Cover Stories: Hodder Headline to be de-merged; Anthony Cheetham; Bryson donates prize money to GOS

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The Independent Culture

Venture capital group Permira has ended its pursuit of the ailing WH Smith, largely because of a hole in the pension fund. It is now certain that Hodder Headline, acquired five years ago by WHS, will be de-merged. Many in the trade thought having a publisher as part of a retail group was never a good idea. There remains the possibility that HH founder and chief exec Tim Hely Hutchinson will lead a management buy-out. There is also a chance that an American company could swoop: maybe Simon & Schuster. But the most likely outcome is that the French Lagadère Group, whose UK holdings include Orion, Octopus and Chambers, will place the winning bid. The new group would be the second biggest British publisher.

Meanwhile, the mischievous Anthony Cheetham, ousted from the Orion Group last September, is rumoured to be eyeing Constable & Robinson, a flourishing indie. The man himself - now working on a children's novel - remains a tease, interested to hear the speculation and noting the health of independents such as C&R and Profile.

Donating your prize cheque to a favourite cause has gone out of style since John Berger gave his Booker dosh to the Black Panthers. Milder times bring milder gestures, and this week Bill Bryson gave his £10,000 from the Aventis Prize for science books to the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity. The Aventis Foundation will match his donation. GOS has also long benefited from the copyright to Peter Pan, made over to it by JM Barrie in 1929.