CITY DIARY; Flunkies caught between Rocco and a hard place

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The Independent Online
The future does not look comfortable for Sir Rocco Forte's finance flunkies. A successful Granada bid would see them under the command of Henry Staunton, the leisure group's finance director and one of the few people in the country to play Eton Fives.

The game - which involves hurling a hard ball against walls with a gloved hand - dates back to the 1820s, when it was played between the flying buttresses of the Eton College Chapel. It is often associated in the proletarian mind with a censorious upbringing and regular birchings. In fact, Mr Staunton is not an Old Etonian. Rather, he went to Ipswich, one of the less elevated learning establishments, to play the game.

The Old Etonian former Governor of the Bank of England, Lord Kingsdown, was also a keen Fives player and has been campaigning for its revival (oddly it is the biggest participation sport in Nigeria, where the oppressed masses play with a tennis ball).

So how good is Mr Staunton? He has not been available for comment since the bid for Forte was launched. But his secretary confirms that he is right-handed. Unfortunately, this is a distinct disadvantage in Fives. Because of the way the court is shaped, the game is far easier for left- handers. Hence the high expectations of Prince William, should he ever recover from post-Panorama trauma.

Defence fodder for the Forte camp in the quarterly Five Star Hotel Survey which shows the profitability of London's luxury hotels to be on the up. The average gross profit margin has risen 5 per cent to 43 per cent says the accountants, Arthur Andersen, representing a sustained recovery.

"It is likely that London hotel prices will once again reach the heady levels of 1989/90," breezes Andersen partner Alex Kyriakidis. "All but one of the luxury hotels participating in the survey showed an increase in revenue and gross operating profit."

All but one? Which one?

The cowering accountants will not say. But the betting is that while one hotel in the Savoy group boasts the highest room rates at pounds 315 a night, the flag ship hotel is the odd one out.

One for Mr Staunton and his birch rods, perhaps.

The truth is out at last. Neither the Government nor the Opposition has actually read the Cadbury report on corporate governance. The startling revelation emerges at yesterday's National Association of Pension Funds' conference when Geoff Lindey, chairman of the NAPF investment committee and one of report's co-authors, goes public.

"They claimed the report had failed to address three key areas," he said of the Opposition. "Two of them were in the report. The third wasn't, but only because it has been set out in company law for many years."

An inauspicious start for the Oxford University MBA which intends to set new standards in business education by drawing on the traditional academic strengths of the university. "We hope that you will be able to join us on 28 November to discover how the University of Oxford MBA is set to become a strong and vibrant force in shaping future management," says the invitation.

One of the first lessons to learn in business is not to make important announcements while the Chancellor of the Exchequer is delivering his Budget.

Administrative horrors for the London branch of the Confederation of British Industry, which has had the devil's own job in sorting out its Christmas party The employers' federation has been forced to change the venue twice (at extra cost) and is now saddled with the cavernous Cafe Royal for the bash on 6 December.

This is because of the popularity of the guest speaker, Tony Blair. Apparently the CBI can't get enough of him and the London branch has sold 650 tickets for the party. When Paddy Ashdown went he attracted just 220 revellers.