CITY DIARY: Another chance to celebrate the great escape

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The Independent Online
An intriguing invitation has dropped on to the Diary's desk. It reads: "Yes, it's that time of the year again! The 3rd annual meeting of the M&G Escapers' Club will be held on Thursday, 7 March at Balls Brothers Wine Bar, St Mary at Hill, London EC3 from 5.30 pm onwards. Hope you can make it. Please pass the word to any other Escapers you know."

The escapers concerned are over 70 middle and senior managers who have left the fund manager M&G over the last few years. M&G observers suggest the escapees may have been fleeing from the unpopular Tony Shearer, former M&G chief operating officer, who recently left the company.

Credence is added to this suggestion by a subsequent request from existing M&G employees who also want to join the Escapers' Club, and apparently want to rename it "The Shearer Escapers' Club".

If M&G would like to check up on this themselves they should have no trouble attending the club's next meeting. The Balls Brothers Wine Bar is just 300 metres from M&G's new head office.

There is no obvious connection between Foster's, the amber nectar, and John Foster, the British company which spins and manufactures worsted and mohair at Black Dyke Mills, Queensbury, Bradford. Nothing but the name, of course. Which probably explains why John Foster appears each day on the Topic Stock Exchange prices screen under the heading "Alcoholic Beverages".

Then each lunchtime the name John Foster disappears, only to pop up again on the screen under its correct classification, "Textiles". Both the company and ICV, which provides the Topic information, were unaware of this odd ritual until the Diary informed them of it yesterday.

A puzzled spokesperson for ICV said: "The fact that the company is under the wrong heading needs to be sorted out. I suppose it's because it sounds similar to Foster's beer. We will correct it from tomorrow and monitor it."

An executive from John Foster was bemused: "I hope people don't think it reflects on anything we get up to at lunchtime."

Another Foster is in the news. Foster & Braithwaite, a private client stockbroking firm, is launching the F&B "Stakeholder" savings plan. The firm says the scheme "will allow regular savers an easy way to accumulate a portfolio of holdings in their range of unit trusts".

But hang on a minute, isn't this just a cynical attempt by a bunch of City slickers to cash in on Tony Blair's vision for New Labour and a New Britain? Not at all, according to Malcom F Murray, managing director of Foster & Braithwaite Investments, the advisory arm of the similarly named stockbrokers.

"There's been a lot of talk lately about a stakeholder society - and school fees, for that matter. We thought it was time someone actually did something about it, so we've now launched a low-cost solution to both problems." It's all a long way from Nye Bevan.

Alan Parker, big cheese at Brunswick, the heavyweight City spin doctors, angrily denied suggestions yesterday that he had been denied his moment of glory two weeks ago when clients United Newspapers and MAI announced their nuptials. City wags have it that one of Mr Parker's other clients, Lord Blakenham, chairman of Pearson, demanded his presence the very morning that the United deal was to be announced elsewhere. Yesterday Mr Parker slammed this version of events as nonsense. "I received no call from Michael [Lord Blakenham] that morning." Others did, however, note Mr Parker's absence from the United/MAI press conference. Such japes.

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