Bunhill: No wise owl

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The Independent Online
YOU may have missed it, but Guardian Royal Exchange will soon be no more. The insurer is changing its name to Guardian and replacing its boxy GRE logo with a picture of an owl. It wanted a shorter, more memorable name, apparently. Surprisingly few hoots of derision met its decision to ditch one of the best-known names in the business in favour of one likely to be confused with a newspaper or a security firm.

'The owl stands for wisdom and watchfulness and all that sort of crap,' a GRE spokesman tells me. And there is more: the bird is also a symbol linked with the goddess Minerva, who was used in the old Guardian insurance group logo, before it merged with the Royal Exchange group in 1968.

GRE was advised by the corporate identity consultant SampsonTyrrell, which developed the umbrella symbol for Legal & General. Its chairman Terry Tyrrell (or possibly TerryTyrrell) says the owl scored highest in intensive market research, beating both butterflies and lions.

Birds are popular as symbols for companies. Bovis uses a humming bird, the old Woolies group a Kingfisher, this newspaper a rather tetchy eagle. Then there are Penguin books and an aviary of others.

The owl is associated with maturity, watchfulness, dignity and wisdom, insists Tyrrell, revealing a distressing gap in his childhood education. The owl, of course, is a pompous creature who misspells his name Wol and is forever trying to conceal his stupidity. First reader to suggest that makes it an ideal symbol for an insurance company loses his no-claims bonus.

FUNNY thing, bribery. The Malaysian government is so touchy on the subject it slaps a boycott on British goods on the strength of a single rather vague allegation in a British newspaper. Our own Government, on the other hand, has a rather more robust attitude to bribes. It has just decided to go on buying from two foreign firms that were proved in an English court to have bribed a Whitehall official.

Gordon Foxley, former director of ammunition procurement at the Ministry of Defence, was convicted last year of receiving pounds 1.5m in bribes for placing MoD orders with Norwegian, Italian and German firms (though he has been too ill to be sentenced).

Now, by a strange irony, defence minister Jonathan Aitken has decided to continue buying non-ricochet ammo from AS Rossfoss of Norway and shell fuses from Fratelli Lli Borletti of Italy, a Fiat subsidiary, both of which bribed Foxley. The MoD is also trying to get the firms to pay it damages.

The dealings were revealed when Janet Anderson, Labour MP for Rossendale and Darwen, wrote to Aitken to ask whether the contracts could be switched to the Royal Ordnance factory in Blackburn, Lancs, whose workforce has been decimated by Foxley placing pounds 55m of orders elsewhere. No, said Aitken.

RO worker Christine Hulme is unimpressed: 'Our work was sold abroad. The crime was discovered, and we are still suffering job losses.'