A debauched evening out at the British Museum, thanks to HSBC

People & Business

To the British Museum for the press preview of the new HSBC Money Gallery, a fascinating study of how money came about 4000 years ago and what forms it has taken since.

Sir Willi Purves, chairman of HSBC, hosted the opening by the Duke of Gloucester last night, and I hear the chairman was closely involved in the deal to spend pounds 1.7m for the new permanent exhibition.

The show is largely the brainchild of a British Museum curator, Joe Cribb, who recently wrote a book about HSBC's own money collection.

According to the exhibit, coins in their modern form first appeared in two places at once in the sixth century BC: in the Greek state of Lydia, ruled by Croesus (of "rich as Croesus" fame), and in the east in China.

The show includes a host of other forms of money, from the usual cowrie shells right up to plastic cards and the proposed design for a 20 Euro note. It includes many a warning to central banks in danger of "debauching the currency".

One exhibit shows Roman coins of the same denomination for seven successive Roman emperors which gradually change from 50 per cent silver to almost completely copper. Ken Clarke should take a look.

As the egm kicked off yesterday for Sears, the stores group which owns Selfridges, a security man from the Grosvenor House Hotel in which the meeting was taking place interrupted proceedings for an important announcement.

The man, Mr Churchyard, told shareholders: "There are four fire exits from the ballroom. If there is an emergency the hotel staff will evacuate the premises. Please do so in an orderly manner."

This elicited mutterings from one elderly shareholder, Frank Gisborne, who said: "It'll be about the only bloody thing that is orderly about this place."

The pitiless Mr Gisborne proceeded to lay into Sir Bob Reid, Sears' chairman, saying he should go, emergency or not.

Stella Rimington, former head of MI5 and now board member of Marks & Spencer, has bought some shares in the retailer, fuelling the obvious "what does she know that we don't?" rumours.

Unlike her previous activities there was no hiding this deal - directors' share dealings have to be reported to the Stock Exchange.

The former spy boss paid pounds 9,600 for 2,000 ordinary shares in Marks's at 480p, her first deal in the group's stock.

This was despite a broadly neutral stock market reaction to Wednesday's trading figures which showed an 8.1 per cent rise in 17 weeks' sales, in line with expectations.

Chelsea, fresh from their astonishing 4-2 demolition of Liverpool, have just appointed their first City press spokesman, Ian James of Fleet Communications.

What mixed emotions Mr James must have felt, then, watching that match, bearing in mind he comes from Liverpool and has supported them most of his life.

"There were mixed emotions," he admits. "But my kids support Chelsea, so it wasn't too bad."

Ken Bates, chairman of Chelsea Village, the holding company, floated the business on AIM last March, and since then the company secretary, Alan Shaw, has been inundated with calls from interested shareholders. He now needs some help from Mr James, since there are more than 65,000 of them.

"We need to tell people that the emphasis of the business is going to change. At the moment the football club provides 65 per cent of turnover. In the long term that will fall to around a third," says Mr James.

The growth will come from the 12-acre Stamford Bridge site in West London, where Chelsea are set to open a shopping galleria in August and a hotel in December.

They also plan to launch a local radio station next February, while the club already has its own Internet site for overseas supporters.

"We do bar mitzvahs, weddings - everything," says Mr James.

John Butler, director of regulatory affairs at BT, is lunching with one of my colleagues when he mentions how easy it is to dial in codes to access BT's rivals such as Mercury, AT&T, Energis and the like. Hang on a minute. Does he actually have a rival phone system at home? Is this allowed by BT? Mr Butler, without batting an eyelid, replies: "You've got to keep your eye on the competition."

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