A wild night of wax models and actuaries


Madame Tussauds hosted a party for a gaggle of actuaries in the Great Hall last night amid concern for their safety. Some had questioned the wisdom of releasing the students of mortality among waxwork models lest they strike up a conversation with a statue and never be found again.

The bash, catering for 250 guests, was to honour the retirement of David Peacock, senior partner of Lane Clarke & Peacock, the consulting actuaries. As is usual at such events, the merrymakers were subjected to the museum's standard joke.

It amuses the people at Madame Tussauds to set up the drinks table right in front of the models of senior religious figures. Every time guests reach for a glass of wine they must confront the rigidly disapproving countenance of, among others, the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

"We enjoy the irony,'' says the museum's Lucy Robertson. "But it also gives us better access to our kitchens.''

The highlight of the evening was the speech by Martin Slack, the new senior partner. Madame Tussauds had positioned him in front of the models of the Royal family and there was some relief that he did not confess to adultery.

Fears that the actuaries might go wild and damage the exhibits were misplaced. But it does happen. It can cost pounds 25,000 to replace a model, although it is rarely necessary after a corporate bash. "We did once lose a piece of the Dalai Lama's ear,'' reflects Ms Robertson. "Oh, and the head of an Irish Prime Minister.''

An appalling indictment of the Treasury, which has always preached that manufacturers should keep the lid on inflation by absorbing cost pressures. The cost of the Red Book - a runaway bestseller which chronicles the economic forecasts, tax and spending details of a small island nation - has risen from pounds 15.50 to pounds 17.00. That is four times the rate of inflation that it was predicting in the (much cheaper) edition last year.

Neither is the rise consistent with this year's story. On page 45, the book says "competition remains fierce, as evidenced by recent attempts to end collective agreements in book retailing."

Accountants poring over the fine detail of the Budget have stumbled across the hitherto unreported death of the "red fuel'' scam. For those of you without an HGV licence, red fuel (so-called because it contains a marker dye) is the much cheaper off-road diesel that may not be pumped into British fuel tanks willy-nilly. While it works perfectly well in both diesel cars and lorries, HM Customs & Excise takes a dim view of those who seek to run their vehicles on the cheap.

The trick was to take your car or articulated lorry over the border (usually from Northern Ireland to the Republic), fill up with red fuel and drive back. Once in the tank the stuff could not be taxed as road fuel.

Unfortunately the wheeze got out of hand, with red fuel stations springing up within yards of the border. Customs retaliated on 1 August by banning the practice for commercial vehicles. Now the Chancellor has done the same for the private motorist. And any attempt to enter the UK with red diesel will result in seizure of the vehicle, says Customs, adding that "the overall revenue effect of this measure is neglible.''

Stephen Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Computer who quit after a bitter struggle for control of the company in 1985, joins that select band who have made $1bn in just one day.

Shares in his Pixar Animation Studios - which uses computers rather than cameras to make movies - went through the stratosphere on their first day of trading on the US Nasdaq exchange, making the podgy genius worth more than he ever was at Apple.

It was Pixar that made the Disney blockbuster Toy Story.

Mr Jobs dismissed the windfall with the aplomb of a man who made $239m at the age of 25. "There's no yacht in my future,'' he told reporters. "I've never done this job for money.''

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