Grade moves up at First Leisure

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The Independent Online
Michael Grade, chief executive of Channel 4 Television, is becoming chairman of First Leisure, succeeding Lord Rayne, who has held the post for two years. The appointment re-establishes a family link at the top of the company.

Mr Grade, a non-executive director for four years, is the nephew of the late Lord Delfont, who spearheaded the company's £44m buyout from the then Trusthouse Forte hotels group and handed over the chairman's reins in 1993 in exchange for the post of lifepresident.

A spokesman for Channel 4 said Mr Grade, who was unavailable for comment, was permitted to hold two external non-executive posts. The other is with VCI, a video films business.

First Leisure is quickening expansion of its bingo, disco and health and fitness businesses. Upgrading operations will result in a total capital spending bill in 1995 of more than £37m.

John Conlan, chief executive, hopes to open seven more bingo clubs by July, creating up to 1,000 jobs, and at least 10 discos by the end of next year.

Expansion of First Leisure's ten-pin bowling operation is not on the agenda, however. The business has been hit by competition, and has had to be stabilised through keener admission and playing charges.

Annual results released yesterday showed a 17.6 per cent increase in pre-tax profits to £36.1m after excluding disposal gains. The dividend total for the year to October is being raised 7.5 per cent to 7.02p.

Discos were the star performer, with profits up from £14.1m to £17.3m and their share of the overall operating result up from 41.2 to 44.8 per cent.

Profits from sports, including an inaugural 41-week contribution from the Royal Berkshire health club, dipped from £13.7m to £11.2m. The fall was attributable to bowling, which felt the heat from the summer weather.

The warm summer benefited the resorts, particularly in Blackpool, which also gained from the Tower's centenary celebrations. Profits rose from £11m to £12.9m.

Bingo made £2.8m, against £900,000 the previous year, which marked the company's entry into the business.