City Diary: Lunchtime salute rattles the corridors of the SFA

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The Independent Online
It's not often that cannon fire interrupts a City lunch. But yesterday, Nick Durlacher of the SFA was just sitting down to sandwiches when the windows of his new Hays Galleria offices overlooking the Thames rattled with a multi-gun salute from the Tower of London, in honour of the Queen Mother's 96th birthday the day before.

It turns out that gun salutes from the Tower have to be on weekdays, since the The Honourable Artillery Company, which fires the cannon, are part-time volunteers, most of whom work in the City.This also means the guns are fired at 1pm rather than noon, to fit in with the gunners' lunches.

The SFA chief was just singing the praises of his new offices, which have "the best view in the City, overlooking HMS Belfast",when the first shot rang out.

The regulators moved in two months ago when Lloyds Bank vacated. Richard Farrant, SFA chief executive, who joined the briefing, added that Lloyds had "left some of their furniture behind - in fact we had lunch sitting on their chairs". Now that's what I call cost savings.

Sir William Purves, dour group chairman of mighty HSBC Holdings, took time off from answering how his bank made half-year profits of over pounds 2.3bn to parry a more personal query: "December 27th is an important date for you, isn't it?"

Sir Willie agreed. It's his 65th birthday. "Since it comes after Christmas my family don't notice it any more."

When asked when he will retire from HSBC, which he joined in 1954, he replied: "When the Board decides it is time for me to go, I will with great alacrity."

But who would dare?

John Makinson, finance director of Pearson, did well in his first time out presenting the group's accounts. Until, that is, towards the end, when one analyst asked where the back office cost allocations had disappeared to between 1995's figures and those presented yesterday.

Mr Makinson searched his pile of papers to no avail, until he was joined by one, then a whole mob of analysts, seeking the elusive answer. Finally, as the meeting descended into chaos, the financial controller was sent for, the figure found, and honour restored.

No doubt Mr Makinson will have learnt a valuable lesson - keep it simple.

Grand Prix ace Nigel Mansell is facing allegations of insider share dealing in a case pending in the High Courts.

According to the Lawyer magazine, Mr Mansell and his wife Rosanne are suing for the return of cash they allege they paid to a golfing friend, Anthony Collard, in a share deal. Their suit claims that Collard used the money as a deposit on a pounds 650,000 farm and to pay off debts. Collard has since committed suicide.

The case started at the High Court last month when Mr Mansell sought an asset-freezing order to protect the money he claims he is owed. At the hearing, however, Mark Howard QC opposed the freezing order, saying that Mr Mansell had been persuaded to hand over the money for shares in a New York hi-tech computer company which was about to be floated. The judge turned down the freezing order, and the allegations will be decided upon in the upcoming trial.

Most politicians in the US would give an arm and a leg to appear on the top-rated Larry King Live, a chat show discussing topics of the moment. And Richard Everitt, director of group strategy and compliance at BAA, must be the only man ever to have turned down an invitation to appear. Mr Everitt was in Washington giving evidence to the Senate committee investigating airport safety after the TWA disaster. According to BAA sources, he told the television people they must be joking - he was not prepared to be made a punch bag of by a seasoned operator like Mr King. If only more politicians were like Mr Everitt.