CITY DIARY

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The Independent Online
Meeting analysts yesterday, directors of Hambros were at a loss to explain why the shareholders in the troubled banking and estate agency company had seen their dividend halved while executives had seen the bonus pool reduced by only 30 per cent.

Sir John "Chips" Keswick explained that the company had embarked on a recruitment programme to attract the very best people to its merchant banking division, and it was necessary to pay them accordingly. This led one witty analyst to ask whether the dealers recruited to the bond business, once the power-house of profits but recently disappointing, had been anything but the best. After the analysts had finished their giggling, Sir John did not seem to have an answer.

It is nice to know that Cedric Brown's massive pay packet is not preventing him from dreaming about the future for British Gas. At dinner recently he was heard regaling listeners with his grand vision of a nation of motorists driving cars powered by natural gas. The wonder fuel is ecologically sound, energy-efficient and increasingly suitable for vehicles as gas technology develops, he told his audience.

Labour's "prawn cocktail offensive" has resulted in wedding bells. John Norton of ANZ Bank is preparing to marry Mo Mowlam, Labour's former City spokesperson. The couple, who both live in Islington, met through their mutual friends, the novelist Ken Follett and his wife Barbara, Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for Stevenage.

The latest money-making wheeze from Camelot, the immensely lucky Lottery company, is a watch. Contained in its mechanism is a device that will automatically choose your fortune-winning numbers. However, I hear executives cannot agree on whether to pitch the item to poor people who play the game or rich people such as themselves.

A survey of how good British utilites are at anwering the telephone has put North West Water at the bottom of the league.

The companies were called 15 times each and an elementary question put to the receptionist. While some companies such as North East Gas and Severn Trent gave callers a full answer every time, North West Water's employees proved unable to come up with a proper answer in nearly half the cases.

The most worrying response came from the company's Cones Hotline. When the caller explained that he was travelling along the M6, the "expert" at the other end asked: "Is that M for mother?"

"It is disturbing to think that the people in a place like that can know so little about our motorways," said Neil Perring, managing director of BPS Teleperformance, who conducted the survey.

Partygoers at Richard Branson's massive Holland Park home were treated to a moment of high drama on Tuesday. The crowd were happily milling about the garden, tucking into champagne, prawns in batter and spicy samozas. Mr Branson, who was struggling with his attempts to give up smoking, went from group to group discussing his decoration plans for the house, which is swathed in scaffolding. Branson's children Sam and Holly, who have obviously inherited a sense of adventure from their father, played around boisterously. Suddenly came the howling of the house burglar alarm. Sam had embarked on a life-threatening expedition up the scaffolding and was standing nonchalantly beside a second-floor bedroom window. Branson rushed with a look of parental resignation to sort out the situation, but there was little the balloonist and transatlantic power-boat enthusiast could do to punish his wayward child.

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