NO-HEADLINE

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The Independent Culture
"I'm feeling very nervous about taking this on," said Jonathan Heynes in Trouble at the Top (BBC2). As well he might, given that he was trying to turn round a company which had gone bust three times in the last five years. Robert Lindsay's voice-over tactfully referred to the product in question as a "British institution", but if so, it was one from that end of the spectrum that also includes Broadmoor, tapioca and wet bank holidays in Rhyll. Because Jonathan Heynes is the new owner of Reliant Cars - manufacturers of perhaps the least glamorous vehicle ever constructed, the Reliant Robin - a Brummy accent on wheels and a tireless workhorse for generations of stand-up comedians.

Heynes owns a working farm, and as the resurrection of Reliant began to take shape, he was also having to cope with the BSE crisis; when he mentioned this it struck you that here was firm evidence that airborne transmission to humans might be possible. But, perhaps because the task appeared so monstrously improbable, or because Heynes himself had such a cheerful demeanour, the programme began to win you over to his cause. It wasn't exactly that you no longer saw the car as a joke. In fact, there was an entirely novel twist to the comedy in the application of cutting- edge management philosophy to this also-ran of the inside lane. Attempting to change the mind-set of his parts sales force, for example, Heynes told them a parable about the ascendancy of Unipart, attributing the rise of that company to the winning slogan - "The answer's 'yes'. Now what's the question?".

Unfortunately, the sort of questions that were most likely to occur here were "Wouldn't you be better off attaching a lawn-mower engine to a wheelbarrow?" or "Will I look foolish driving a giant green margarine tub?" Even Heynes's wife was baffled by the fidelity of Robin drivers to their mobile crumple- zones: "You just don't understand why they're loyal after they've crashed in them, but they are," she said, after attending an owner's rally. But the achievements of Heynes and his workforce were incontrovertible - getting finished products out of the yard with a cash-flow which was tight to the point of strangulation. Suppliers - burnt by previous collapses - wouldn't even give the company pounds 30 worth of credit, and at one point the company was down to its last pounds 400, the current account kept alive only by daily transfusions from galvanised parts sales, the company's one profitable department. By Christmas, they had earned another injection of funds from the backers, and Heynes was making plans for his real dream - a sports car with a wheel at every corner. One would have quite liked to have a glimpse of the investors - if only to see what true addicts of risk look like.

Most of the "alternative" investments featured in the last of Alvin Hall's Guide to Successful Investing (BBC2) were considerably more reliable than a punt on a Reliant - buying a share in a racehorse, for instance, or laying down vintage wine. Alvin Hall himself is a perky and rather camp American, whose cheerful manner and manic giggle confirms that he has hit upon the one dependable way to get rich quick - which is to sell advice to other mugs about how they can get rich quick.

To be fair, he began with a disaster story, recalling the great ostrich bubble, in which some 4,000 investors fell for the promise of 300 per cent returns over five years. It wasn't long before the bottom fell out of ostriches, so to speak, leaving the investors with egg on their faces. Hall also mentioned the "toolip" mania of the early 17th century as a warning against the allure of stratospheric profit.

Quite why an American has been employed to tell us all this is a little baffling, though, particularly since it leads to odd moments of cultural incomprehension, such as the sequence in which Alvin went to America to report on the boom in black memorabilia, and found himself puzzling over the provenance of a tray of Robertson's enamel golliwogs, as if they were Neolithic funerary ornaments.

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