MacKenzie BSkyB boss

LONDON — Kelvin MacKenzie, editor of Britain’s best-selling newspaper, resigned Friday to take a job as managing director of British Sky Broadcasting.

Under his 12-year stewardship, the Sun, a racy mix of topless pinups, contests and sensation, once apologized to the queen and paid Elton John seven-figure libel damages.

“Kelvin had that populist touch,” said Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil, whose paper, like the Sun, is part of Rupert Murdoch’s empire. “Sky, which is at a crucial juncture in its development right now, needed new blood and new direction and Kelvin’s the man to do it.”

Murdoch said in a statement: “He leaves the Sun with an all-time circulation lead over its rivals.”

News Intl. owns the Sun and has a 50% stake in BSkyB. It is a subsidiary of News Corp., whose chairman Murdoch, media analysts say, regards MacKenzie as his “Wunderkind” despite some heftly libel payouts.

Under MacKenzie, whose newsroom motto was “There’s only two things we don’t tolerate here, liberalism and talent,” the Sun annoyed as well as entertained, organizing an “Up Yours Delors Campaign” to protest European Commission president Jacques Delors.

News that he was leaving the Sun, which sells 3.78 million copies a day, rocked Britain’s newspaper and political worlds, where MacKenzie is known for his irreverent, populist touch.

MacKenzie, who prides himself on holding just oneminor academic qualification in art, is a workaholic teeming with ideas. His Sun produces a heady mix of news stories alongside steamy sex scandals.

Appearing before a parliamentary committee to answer charges of intrusion of privacy, MacKenzie defended the Sun’s royal coverage. “When you sleep with the next king of England, I think you go into a rather different stratosphere,” he said.

MacKenzie bucked newspaper respect for the royal family and when Queen Elizabeth threatened to sue over advance publication of her 1992 Christmas message, he replied in an editorial: “We reckon we already pay enough taxes to keep Her Majesty in the style to which she has become accustomed.”

But after vowing to fight the royal writ, the Sun backed down.

The queen accepted an apology by the Sun and its offer to pay $ 300,000 to charity.

MacKenzie’s Sun also twice paid libel damages totaling more than $ 2 million to rock star John over untrue stories relating to his personal life.

MacKenzie, known for his rages, once became so furious with a subordinate for not rising to a stream of abuse that he printed the man’s picture and direct telephone number in the paper asking readers to call and insult the “Human Sponge.” There were 1,000 abusive calls.

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