Column One: Unfair contest

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YOU MAY have been puzzled by British Gas's claim - trumpeted in full-page advertisements - that it is the second most admired organisation after Marks & Spencer. Admired for its unblemished monopoly power, perhaps? For its ability to disrupt traffic as it re-pipes London, sure. But otherwise?

The 'confidential' Gallup survey, on which the claim is based, is illuminating. Respondents were asked to compare the gasmen with 31 other organisations, including PR whizzes such as British Rail, Barclays, NatWest, Dixons, Currys, the water companies, power firms and local councils.

Oh, and British Leyland, possibly the least-loved company of all time. And one that hasn't existed for seven years.

TARMAC has finally sold its company jet, for around pounds 1 1/2 m. The directors of the construction group, which is expected to crash-land to a pounds 300m loss this year, are now slumming it in a second-hand helicopter.

MICHAEL Beckett, the former Consolidated Gold boss who yesterday joined the board of Amstrad, is a military history buff. He knows a thing or two about corporate dust- ups, too. He was appointed chairman of Tace after a scrap with Norwich Union and took the helm at Ultramar after the board resigned over their sky-high salaries.

His record at winning battles, however, is patchy. ConsGold fell to Hanson in 1989. Within weeks of his arrival at Tace, it was gobbled up by Graseby, and Ultramar likewise succumbed to Lasmo. Caveat Amstrad.

LAUTRO, the insurance industry watchdog, has been busy making the world a safer place. The Life Association of Scotland last week was planning to team up with the pop group Right Said Fred to sell its PHI health plans. On Red Nose Day the baldy group were to sing a modified version of their No 1 hit, entitled 'PHI'm Too Sexy For My Plan'. LAS was to donate pounds 10 to Comic Relief for each plan sold.

Unfortunately Lautro had other ideas, laments Simon Brookhouse, marketing manager of LAS. 'We asked them for advice and they said they didn't think it would be a good idea because of the product bias rules.' The song was axed.

SOMETHING tells me that Sir Bryan Carsberg, the Office of Fair Trading boss, isn't going to be terribly kind to the life assurance industry in his report on salesmen's commissions, due out this morning. A recent issue of the OFT journal Fair Trading displays a photomontage, apparently of a salesman, his hands placed over the eyes of a client who is obediently signing on the dotted line.