It's just not form: Debrett's taken over

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The Independent Online
Debrett's, the 235-year-old publisher of etiquette handbooks and guides to the aristocracy, was finally sold by SPG Media, its owners of almost 17 years, yesterday, after failing to contribute any material profits to the group.

Debrett's, the 235-year-old publisher of etiquette handbooks and guides to the aristocracy, was finally sold by SPG Media, its owners of almost 17 years, yesterday, after failing to contribute any material profits to the group.

Devonshire Media, a new company launched by three publishing industry executives, agreed to pay just over £1m for the SPG subsidiary, which is renowned for its directory of UK peers, which was first published in 1769.

One of the publisher's biggest successes in recent times was the launch of Debrett's Correct Form in 1970, which provided a comprehensive guide on etiquette in UK society. It has since been updated several times, and more recently supplemented by Debrett's New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners, which includes tips on how to behave in places such as the gym.

"It is... very unattractive to be disrespectful to those older and less fit than yourself, to behave rudely to the instructors and to appear to be irritatingly competitive on aerobic machines. Neanderthal displays of caveman bravado, such as excessive grunting, hissing and huffing when lifting weights, are also not appreciated and should be assiduously avoided," it advises.

SPG bought Debrett's in 1987 for about £515,000. At the time, the company was making a loss of about £300,000 a year. Sixteen and a half years later, Debrett's still struggles to make a significant profit, in spite of its strong brand.

Steven Nicholson, the chairman of SPG, said that his decision to sell the subsidiary was driven simply by the fact that Debrett's had become a non-core business for the group.

"This is a business to consumer publisher. It [Debrett's] really sits as an adjunct to the core business," he said.

Devonshire has agreed to pay £670,000 upfront, with a further payment of £200,000 next year and the balance of £180,000 in 2006.

Shares in SPG rose 1.9 per cent on the news yesterday to 13.75p, giving the company a market value of about £11m.

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