Hi-fi campaign hits the wrong notes

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FORGET real beer - real hi-fi is the thing, though its proponents are having a little difficulty persuading the punters. The Real Hi-fi Campaign was set up in 1992 but is about to relaunch itself with an advertising campaign. This is a good thing because, as Michael Lewin, oper- ations officer of the British Audio Dealers' Association, says: "Hi-fi is one of the few remaining British industries that is still regarded as among the best in the world."

Of the 38 manufacturers which have signed up for the campaign, 24 are British, and most real buffs will not look twice at anything that is not made in the UK. Sadly, there are not enough such people to give the campaign the sort of impact its alcoholic counterpart had.

That is why the CRHF is now trying ads that will - it hopes - stir the patriotic and aural senses. They will be in the best possible taste, featuring a conductor togged up with all the gear except his trousers.

The point, in case you miss it, is that if you buy a common-or-garden hi-fi stack, you will be depriving yourself of your aural trousers (that's such a mixed metaphor I think I will leave it be).

Mr Lewin is frankly disappointed by the response of CRHF members to his cajolings. He had hundreds of thousands of "Real hi-fi" stickers printed and asked the manufacturers to put them on their devices. "They couldn't be bothered to stick them on," he complains.

Another problem is that it is difficult to say exactly what real hi-fi is. The campaign used to have a definition of "self-powered separate boxes that can be mixed and matched". But inevitably there were squabbles, and it all seems rather unclear now. Would it not be better to think up a completely new word? "We spent years trying to do that, but no one came up with anything," he says sadly.

I HAVE identified a new phenomenon - voicemail rage. It is becoming increasingly common, I gather. Phones are being hurled against the wall, cords are being uprooted from their sockets, and cries of "All I want is to talk to a human!" are echoing round offices across the land.

Bunhill told recently of the American Embassy, where it took almost five minutes before live contact could be established. A colleague has now discovered an alternative voicemail torture, provisionally called "death by a thousand answerphones". The perpetrators, strangely, are those normally straightforward folk, Yorkshiremen.

He dialled the Yorkshire Building Society using the number it advertises to offer easy help to its customers. A disembodied voice told him to dial the extension he wanted. Another recorded voice then said: "Who shall I say is calling?" He was then put through to an answering machine, which told him to ring a mobile phone. He rung that and - you've guessed it - got another answering machine. Great game, unless you actually want to talk to someone.

Paint it black

THERE are ways and ways of testing the feelgood factor. Economists use boring things such as retail sales and the like; Dulux keeps an eye on the colour people are painting their rooms.

The Dulux dog's theory is that when people are feeling confident, they buy bright colours. In the swinging Sixties it was oranges and luminescent gold shirts. In the 1980s, it was bright primary everything.

Now, I'm afraid, we are altogether more sober and according to the Duluxometer we have become even more subdued in the past year.

Peach colours still made up 24 per cent of all the emulsion bought in the first six months of this year - but that is down a point on last year. Pink is also down, to 18 per cent, while lilacs and mauves have dipped, too.

The winners are what the company calls "natural" and others might call dull - beiges are up from 17 to 18 per cent, and greens from 10 to 11 per cent. "The natural look will stay longer if the recession stays longer," a Dulux expert says. So if you see a man from the Treasury staring in through your front window, you will know he is just doing a little economic research.

BILL GATES, richest man in the world, was in London last week launching a new toy called the Microsoft Network. His public relations people had lured along a group of well-known faces, including Jonathan Ross, Carol Vorderman and Angela Rippon.

Ms Rippon expressed some fears that computers might become so alluring that we would spend our whole lives on them. Mr Ross, who is an experienced computer user, clearly thinks not. In a private e-mail, which somehow got broadcast to everyone, he asked Ms Vorderman: "How about after this stuff we go somewhere and get a tattoo?"

Made in Glasgow

I ASKED a few weeks ago if anyone had come across ancient British machinery still humming away around the world. LH Richmond of Dover kindly wrote to tell me what he had seen, not in some outpost of the empire, but in the middle of Japan.

As an officer in the merchant navy, he was on a ship that was laid up in the Hitachi-Zoesen repair yard in Osaka for three months in 1983. "In one part of the yard was a huge plate preparation section, with machines that were all made in Glasgow." He added he was sure they would be there as long as the yard was in operation.