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Briton looks to create power vacuum in Japan

A NEW challenge beckons for James Dyson, the British entrepreneur who is now in Japan as part of Tony Blair's high-powered business delegation.

For those who don't know him, Mr Dyson is one of the world's biggest suckers - or to put it more accurately, he has cleaned up in vacuum cleaners. And he's done it the hard way. After designing his revolutionary bagless machine in 1978, Mr Dyson spent 14 largely fruitless years trying to find someone who'd back him - British investors, it seems, aren't exactly new men when it comes to household chores. But finally, in 1992, he persuaded a Japanese company to buy the rights to manufacture and distribute the machine in Japan.

Then, using the pounds 750,000 gained from the sale, he set up his own manufacturing plant in Britain and thus was born a range of bagless wonders such as the Dyson Dual Cyclone that have sucked all before them. Nature abhors a vacuum, it's said, but it's quite keen on a vacuum cleaner - and Mr Dyson's products currently account for 33 per cent of sales in the UK.

And now for his next trick. Mr Dyson has just bought back the rights in Japan and is poised to sell a new range of products there. Despite the country's financial crisis and even though, by selling direct to Japan, he will be up against some of the world's most powerful electrical groups.

But even though the task seems as daunting as a shagpile carpet after a New Year party, Mr Dyson is confident. "Japan is still a wealthy country and vacuum cleaners aren't generally subject to recession," he says. "After all, if times are hard, the one thing you want to do is keep your house clean." Well up to a point ... if the last British recession is anything to go by, the one thing you want to do is keep your house.

FROM a business career in full swing to one that's been stalled.

Football followers will be well aware of Steve Bull, the Wolverhampton Wanderers striker in whom many England supporters invested great faith during the1990 World Cup. Bull, it was often said at the time, was the kind of classic English "hairy-arsed centre forward" who would "put the wind up" Johnny Foreigner. (This being football terminology, it's best not to take it too literally.)

As it turned out, foreign defenders didn't mind "having it up 'em" and simply turned the other cheek. However, the self-same hirsute posterior has recently been sought to fill a seat on the board of Beacon FM, the Wolverhampton radio station owned by GWR. And what a lot of knicker-twisting it's been causing.

Last Wednesday, Bull had been due to attend a press conference at Beacon announcing his new post as a non-executive director. As one of the Black Country's best-known names and, at 32, the same age as the station's target audience, his role was to have been to feed back views on Beacon from the local community. Then, at the last minute, Bull pulled out. After checking with the club, he's been told that his contract precluded him from taking up the position.

Beacon, it's fair to say, is under the moon about all this, but the station is not blaming Wolves. It says discussions began with Bull and his adviser, Jim Cadman, last spring and that it received repeated assurances there were no obstacles to the deal. This remained the case even when a rival station, The Wolf FM, was set up last October and Wolves took a stake. So, as far as Beacon is concerned, the last-minute hitch was both unwelcome and completely unexpected.

But Mr Cadman, who organised Bull's testimonial fund last season and was also involved in an abortive takeover bid for Cardiff City football club in 1995, sees things differently. "Let's put this in perspective," he says, "it's not a big deal. The remuneration was a token thing and it was more a case of community spirit." And far from there being extensive talks, he adds, he's only had one small meeting with Beacon. "The only reason I'm involved is that I was chairman of his testimonial, and I happened to be at the radio station with him when the subject first came up."

With the influx of foreign players and managers, it's said that football is now dogged by communication problems. But I'd never realised it was this bad.

A sick building

GREAT news for those who still lament the death of London's Westminster Hospital earlier this decade: Ballymore Properties has announced plans for a pounds 150m redevelopment which it says, without blushing, will "breathe new life into an historic site".

While clearly something of a stranger to medical metaphors, Ballymore does know the language of the real estate market. The redevelopment will feature a "luxury" apartment building, 120,000 square feet of office space and a 500-room "exclusive" hotel - taking it the same way as the old St George's Hospital site opposite Hyde Park. At St George's, they used to deliver babies (including me), now they deliver mini-bars.

Ballymore is keen to point out that residents of the new complex will also enjoy the luxuries of valet parking and a laundry and chambermaid service. So at least that is an improvement on the experiences of the previous occupants in the days when money didn't talk: "Here's a lump of cod and some cold mashed potato - get well soon."