The triumphant comeback shows what friends are for, Vicky Ward writes
Rarely has a businessman taken such sweet, public revenge upon his detractors. For the past few weeks Maurice Saatchi has been written off by a swelling band of critics, culminating in his sacking from the advertising group he founded. His stunnin g comeback this week confirmed he has not completely lost his touch and, most important, that he retains the loyalty of some old and powerful friends.

The loyalty he inspires led not only to the resignation of seven of his own executives, including Jeremy Sinclair, Bill Muirhead and David Kershaw, but also to the termination of accounts with Saatchi & Saatchi by clients such as Colin Marshall and Lord King (British Airways), David Montgomery (Mirror Group) and Stanley Kalms (Dixons).

This was not all. One of the first to join in helping Maurice start The New Saatchi Agency is the man who ought, by rights, to hate him most: Tim Bell, the Saatchis' former right-hand man, who left the company 10 years ago in the most acrimonious of circumstances.

Cynics might wonder how Maurice wins them over. One might think he issues invitations to sumptuous weekends at Old Hall, his mock-Tudor Sussex mansion, or holidays at his French home on Cap Ferrat. The truth, though, is very different.

"I consider him a friend, and he has never invited me to his house,'' confides Lord Tebbit, who knew him from the days when Maurice, along with Tim Bell, was responsible for running Saatchi's Tory party election campaign. "It's impossible to define how he does it, but he's just one of those people who secures your trust. You know he is never going to let you down. He is amiable, he has a great sense of humour and he is very kind."

But it still seems extraordinary that recent events have brought Bell back to Maurice's side, helping him with publicity for the advertising agency he intends to set up. Bell has not always concealed his bitterness towards the Saatchis: when he left, they made him rebuy his house at a market price. "It certainly is not a question of lavish weekend invitations," says Bell. "In fact, I don't really mix with him socially. Although I left 10 years ago, we have been friends for 25 years. He is the kind of person who maintains those relationships he starts up. He pays attention to people in his conversation and in his body language."

Ivan Fallon, the Saatchi brothers' biographer, concurs:"He is a terribly loyal person, and so thoughtful. When I arrived here [Johannesburg, South Africa] to a new office that had just faced a whole load of redundancies, I found waiting for me on my deska bouquet of flowers, signed `The Brothers'."

Fallon, unlike Bell, has made it to Old Hall for Sunday lunch. "A very fine affair, but you'd be unlikely to find advertising people there. Maurice doesn't really mix with advertising people out of hours, unlike say Bill Muirhead who you could easily find in the pub after work."

More likely to be found round Maurice's private table, are poets, academics (he is friendly with the author Iris Murdoch and her husband Professor John Bayley), the American ambassador and some more artistic faces, such as David Puttnam.

Someone who Maurice used to work for, who asked not to be named, remarked: "It's a combination of his honesty - there's no ruthlessness or deceit about Maurice - and his talent and enthusiasm that make him so thoroughly likeable." David Herro, the young

pretender who prompted his dismissal but is now nursing a large loss on his investments, may in future attach greater value to those qualities.