A Bishop with big ideas; BUNHILL

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The Independent Online
SWINDON is a large town in north Wiltshire. But it doesn't want to be. It wants to be a city, and its business community has got together with its Bishop to make sure it gets its way.

Its Bishop? You are forgiven for failing to know that Swindon has a Bishop, because it has done so for only a couple of years. But he is the real thing: a suffragan (mini) Bishop in the diocese of Bristol, and his name is Michael Doe.

Bishop Michael is chairing the committee that hopes to convince the Queen, God bless her, that when she is next in city-making mode, she should ignore Reading, Luton and Milton Keynes and plump for Swindon. "There's an expectation that at the millennium, or on the 50th anniversary of her accession, a new city will be created," he explains. "If that happens, Swindon is the obvious candidate."

But why does it matter if a town is a city? "It is a question of status and image," he says. "It has potential spin-off in terms of the economy, and will create greater impetus and a sense of solidarity." But he gives away his real motive when he implies that it might also help the football team get back into the Premier League.

The tricky question, he acknowledges, is how to know what a city is and therefore how Her Majesty will make her decision. "It's not a cathedral town, and it's not a town with a Lord Mayor," he says. "But there comes a point when a town ceases to be a town and deserves to be a city." Which sounds just like the sort of fine judgement that should be left to a theologian - I'm sure the Bishop will be happy to offer his advice if the Queen wants it.

I KNOW we find it strange that Japanese directors should prostrate themselves in public to show remorse, as one lot did last week (on telly), but it seems to me like a jolly good idea. Cedric Brown and Dick Giordano should have got down on their knees at the British Gas annual general meeting. The chairman of Yorkshire Water should have bowed deeply, wearing his swimming trunks, to atone for the lack of Yorkshire water. And to show we have no political bias, I would like to see Arthur Scargill grovelling around a bit because he's such a silly billy. The threat of looking a fool would surely have a far greater effect than any number of wordy attacks and no-confidence motions.

Welsh rarebits

IT IS St Patrick's Day, so we shall return to the subject of Welsh entrepreneurs. You may remember that I was wondering why there were hardly any. Well, M G Langford has written from Bridgend giving a few reasons. "Because industrial Wales has in the past been overwhelmingly dependent upon the coal industry and iron and steel, a breed of men has developed who grew up hating the mainly English ironmasters and coal owners. Such were the harsh conditions of life and work that many an entrepreneur's grave was regularly pissed on, and the tradition continues to this day. Starting your own company, no matter how small, meant you were identified with the despised ones."

Despite this, he manages to produce half a dozen Welsh entrepreneurs, as I asked, so he deserves a bottle of something. They are: Terry Matthews, who set up Mitel Corporation and then Newbridge Networks - "personal worth at least pounds 500m"; Chris Evans, the biotech entrepreneur who even has a Welsh accent; Graham Richards and Tony Rees of Oxford Molecular; Brian Richards formerly of British Biotechnology and now of Peptide Therapeutic. All boffins so far, so we change key to Stan Thomas, "who sold his meat pies company for pounds 70m and is now in property". And this is where Mr Langford really earns his fizz: "Last but not least," he says, "my old mate Howard Marks, former cannabis smuggler extraordinaire."

BRIAN LEES is an entrepreneur, albeit a Scottish one, and a clever one. His latest wheeze was to have 450 pure lambswool sweaters made up with "Scotland Grand Slam victors 1996" embroidered on the front. This was before Scotland played England and was beaten.

"Some people ridiculed us, but when we did the same thing in 1984 and 1990, Scotland won," he says.

But he knew perfectly well that he, at least, couldn't lose. His sweaters instantly became a collectable curiosity, and he has sold all but two of them, at pounds 30 apiece. "We made thousands of pounds out of it - but I'd rather Scotland had won," he says.

Sex talk - backwards

THE GREAT Bunhill Business Palindrome Challenge is picking up steam - I can't list all the entries, but keep them coming. Peter Jones, of public affairs at British Airways, comes up with an old one, but a good one: "A man, a plan, a canal, Panama."

Jocelyn Kretchner of Stoke-on-Trent produces "Madams, I rap Eurostar brat, so rue Paris madam," and the delightfully simple "Asset? A Tessa!"

But this week's fizzy bottle must go to the inspired Neil Hudson of Norwich. He offers this advice to a pop star writing a song about the facial features of a certain investor: "Not Leeson's nose, Elton."

Mr Hudson also suggests this possible reform to the Inland Revenue: "Sex at one - no taxes." If this proves popular it could be followed up with a regional version, "Sex at two - nowt taxes," and one for accountants: "Sex at ten - net taxes."

I WAS pleased to see London Underground has started putting "Have a nice day" on its credit card receipts. A total quality world class organisation indeed!