Pembroke: A question of free speech at Mercury

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JOHN HARRIS, the heartily committed chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, has turned himself into a bit of a celebrity. Since before Christmas he has been doing voice-overs for Mercury One-to-One commercials on LBC radio under the heading 'Business thought for the day'. In the 40 one-minute slots being broadcast at 7.50 am, he gives his London audience the benefit of his thoughts on late payment, red tape and other matters dear to small businessmen's hearts.

'I can't say I get stopped in supermarkets but friends do rib me a bit. They are obviously all listening while stuck on the M25,' he says.

But Mercury seems to have started something. Since mid-January BT has been sponsoring an hour-long weekly programme on LBC called Business Forum, as the two rivals battle it out for the hearts, minds and custom of the capital's small businessmen.

'I'm mystified that the lead for something like this should have to come from sponsors,' says Mr Harris, slightly sore of throat after his voice-over exertions. 'With nearly 5 million small businesses, it is extraordinary that none of the broadcasters has bothered to put together a dedicated programme.'

But did he make sure Mercury paid its bill on time? 'I didn't get paid at all,' he coughs. 'But I am open to offers.'

POOR OLD Sir John Harvey-Jones. Frequently berated for his taste in wild ties, the former ICI chairman now finds himself voted one of the worst-dressed men in Britain by Esquire, the glossy men's magazine where everyone wears Armani and enjoys lovely high cheekbones.

So while actor Gary Oldman (Dracula in the recent Bram Stoker movie) takes best- dressed-man position followed by full-time clothes horses such as George Michael and Eric Clapton, Mr Troubleshooter finds himself languishing in the Mr Blobby section alongside Ken Livingstone, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Bob Geldof.

The President of the Board of Trade, Michael Heseltine, receives honourable mention for his sober suits, well-groomed hair and professorial half-moon specs.

But there is no place for the elegant suit and camel overcoat of Lord Hanson or the woolly pully approach to sartorial elegance of Richard Branson. Broken men, I'm sure.

(Photograph omitted)

BARGAIN HUNTERS hoping to pick up a cheap TV or video in the Currys sale in the Marlborough store this week will find they are too late. The shop shut on Saturday after a long-running dispute between Dixons, the store's owner, and the local council. Dixons had become tired of constant ram-raids on the stores and the unwillingness of the local council to allow the shop to put up protective barriers as it would mar the genteel feel of the historic streets.

Still stroppy over the issue, Dixons has sent letters to 10 other councils including Norwich, Guildford, Kensington and Lichfield, where the company says it is experiencing similar problems. Whether locals care one jot if they have a branch of Dixons or Currys in their town does not appear to have occurred to the retailer.

FRANCES WILLIAMS, editor of Diva, the new lesbian magazine that will be launched next month by the Gay Times group, has an interesting view on why the bi-monthly glossy will be a hit. The success of people like lesbian icon and singer kd lang has brought the issue into the mainstream, she says. And even Scouse soap Brookside has a lesbian storyline. 'For a long time it was de rigueur to run off and live in a wigwam in north Wales,' says Ms Williams. 'Now we want a piece of the action.'