interloper was a racist—one of the fired editors was African-American (she also happened to be a single mother and dying of cancer)—and challenged him to a public debate. “He did not come in with a Valentine bow around him,” says Cindy Adams, who went to lunch at Michael’s with the new editor along with Ken Chandler and Howard Rubenstein. “Col started talking about how lonely he was, how he couldn’t wait till his wife and family came over, and how axing all those people was such a tough and painful thing for him to do. He showed a vulnerable side.”
Allan’s underlings would be surprised. Reporters and editors who’ve been summoned by Allan for a dressing-down in his corner office on the tenth floor speak of their stomachs flipping and their palms sweating. Allan explains, “Look, I’m a tabloid guy. I drive hard, maybe a little too hard sometimes, and I am occasionally unreasonable maybe. I don’t suffer fools easily, and I’m not fond of saying something twice. Confronted with something foolish, I’m blunt, but I rarely shriek.” Allan acknowledges that his wife, Sharon, “has told me to calm down a couple of times. Rupert told me to calm down once, I can’t remember why. But I care about the people that work for me.”
While Adams says “I genuinely love the guy,” the Post’s other gossip doyenne, Liz Smith, feels differently. Allan has curtailed the 84-year-old Smith’s column from six to three days a week, and the rumor—which Allan denies—is that he intends to replace her with Michael Riedel, the Post’s pugnacious Broadway columnist, who is one of Allan’s favorites. The move would have the added benefit of encouraging Riedel-hating Broadway producers to advertise their shows in the Post. “Col Allan is a tremendously loyal and caring boss to the Post employees he cares about,” Smith says tartly. Allan airily responds, “I have tremendous regard for Liz. She is a legend. But we must not be afraid of change.” Allan—who can’t vote—calls himself “a Giuliani conservative,” meaning hawkish on national-security issues but laissez-faire on social issues (pro-choice and pro–gun control, with the significant deviation that he’s against the death penalty). Never mind that shortly after Allan settled into his new job in the spring of 2001, he was awakened at 2 a.m. by a call to his unlisted home phone from an angry Giuliani—who, in the middle of his messy divorce, fussed at the editor about a headline concerning his children.
“How did you get this number?” Allan asked.
“I’m the fucking mayor of New York,” Giuliani replied. “I have everybody’s number.”