A touch of jazz pizzicato : Any Other Business

Click to follow
The Independent Online
WHEN Peter Boizot was a young man selling dubious souvenirs off a barrow in Rome in the Fifties, he extracted L5,000 from an American tourist by flogging him a horseshoe he said came from the steed of Julius Caesar.

If you can sell rusty horseshoes you can sell anything. But that is not why the founder of the Pizza Express chain of restaurants has set up his own magazine, Boz.

Boizot, 64, is in a position to indulge himself after the reverse takeover and flotation of his pizzerias by dealmaker Luke Johnson last year. He realised a further £2m earlier this year, and still has a stake worth £8m.

"Boz is unashamedly a magazine that puts forward matters of interest to the Peter Boizot Group," he says cheerfully, referring to the restaurants he still owns - Pizza on the Park, Kettner's and Condotti in London, and the Great Northern Hotel in Peterborough. "We never do any market research into what people want to read.

"Cabaret is not covered by the arts sections of newspapers and I think it should be - particularly when I've got an artist like Andrea Marcovicci, the greatest cabaret star of her generation according to Sheridan Morley, who writes for the magazine, debuting at my London venue. Advertising in Time Out would cost a couple of thousand and you wouldn't get the cover."

The magazine, a monthly in need of a design revamp, costs £1.50, when not distributed free, and includes recipes from the Great Northern's chef, previews of jazz events around town and traces of Boizot obsessions, such as hockey and Liberal Democracy. Itcosts about £5,000 an issue to produce, of which less than half is recouped by circulation and advertising.

Boz is a rich man's hobby. But there is something endearing about the way its founder unash-amedly uses it to promote his pet causes. And it gives a clue as to why the Pizza Express chain keeps pulling in the discerning eater and the keen franchisee where other, similar chains fail.

Boizot wants to share his enthusiasms with everyone else. That is why he brought in a £600 pizza oven, genuine Neapolitan pizzaiolos (pizza-making staff) and an old Sicilian woman to knead the dough back in 1965.

He is also tenacious - that is how he managed to get the magazine, in its previous incarnation as Jazz Express, distributed through WH Smith and to about 1,000 subscribers. Nonetheless, it was still losing about £2,000 an issue, despite occasionally paying contributors in Pizza Express vouchers.

"I took it out of the company before it became a plc," he says. "I think my colleagues thought, `The old bugger's not spending our money.' I brought in a new editor but she was very keen on all these rasta people my friends and I had never heard of. The last straw was when Billy Stritch, Liza Minnelli's boyfriend, was performing here. He didn't have a very good run and he wasn't even mentioned in the magazine. I thought, I'm losing money on both sides of this. The editor was replaced by a young man fresh from Cambridge, Nick Meade."

Meade tolerates his proprietor's interventions but does not like the magazine being called a rich man's indulgence. "It has a solid commercial rationale," he says.

The magazine carries advertisements from record companies and record shops at what Boizot coyly calls "pump-priming rates". According to Meade, advertising in Jazz Express was at "very cheap, almost giveaway rates, but we have now got a couple of salesmen who are bringing in a lot more". Meanwhile, Boizot is seeking to patent the perforated page design that allows mail order ads to be pulled out and sent through the post as an order form.

Boizot is clearly concentrating more and more on his personal interests. He was disappointed when Pizza Express moved its headquarters out of his beloved Soho into Kensal Lane, and describes the current management darkly as "only interested in the bottomline" - though Luke Johnson speaks well of him.

He also regards himself as "effectively non-executive chairman" of Pizza Express, although he is still working out a three-year contract.

Shareholders will be watching to see what he does with his remaining 10.8 per cent stake in the company, which he has undertaken not to reduce before April next year at the earliest. But he has plenty of other things to amuse him.