SAY WHAT you like about Saddam Hussein and his family, but they know a thing or two about management. Revelations in the Sunday papers about the Iraqi football team will have given British managers a lot to chew on - and not just the managers of football clubs.

In case you missed it, a former star of Al Rashid FC, the Manchester United of Iraq, has told all about his treatment at the hands of Uday Hussein, the dictator's unbalanced son and, in his capacity as the country's sports supremo, the bearded and considerably less attractive opposite number of Kate Hoey.

Stories abound concerning the way he and other players were punished for losing matches. They were routinely imprisoned, tortured, lashed on the soles of their feet and forced to hunt for mosquitoes in their cells all night long. The captain of the national team was lashed umpteen times with an electric flex for going down to Kazakhstan in 1997. The Rashid striker was dragged through a gravel pit and immersed in a sewage tank.

To be fair to Uday, he did promise the national side that if they won he would buy them all cars. In fact, when they finally did win, he did not buy them anything at all - but at least they must have enjoyed not having their heads clamped in a vice and bludgeoned with a truncheon. He very much believes in both stick and carrot.

"From the beginning, Uday believed that aggressiveness against sportsmen made them push themselves harder," an Iraqi sports journalist said. "He thought they would be so frightened by the punishments that they would be encouraged to give a better performance."

Well, stop me if I am being too avant-garde here, but I have always believed there are things we can learn from the excesses of other nations. I have no idea how well Uday Hussein's tactics paid off in the premier league of Middle East footie, but who is to say they were not good for morale? Might he have a point - that only through extreme cruelty can we get our staff to do things the way we like?

If torture really does improve performance, perhaps we could explore its feasibility in the British workplace. If the young keenies on classified telesales at The Independent fail to reach their quota of lineage sold, I don't see why they should not be stripped to their underwear, rolled in treacle and staked out in the desert in the path of voracious soldier ants.

Shall we say that, in the future, car manufacturers whose models are reported to be faulty can imprison their entire non-robotic assembly line and paint shop in a reeking dungeon in Wales, feed them on polystyrene and vinegar, flay the backs of their thighs with pig intestines soaked in rat semen, and implant tiny fishhooks in their cheeks to discourage them from ever smiling again?

And if the milkman fails to deliver my three pints before 9.15am, thus depriving me of my bowl of Cinnamon Grahams, can I not demand that the dairy boss chastise the miscreant with an electrified cattle prod? Yes, that should make things go with more of a swing. I shall have a word with Jack Straw to iron out the details.


CONSIDERING THE case of Graham Tangye Child, one can only feel relieved on his behalf that he does not live in Iraq. Mr Child until recently worked at Sotheby's, the leading auction house, where he was head of the furniture department. He has just announced his resignation, following an embarrassing matter of alleged misattribution, when four George II chairs that were sold for pounds 1.7m to a Canadian businessman were later thought to have been knocked up in someone's garden shed in the early Nineties.

This is a world whose infinite subtleties we can only marvel at, where the nation's most rarefied sensibilities and quivering-nostrilled connoisseurs compete with each other to track down, authenticate and classify the key items of furniture in British social history, and spend the rest of their time trying to embarrass and outsmart their rivals.

But it must be said that Mr Child's expert judgement has been questioned before, in relation to a commode identified as Chippendale and valued at pounds 500,000. And although Sotheby's enjoys a reputation for unimpeachable probity in all its dealings, there was that regrettable moment when a Regency table had to be taken out of a sale because a reader of Country Life spotted it in the "Forthcoming Auctions" section of the magazine and recognised it as the one nicked from his home some months earlier.

It must be hell for experts like Mr Child. You spend half a lifetime becoming the most knowledgeable man on the planet about sofas, sideboards and portable lavatories and then one little slip and they start calling you names. I sympathise. My own brief career in auction houses started well but ended badly. Bruce Chatwin was my mentor in ceramics until I confidently identified a set of matching dinner plates as Meissen and sold them for pounds 875,000, having failed to identify a runic marking on the underside that was later identified as "Unsuitable for dishwashers".

I was hastily moved on to the paintings division where I specialised in continental masters whose names ended in -illo: Utrillo, Murillo, Michelangillo, that lot I learnt fast. I authenticated like mad. My suave taxonomising was admired all over the auction circuit. I became even more specialised, devoting myself to the tiny cabal of Italian artists whose names ended in -ini: Cellini, Fellini, Puccini, people like that.

One day I was in my office busily attributing a rather vulgar Bellini when the phone rang. It was the boss. "What were you thinking of?" he demanded. "That Flight Into Egypt you sold for pounds 5m as a genuine Boccherini is a complete fake. Even a half-blind amateur would have spotted the El Al 747 in the top right-hand corner. Mr Saatchi is very cross. You'll have to go."

To avoid a scandal I was moved into the furniture department. Adam, Chippendale, Davenport, Grinling, Gibbons, I was soon on nodding terms with them all. I could tell a Turkish ottoman from a French pouffe at 100 yards. No Regency cocktail cabinet kept the secrets of its provenance from me for very long. But it is the same old story, I'm afraid; the jealousies of petty men will win in the end. I was forced to withdraw a Louis-Quatorze swivel chair from sale when envious voices muttered that it might be of later origin. A wardrobe marked "Property of Buckingham Palace" which I acquired in good faith from a reputable dealer called Handbag Harry from Hull turned out to be stolen - and I was out on my ear. I hope Mr Child avoids my tragic fate, which is to wander the country like the Ancient Mariner, following the Antiques Roadshow and trying to get a professional opinion about the value of Faberge fondue set (with matching forks).


I READ the obituaries of David Ogilvy, the modern genius of British advertising, with interest. An extraordinary man, he combined, like Hitchcock, a flair for knowing what would work on the maximum number of consumers with a wicked sense of humour. But unless I missed it, none of his memorialists mentioned his brief flirtation with, and demolition of, the concept of "truth advertising" which enjoyed a brief vogue in the late Fifties.

Ogilvy looked askance at this new and potentially disastrous tendency from Madison Avenue. Forget the "hard sell", it said. Forget the "soft sell" too. This is the real thing. All advertisers need to do, it maintained, was to hold up the product, whether it was a bean tin or cereal packet or vacuum cleaner or jar of marmalade or blister pack of headache pills, and describe what was inside and what it did - and, as long as the thing itself worked, there would be no need for any mendacious top-dressing. No persuasive tactics, no image-burnish, just the truth. Such an approach was, obviously, gall and wormwood to any creative ad-man, to whom constructive fictionalising would always matter far more than the facts.

So what did Ogilvy do? When asked by his new client, Carnation, to apply this new logic to an advertising campaign, he invited them all round, sat them down and showed them his brilliant plan.

The screen flickered into life. A mid-western farmyard came into view, and a stereotypical farmhand in leather chaps appeared, sitting on a milking stool. As per the requirements of truth advertising, he held up the product and intoned to camera the words:

"Carnation Milk is the best in the land.

Here I sit with a can in my hand.

No tits to pull, no hay to pitch,

You just punch a hole in the son of a bitch."

The clients shook their heads. Nice try, old boy, they said, but we think we would rather go back to a more old-fashioned approach. Ogilvy smiled. Truth advertising was suddenly as dead as vaudeville.