Column Eight: And then there were none

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The Independent Online
Forget the glass ceiling. The glass floor at the troubled Alexon fashion retailing group has cracked beneath the elegant Ruth Henderson, who until yesterday was the sole female chief executive of a quoted UK company.

Ms Henderson, who became chief executive in 1991 after starting her career aged 16 at the cosmetics counter of Fenwicks, has had her job split in two. Now she and Peter Ridsdale, formerly head of Alexon brands, share the title joint chief operating officer.

The spoiling spectre of Ofgas hovered, as ever, over British Gas yesterday. Even as chief executive Cedric Brown spoke of the 'constructive work' that goes on behind the scenes between the company and the outspoken watchdog, a disbelieving electronic shriek from the audio system almost deafened his audience.

Full marks, though, to Mr Brown, who smiled even as the 'h' of the company logo fell from the wall behind his head. 'Times is hard and the squeeze is on,' he observed.

But gloom from Sir Denys Henderson at ICI, who mistakenly referred to 1993 as 1933 and explained: 'I was thinking of the Depression.'

Proof that 0898 numbers can lead to trouble. A pensioner seeking legal advice who recently called the Law Society's helpline was startled to hear instead a soft-voiced female purring a pre-recorded sex message. In this week's issue of the Lawyer, a Law Society spokeswoman explained that the Lawline numbers had been discontinued 'because it was hard to keep the information on the tapes accurate'.

'We just lease the lines to companies who change the service without notice,' said BT. 'And in this case it sounds like a major change.'

The Jolly Green Giant is rarely involved in litigation. But Grand Met's Pillsbury subsidiary is currently fighting a lawsuit filed by Santa Cruz County in California. It contends that shoppers are being misled because many of Green Giant's 'American Mixtures' frozen veg products contain Mexican carrots, corn and peppers. Nightmare.

The suit complains that the vegetables' true origins are identified in 'difficult-to-read small type' tucked away on the back of the bag. Untrue, says a Grand Met spokesman well versed in corporate-speak, who declares the products conform to labelling rules. He says 'American Mixtures' is 'an umbrella descriptor that refers to the medley of products rather than one connoting the source of the vegetables'.