City People

Analysts were mystified yesterday morning when they phoned the number given by the Stock Exchange for the press advisers to Bank of Ireland concerning the proposed merger with Alliance & Leicester, only to be asked: "When would you like the table for?"

Further strange questions from BoI's press advisers Smithfield Financial followed: "What date would you like it for? Smoking or non-smoking?"

When the by-now bemused analysts asked how the respective cost ratios would be affected, or whether there would be branch closures, they were angrily informed that they were talking to "The Portobello Gold Restaurant" of 95 Portobello Road, Bayswater, west London. How the wrong number sneaked into the official stock exchange announcement is a mystery.

A spokesman for Smithfield Financial says that the mistake shows just how important it is to check these things "as a safety precaution". As for the Portobello Gold, he adds: "It sounds like a very classy establishment. Perhaps when this [the merger] is over we can go there".

This could be the best marketing coup ever to hit the restaurant ...

Bob Hawley, chairman of the Engineering Council and chairman-elect of Taylor Woodrow, is perfectly happy about being compared to a children's puppet.

Mr Hawley says of "Bob the Builder", a popular new animated character on children's TV: "I like Bob's style". Mr Hawley, who is also an adviser to HSBC Investment Bank, says his alter ego can help by "showing children how exciting building really is".

George Walker is charging ahead with his crusade to bring the joys of betting on British dog racing to the Russian masses.

As the collapse of his property company Brent Walker fades into history, Mr Walker continues to reinvent himself as the punters' friend in the former communist bloc. Yesterday he bought 3,000 computerised lottery terminals for his Virgin Islands-registered company, Premier Telesports. These will be spread across Eastern Europe and linked to a central hub in Bristol, enabling punters in Moscow, St Petersburg and beyond to bet on British and American horse and dog races.

George Soros is so impressed with the former East End boxer's company that he has bought a 20 per cent stake.

And Mr Walker has just applied to list the shares on the Vienna Stock Exchange.

John Lawson is moving from Charterhouse Securities to join WestLB Panmure's new transport industry group as a director. Mr Lawson, who was ranked Number One transport analyst in both the 1997 and 1998 Reuters Smaller Company Surveys, was recruited by Alan Kelsey, who recently moved from National Express Group to take the helm at WestLB Panmure's transport group, which includes investment bankers as well as analysts.

James Kraft, "Chief Fool" of Motley Fool, a website forum for investors, brought the house down at an investors' conference on Sunday - with an unplanned joke.

The humorous stock-market pundit was addressing a private investor's meeting held by ProShare in Bristol, with a presentation on "Investors and the World Wide Web". As part of his turn Mr Kraft was going through various investment sites on the Internet, which he projected for the 100- plus attendees onto a large screen in the Marriott Hotel's main hall.

Mr Kraft was explaining the usefulness of web chatlines, where investors can share ideas. Clicking randomly on financial sites, he came up with a suggestion from one William Churchill on what Marks & Spencer should do to restore its battered share price.

According to Mr Churchill, the answer was twofold: "Continue to specialise in knickers, but make them out of leather; and reverse the initials to read `S&M'." The audience roared. Mr Kraft insists it wasn't a set up, just a random click of the mouse. I think it says more about the way people use the Internet than anything else.

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