CITY DIARY

Rumours that Tony Blair offered Richard Branson the chance to run a non-profit making version of the lottery have been greatly exaggerated.

Tony Blair has not yet met Richard Branson in a meaningful way, according to a Virgin source. That is unless you include their brief encounter at Gatwick recently when Branson got to show Blair an aeroplane. The visit was part of a tour organised by BAA following a nearby breakfast meeting with business leaders.

The pair will meet at the end of next week, at Blair's request, to have a much more serious discussion on the economy, competition, and business in general.

Meanwhile at Virgin, an indication of how the group intends to run its newly acquired MGM cinemas have come to light.

Simon Burke, now head of Virgin/Our Price, the retailing joint venture between WH Smith and Virgin, is slated to run the new cinemas as well, importing his hands-on retailing experience to transform the chain. Virgin wants restaurants, game arcades and perhaps even Virgin shops at cinema outlets - in short, a redefinition of the movie-going experience.

The plans go to the WH Smith board, on which Burke sits, in the near future. Smith, which owns the majority of Virgin/Our Price, might even consider investing in the cinema chain, if all goes well with Mr Burke at the helm. Smith, characteristically, declined to comment. Virgin, somewhat uncharacteristically, declined too.

David Hillyard of the Racecourse Holdings Trust tells me he is touting for new business. He wants to lure students to the race track. "No expense is being spared," he tells me, "bar prices will be at or near student union levels." However Hillyard denies charges of leading students astray. "Student race days are being organised throughout the autumn and spring term," he says. "We have avoided the summer term, because of exams."

It is a rare investor who doesn't think of stock market crashes when October rolls around. But the historical statistician, David Schwartz, tells me that October is not entirely a dead loss. "The truth is actually different," he says, "October prices rise in most years."

However, the next-to- worst day for trading in the year also falls in the month - on 9 October, to be exact.

The problem, says Schwartz, is that for all the statistics, no-one actually knows why this happens. October is obviously not a bad time for publishing though. Schwartz has just brought out the annual edition of his market handbook.

As Tony Blair announced to the rank and file the deal to allow BT into the cable entertainment market in return for linking schools, colleges and hospitals to the information superhighway, Science and Technology Minister Ian Taylor was busy elsewhere: touring the BT stand in Geneva at the Telecom 95 conference. Perhaps BT is just hedging its bets.

500

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