No trains please, we're keeping to the track

CITY DIARY
Advisers to the Railtrack sell-off had a terrible time persuading the company to sanction advertising which used pictures of rail tracks - without any trains on them. The directors apparently "went ballistic" when they heard of the plan to show rails without trains, but were queitly and firmly told that to show trains as well could be construed as misleading to investors. Does this mean advertising by the train operators should show trains not on tracks? In a meadow, perhaps...

Richard Branson secretly smokes. We can exclusively reveal that a couple of weeks ago the Virgin boss cadged ciggies off journalists at an evening reception to launch Virgin Direct, the personal finance arm of Branson's ever-spreading empire.

Altogether four Silk Cut were "borrowed" off one journalist. The bearded entrepreneur made sure no photos were taken of him puffing, presumably to maintain his spotless image. It will be interesting to see what rates he sets for smokers with his new life assurance product.

"Burgered." Thats the state of the UK beef producing sector according to a note from James Capel yesterday. HSBC suffered a similar outbreak of punitis with "more than a flash in the pan" and "high steaks." Elsewhere in London over 1,300 "pan fried fillets of beef topped with celeriac and served in a red wine sauce" were unceremoniously binned at 2.30 in the afternoon.

Organisers of the Finance & Leasing Association annual dinner at the swish Grosvenor House Hotel replaced them with chicken at the last minute, "because we thought people might be concerned".

Eddie George, Governor of the Bank of Engalnd, stunned the guests by cracking a funny joke: "There are three kinds of economist: those who can count and those who can't." Meanwhile the macho traders at Nikko Europe laughed in the face of death last night by decamping en masse to a burger bar. Where will it all end?

United Newspapers, which owns the Express titles, recently completed an efficiency survey which suggested that the journalists needed a dress code. The slovenly hacks should henceforward be clad in suits for men and pale blouses, dark skirts and tights for women. "Very square," said our in-house expert.

Asda cleaned up on Valentine's Day last year by flogging its own- brand washing up liquid, "Passion Fruit", which bore the charming inscription: "Here's your bottle of bubbly with love". This wheeze stole brand leadership from Fairy liquid for a week in Asda stores, according to the company yesterday, as it revealed distinctly unbubbly interims.

The chain also came up with a Christmas version called "Winter Spice" - which was aimed at wives to buy for their husbands - an idea said to have come from Archie Norman, Asda's chief executive.

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