Bunhill: A franc failure

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WHY IS it that the British seem incapable of investing successfully in France? Any acquisitive executive who boldly crosses the Channel returns, visage spattered with oeuf.

Last week, Abbey National, NatWest and Barclays all announced embarrassing losses there. Transport Development Group, Britain's second biggest haulage group, also confessed to a bloody nose in France.

French expansion has backfired on everyone from Pepe Group, the jeans maker, to Thorntons, the chocolate company. When Metal Box merged its packaging arm with Carnaud of France, the board meetings were, I'm told, about as friendly as the Battle of Waterloo.

Lucas lost a wheel in France. And French Connection, the fashion retailer, found itself very inappropriately named. No one seems to be able to get France right.

The only two exceptions I can think of succeeded with - of all things - British food. Marks and Spencer's white sliced bread goes down a storm among chic Parisians. The Boulevard Haussmann M&S store alone knocks out 6,000 loaves a week.

And Harrisons & Crosfield, one of our oldest trading firms, is making a fortune from its French subsidiary, H&C Cereales. No petit dejeuner these days is complete without a bowl of puffed rice (les bumbises), chocolate-coated puffed rice (les plopsies) or cornflakes (les corn flakes).