Packed press get sinking feeling at Farnborough

City Diary

Deadly rivals Boeing and Airbus are trying to pack ever greater numbers of passengers into ever bigger planes. Yesterday, at the Farnborough Air Show, Boeing did the same thing with journalists, packing a multitude into a temporary, if swanky, marquee, with disastrous consequences.

As the Boeing press conference ground to a close, the weight of journalists caused the floor to give way, sinking a good six inches.

The police were called to clear the heaving throng. Then entered the Airbus team - who were due to hold their own conference after the Boeing shindig. As the two management teams collided, accusation and counter- accusation of sabotage was hurled. "You did this to us, didn't you," an Airbus spin doctor hissed at the incensed Boeing team.

Happily, no one was injured and Airbus's conference has been postponed to today.

Hopefully, Airbus will make sure they have a sounder undercarriage.

As new Unilever chairman Niall Fitzgerald gets to grips with the Anglo- Dutch company's costs, his predecessor Sir Michael Perry has got a new job: non-executive chairman of Dunlop Slazenger.

The sports company may sound familiar, but it was formed just six months ago through a pounds 371m MBO from BTR. Sir Michael, who is also deputy chairman of Bass and a host of other organisations, will be ultimately responsible for Tim Henman's Slazenger tennis racquets.

Bearing in mind the Persil shirt-rotting episode at Unilever, let's hope Sir Michael doesn't get hold of young Tim's tennis whites.

As far as hot seats go in the legal world, they don't get much hotter than Lloyd's of London. James Butler joins the insurance market as director of legal services from Mercury Communications, where he did a similar job.

Mr Butler replaces Jo Rickard, who was temporarily seconded from Lloyd's solicitors Freshfields at the end of 1995 until a permanent replacement could be found for the previous incumbent, who had resigned.

Ms Rickard returns to Freshfields after shepherding Lloyd's through its rescue programme and the proposed launch of Equitas.

Mr Butler, 49, will not have a quiet time, however. Some of those pesky US names still want to sue the Lime Street market, while others are refusing to pay up for Equitas.

Mr Butler should have a good feel for the City's machinations. In a rich and varied career he once did corporate finance at Baring Brothers.

You and I may both think that the Government's Private Finance Initiative is a dead duck, but that doesn't stop Alistair Ross Goobey and his cohorts on its Panel Executive from trying.

The independent body, Treasury-financed, is designed to "drive forward more value for money deals right across the public sector". The panel has just appointed a new chief executive, David Steeds, since former boss Douglas Hogg went to CIBC Wood Gundy to set up their own PFI fund.

Since 1990, Mr Steeds has been corporate development director at Serco Group, a business and government services company with 14,000 employees world-wide. He helped put together Serco's own PFI bid for the National Physical Laboratory.

I can't help thinking, if Labour get in, Mr Steeds will head back to Serco pronto.

Fancy doing a Michael Caine impersonation in the film Zulu? Cromwell Productions, the independent UK film makers who offered co-producers the chance to be extras in their film The Bruce, are at it again. This time, instead of dressing up as a rebellious Scot at the Battle of Bannockburn, anyone who wants to fork out pounds 500 to help finance the new film can fly to South Africa and take part as an extra in The Zulu Wars.

The latest project is Brian Blessed's directorial debut, and will attempt to present an accurate account of the wars between the British and the Zulus in 1879. Get packing.

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