Ghostbuster takes on Leeson

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COMING soon to a bookshop near you ... The Great Battle of Barings. Two books are published this Friday - Rogue Trader by Nick Leeson (Little, Brown, pounds 16.99) and The Collapse of Barings by Stephen Fay (Richard Cohen Books, pounds 20).

I can reveal that they take rather different views. I won't spoil the plot of either (and they are both rollicking reads), but I can say that Mr Leeson is rather more sympathetic to Mr Leeson than Mr Fay is, and that a well-known bank collapses in both.

To find out who is going to win the battle, I talked to both authors. Mr Leeson was unavailable, so I chatted instead to his ghost writer (good job being a ghost - I was once Sir Denys Henderson, you know), Edward Whitley.

He is a 34-year-old who gave up banking seven years ago and has been a journalist since. He was chosen by Leeson's lawyer after an agent recommended him "because I wouldn't be fazed by large numbers". His first visit to Leeson in the "horribly claustrophobic" Frankfurt jail was almost his last. He got so little out of it he almost gave up, and he only got going after he wrote a couple of chapters and asked Leeson if they were remotely accurate. They were, so he started in earnest, faxing his work via a lawyer in Germany.

Mr Whitley will not be drawn on the rival book. Not so the reverse. "Mine's longer!" cries the ebullient Mr Fay (who incidentally was the First Ever Bunhill). "It may be more expensive but it's got 315 pages against his 260 - and they're exactly the same size. I know: I've been holding them up against each other!" He is also keen to point out how fast his book was produced: he wrote it in three months, with one day (Christmas Day) off. He delivered it on 1 February and it is now being printed. "Some sort of record," he reckons.

As for content, he says the other book comes across as real Leeson - "cocky and living in a fantasy world". That, I think, is a compliment to Mr Whitley, if not to young Nick.

Personally I intend to curl up with a cup of cocoa and read both - which should please the publishers who have paid Mr Fay a pounds 55,000 advance and Mr Whitley a rumoured (and therefore probably wrong) pounds 200,000.

A CHUM spotted a sign at Piccadilly underground station on Friday. "Due to a defected train at Charing Cross, there are delays on the Bakerloo Line," it said. Where has it gone? Moscow, I'd guess. I understand they have chandeliers and the like in the subways there.

Bunhill seeks mate

AS NOTED elsewhere, everyone is merging with everyone else at the moment. Bunhill is therefore seeking a partner. I would entertain proposals from the following: Hello! magazine, Which Wig? What South Sea Island Resort? Any decent cookery column that isn't full of French stuff and The Tatler, but only if it goes back to its pre-War format.

I suggest they contact me directly. We will avoid paying merchant bankers, accountants, lawyers, public relations people etc, and will spend the pounds 50m or so we have saved in fees on a pleasant meal.

ON THE same subject, I have been pondering whether Rentokil will succeed in buying BET, as I believe it is trying to. Against BET must stand its appalling record at building aircraft. Until quite recently it had a subsidiary, Boulton & Paul, that made the Defiant, a Second World War fighter which had no guns pointing forward. Once the Germans discovered this, they were ingenious enough to work out that all they had to do was attack from the front ... One black mark to BET.

But Rentokil has a problem too. I recently noticed one of its vans decorated with this slogan: "Voted Britain's most admired company." Oh dear, there is no surer augury of disaster than to win one of these accolades. The Guardian Young Businessman of the Year is the most notorious, having thrown up John Ashcroft of Coloroll, John Gunn of British and Commonwealth and other since-splattered tycoons. Then there is the Industrialist of the Year award, which has repeatedly gone to Lord Hanson ... This award is bad news for Rentokil - and it is really testing fate by telling everyone about it.

Ominous sign

LLOYD'S of London is trying to set up a new company which, I am told, could be crucial to the market's survival. It is called Equitas, and the chief executive is Michael Crall. It is uncertain, however, how much faith he has in Equitas's prospects. A sign on his door says, "Will the last person to leave the office please turn off the coffee machine?".

I WAS delighted to find an American body appearing to resist the march of political correctness: the Association for the Health Enrichment of Large People. Then I read on and discovered that AHELP is "a Non-profit Organization which represents [those who] serve people who are labelled fat or obese by themselves, society, or the medical community". It also promotes "Professional alternatives to exploitive [sic] treatment". From which I deduce that AHELP is as PC as the next Yank, and that "large" is the Correct adjective for ... large. I suppose that's progress of a sort.