BT under fire after an expensive line goes dead

CITY DIARY
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The Independent Online
Barely a week in the job and Sir Peter Bonfield, the new chief executive brought into BT for his technical expertise, is already facing the wrath of the fourth estate. Some bright spark cut a main cable at London's Maida Vale exchange on Friday plunging Loot, the national free- to-advertise publication, into a vacuum. Despite frantic phone calls (from the nearest working pay phone) BT was unable to restore service for the 25 hours covering the paper's busiest period.

"As soon as our phones started working again the switchboard was jammed with people wanting to know what had happened,'' said Eileen Ford, the editor.

Demands for compensation (for loss of goodwill) - including a letter to chairman Sir Iain Vallance - have so far fallen on deaf ears. Now the daily paper, which sells 120,000 copies a week, has resorted to launching full scale attacks against BT on its front page.

Today's front page reads. "We apologise if you had difficulty getting through. But British Telecom let us down badly.''

BT rival Cable & Wireless is lapping it up. It has taken a slot underneath the message to advertise its Mercury One 2 One service.

Even the blizzards of the century could not stop Bob Farrell leaving the stricken east coast of America for his annual New Year sermon to London disciples. The diffident senior investment adviser at Merrill Lynch is accorded guru status these days. And with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 36 per cent since last January this was always going to be a key ball- gazing. In the event it was standing room only. The Butchers' Hall venue was positively heaving with many a respected fund manager forced to sit on the floor.

And what did they learn? Mainly that Mr Farrell had flown over on Concorde. "When people start flying on Concorde you know the bull market has peaked,'' observed the prophet. "Mind you,'' he added dryly, "Concorde might be extravagant but the hotel they put me in is not''

Jimmy Herbert, the City's oldest working broker, today reaches the astonishing milestone of 85 with both his marbles and enviable client list intact. A slight cold aside, the Branston Gothard man is in fine fettle and will celebrate the occasion with "old mates'' at The Fox hostelry, also known as "the market.''

"I really enjoy my work, warts and all,'' insists the former boxer. "It's not the same as when it was eyeball to eyeball, of course. But the friendship is still there in the City so there is no point in retiring.'' Mr Herbert, who has a weekend home in Bath, commutes from London's west-end during the week, arriving at his desk at 7.00 am. He lives in a flat in Upper Berkeley Street- a property that a friend lent him on the understanding that he pick up the bills. "He thought I would only be there for two or three years,'' said Mr Herbert yesterday. "That was 20 years ago.''

What John Major giveth with one hand the Lord taketh away with the other. The newly-knighted Sir Stanley Kalms, chairman of Dixons, will unfortunately be unable to milk the standing ovation that would have undoubtedly have greeted him at today's announcement of the electrical retailer's half- year figures.

After a 40 year wait for this moment, Sir Stanley has gone down with flu.

John Belushi (above), the Hollywood funny man who shuffled off this mortal coil in a spiral of cocaine and alcohol, will turn in his grave. His name is being used to promote the image of that other breed which lives life on the edge - the UK mortgage broker. The invitation to the 21st birthday party of John Charcol, provider of upmarket loans, reads: "John Belushi - he knew how to party. John Charcol - so do we''. Soon to form part of the broker's advertising campaign.

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