City Diary

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The Independent Online
SIR BRIAN Shaw, chairman of the Automobile Association, presided over a very bitter last supper for the country's leading motoring organisation yesterday.

Sir Brian and his 13-strong committee faced a hostile members' audience of over 500 members, who vilified the pounds 1.1bn sale to Centrica.

"If I break down I don't want the gas man turning up," Ian Watts from Richmond informed Sir Brian to a murmur of approval from the tweed-jacketed throng.

"And I don't want a goldfish in my tank," he added, referring to the million-member Centrica credit card scheme.

In return for surrendering their mutual status, full AA members will receive pounds 248, while top rate taxpayers will get less.

Philip Roberts, from Northolt, said: "I don't know which is worse to be offered, a bribe or a petty bribe?"

The payment, Sir Brian said, was no inducement, merely the members' rightful share of the body.

The audience remained unmoved by Sir Brian's somewhat bizarre assurances.

"Nothing will be closed down ... but I can't guarantee that some things won't close in future," Sir Brian told them.

Centrica welcomed yesterday's vote and reiterated a desire to retain the AA name, its patrol vans and the body's role as spokesman for the driving public.

Back in the Arena, Sir Brian was given a sour send-off at the end of the meeting.

"Judas!" muttered one member, who turned away in disgust.


ON A happier note, a quite separate bunch of 500-odd people attended the recent 60th birthday bash thrown by Martyn Arbib, multi-millionaire philanthropist and founder of Perpetual, the fund management group.

Kit and the Widow, the Noel Coward-inspired caberat duo, entertained the revellers at Mr Arbib's Henley home.

The partygoers included Michael Heseltine, the former Tory leadership hopeful, Michael Ashcroft, the embattled Tory treasurer, and Gary Linekar, the England football captain turned TV presenter.


TELEWEST Communications, the cable company which Bill Gates is in the process of acquiring a third of, is undergoing a minor reshuffle at the top.

Tony Illsley, who came in as Telewest chief executive six months ago from PepsiCo, has brought in one of his old mates, Andrew Patrick, to be human resources director.

He replaces Phil Richards, who took the role in July 1997 and is now leaving Telewest. Mr Patrick is currently HR director at Allied Domecq, but before that he worked alongside Mr Illsley at PepsiCo.

The boss has also promoted Peter Hall to managing director of all Telewest's product development. Previously Mr Hall was in charge of developing services for Telewest's digital and interactive TV operations.


SPEAKING OF digital broadcasting, a UK developer of software for the sector has recruited a former Tory Science and Technology Minister to be its new chairman.

Ian Taylor, the MP for Esher & Walton, is joining Radioscape, which was founded two years ago by Dr Gavin Ferris, formerly of Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks Studio, and Peter Florence, former founder of Digital Pictures and Cambridge Animation Systems.

Mr Taylor already has a raft of non-executive directorships, including Text100 Group, Navision Software UK and Avenir Technology.