Bunhill

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The Independent Online
Angelic investors spread their wings

THE world of investment has turned upside down. In the respectable corner, a stockbroker is placing shares in a film while an apparently sober company is advertising for 'business angels', a term normally applied to stage-struck investors who back theatrical productions.

The film proposition, put forward by Manchester brokers John Siddall, is designed to raise pounds 625,000 through one of the new-fangled Enterprise Investment Schemes. Solitaire for 2, the promoters hope, will cash in on the surprise success of another modest British-made romantic comedy, Four Weddings and a Funeral.

The film's pedigree is impeccable. The writer-director, Gary Sinyor, directed another surprise success, Leon the Pig Farmer, which starred the hero of Solitaire, Mark Frankel (his co-star Amanda Pays, was in the quirky TV series, Max Headroom). The most unusual aspect of the offer is that the film has nearly finished shooting, and distribution has already been arranged in this country - which greatly reduces the risk. But the producers need the cash to replace short-term money put in by a group of investors, who include Andrew Cohen, managing director of Betterware.

The film's story sounds pretty bizarre, what with Ms Pays playing a character with extra-sensory perception. But as one of the promoters puts it: 'There's only one story line for a romantic comedy: chap meets girl, loses girl, gets her back, loses her again - and then gets her back. End titles.'

The angelic idea is simplicity itself: to bring together rich punters, prepared to invest time, money, and their business experience, and small companies in need of guidance and capital. It is an offshoot of the grandiosely named Enterprise Support Group, set up by 3i seven years ago, which now has 16,000 investments, most of them sound, under its belt.

Now that the managers have bought themselves out, they are setting up the even more grandly named VentureList. It's an attempt to match the money and the businesses. The promoters are merely providing the necessary data network, making sure that the 'angels' are all they claim to be by vetting the accountants and solicitors who will act as the applicants' champions.

The only off-putting thing about the idea is the headline the promoters have put on the brochure: Enterprise Adventure. They should remember that the word enterprise is generally associated with the wilder shores of Thatcherism, while it was Peter Pan who uttered the immortal words: 'Death will be an awfully big adventure.'

THAT well-known phrase 'pregnant dummy' has taken on a new meaning with the proposal of First Technology to make one. It's not a joke, far from it, since it will be used to test the impact of crashes on new car designs.

Fred Westlake, the chairman of First Technology, which already supplies a range of safety devices - such as inertia switches designed to cut off the supply of fuel when a car crashes - has only one problem: what to call the new product. He's so desperate that he's even prepared to reward the best entry with vintage champagne. Send your ideas to Bunhill.

Sitting for Dali THE late great Spanish surrealist, Salvador Dali, never painted anyone's portrait. Well, hardly ever. He painted Lady Mountbatten, Lord Olivier - and Brian Mercer. That was in 1973 before the strange mesh, Netlon, that Mercer had invented became famous as a revolutionary innovation - it was described by one scientist as 'only the ninth generic textile process invented since the Stone Age'. Last week, Mercer sold his company to a management buyout, typically refusing higher offers from foreign companies.

Equally typical of this extraordinary scientist-entrepreneur was his close friendship with Dali - and with a number of other artists and sculptors. In his portrait, Dali deliberately introduced echoes of the Golden Age of Spanish painting. And not only in the painting - he insisted that the frame be 17th century. Perhaps now Mercer has retired, he can set down his memories of the artist before his sad descent into a farcically tragic old age.

FUN appointment of the week. As readers of City pages will know, SG Warburg and Swiss Bank Corporation are barely on snarling terms, what with their row over the Eurotunnel rights issue. Warburg has got its own back on the predatory Swiss by hiring one Gary Gastineau to head its Global Equity Derivative Research in New York. A lesser firm would have trumpeted the catch to the world. But Warburg clearly prefers the quiet revenge.

Over the rape

BIG business has come to the rescue of the cricketers of the peaceful North Yorkshire village of Westow, who are in danger of losing balls thumped into the 22 acres of oilseed rape planted round their precious square by an irate farmer. St Ivel has offered to pay the team 'handsomely' - certainly enough to pay for lots of new cricket balls - if it will take part in publicity promoting Mono, a new margarine-type spread made from rapeseed oil, that was launched last month. An Ivelperson has revealed that the company wants 'to photograph the cricketers eating sandwiches during a break in the game. It's a classic English story, because it combines two quintessential elements of the modern English summer - cricket and oilseed rape, which is now the second most popular crop in the UK.'

St Ivel is clearily aiming to use cricket to counter environmental objections to the crop and to promote it as Britain's answer to olive oil, the darling of right-thinkers everywhere, claiming that 'the latest scientific and medical evidence shows that rapeseed oil is even healthier than olive oil. It contains mono-unsaturates as opposed to the polyunsaturates of most other oils and so is really the ultimate cornerstone of a healthy diet.' So if you want to see the first mono-unsaturated cricket match, you have only to go to Westow on Saturday.

WHILE we are, allegedly, trying to poison the poor old Germans with BSE-infected beef, the French are also under fire for increasing the price of bananas. The Germans are great consumers of the fruit which, in the immediate post-war years became an important symbol of the recovery of German potency (no Freudian explanations please). The Treaty of Rome even allowed the Germans to continue to import bananas duty-free from the banana republics of Central America.

The growers of the British and French West Indies - whose tiny, hurricane-swept banana groves can't compete with the mass-production possible on the mainland - were given special access to their former Imperial masters' markets. This arrangement survived the arrival of the single market within the European Union, but the Germans could no longer import bananas duty- free from the mainland.

The result was a compromise that allowed the Germans to continue to import millions of tons of bananas from their usual suppliers, but only on payment of a 20 per cent duty. Hence the fury of the many Germans looking for an outlet for their anti-French feelings. Of course the Brits are equally guilty - for once we are actually protecting our former colonies - but, for some reason, the Germans prefer to take it out on the French.

Better gut feeling

THE slight increase in MEPC's profits must have improved James Tuckey's confidence that he would not be shot - again. For the managing director and then chief executive of Britain's second-biggest property company, has the dubious distinction of being one of Britain's few business chiefs to have been peppered by bullets. A few years ago he was on business in Dallas when he was approached at night by a gun-toting robber. Although he sensibly handed over his wallet, the ungrateful miscreant nevertheless blasted his belly.

(Photograph omitted)

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