Made in Leicester, the best aristocratic socks

City Diary
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The Independent Online
Pex, the Leicester-based manufacturer of children's socks, has produced an annual report with a difference. Pride of place on the front page is a colour reproduction of a young boy, "Filippo Cattaneo," painted in 1623 by Anthony Van Dick.

Filippo is an ancestor of Andrea Cattaneo Della Volta, the Marquess of Belforte - who bought Pex four months ago. Since then the charming Genoan nobleman has put in a new management team, returned the company to the black and invested pounds 1.2m in new machinery.

The Marquess must be one of the most distinguished people involved in the East Midlands clothing trade- his forebears founded the city of Genoa in 962. He still owns vineyards there, but most of his business is conducted through Uniwear, a Belgian flax-spinning company. Now the Marquess has set up house in London and spends three days a week in Leicester. He is also on the acquisition trail - a pounds 2.5m knitting technology company would suit fine.

Mike Smith, the doyen of trading-company analysts at Williams de Broe, is about to turn his back on the City and return to the world of Academe. Mr Smith is off to study history at Manchester College, Oxford, and is hosting a farewell bash next Thursday.

Mr Smith is probably the world's greatest expert on Inchcape and other traders, and has spent most of his career at Robert Fleming. Given that he has been enjoying a City salary, his colleagues want to know one thing: Is he getting a grant?

Happy Birthday, AIM. Just one point. The London Stock Exchange has sent out a highly informative press pack on the fledgling successor to the USM, with a white label pasted on the cover. Dimly visible through the label is a list of four names underneath, from whom "further information can be obtained". They all left months ago. A bit slapdash, that. Hopefully not a pointer to AIM's future.

Smith & Williamson are amongst the most superior of medium-sized accountancy firms, what with their wealthy private client list, investment banking operations and London offices just off the BBC building in Portland Place. How natural, then, for them to host a private viewing of the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, followed by dinner at the RAC club.

Sadly, decorum succumbed to Euro 96 mania, due to a television in an adjoining room at the RAC which was showing the England-Netherlands match. The noise level rose with each of England's goals, with portly City figures at one point chanting "four-nil, four-nil". The master of ceremonies had a hard time persuading the mob to take their places for dinner, and was forced to promise to announce any further goals. They had no sooner started tucking into "spiced pear" than news came through of the late Dutch goal, and Scotland's exit from the tournament. Undeterred, a merry time was had by all, until it came time to find taxis home.

Sadly, London's taxi driving population had obviously gone home to watch the match, and many of the senior bean counters had to be content with the night bus.

Airtours' attempt to surf on the Internet has turned into a bit of a damp squib. Last August the holiday company, led by chairman David Crossland, launched its booking service via the Net. Now, 10 months later, it has sold the grand total of one holiday via the Net, to a chap who went to Kenya. The people at Airtours admit to being a bit disappointed by this slow start, but are sure it will ultimately take off. To this end they have hived off the IT aspects of the Internet booking service to Ross Perot's EDS. It has certainly been an eventful year for Airtours - one of their hotels in Mexico was hit by an earthquake and slid into the sea. Happily no customers were occupying it at the time.