Pembroke: Broken romance on the Mills & Boon board

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The Independent Online
Mills & Boon, purveyor of romantic novels to the masses, does not seem to take the same luvvie approach with its senior management. Robert Williams, managing director, may or may not fit the archetypal tall, dark and handsome description of a Mills & Boon hero, but the truth is he is now out of a job. He has left the publisher after a long-running disagreement over strategy with the Canadian parent company, Harlequin.

I understand that in a plot worthy of the books, the 50-year-old Mr Williams was summoned to Switzerland to see the executive vice-president Heinz Wermelinger, who was too ill to travel. There was obviously some kind of falling out and the pair parted company.

The publisher, which says the split was mutually agreed, has appointed Tony Flynn to replace Mr Williams.

The lunchtime trade was not as profitable as it might have been yesterday at the Moorgate branch of Balls Brothers. The City wine bar-cum-restaurant was humming with its usual blend of pinstripes when the alarm went off at 2.15pm. Everyone was asked to go outside and most wandered off without paying their bill.

As there were about 50 diners and upwards of 100 wine guzzlers in the bar at the time, it was a rather expensive afternoon for the proprietors.

But the managing director, Richard Balls, who is still chipper about the recent birth of Christopher, the next generation Balls, was content: 'Most people were disarmingly honest. They either gave their business cards or said they would drop by after work and settle their bills. It's rather a warm comment on the morals of people in the City.'

Viscount Raynham was in good form yesterday in the sumptuous surrounds of Champneys, the health centre beneath the Meridian hotel in Piccadilly. He was there to attend the launch of Peratec, a new management consultancy division of Pera, the production engineering research council, where he is a non-executive. But he was also in good spirits over the performance of his Raynham International Furniture business, which makes hotel furniture for groups such as the Savoy. The Norfolk firm has just landed a deal with Claridge's to make mini-bars for its 190 hotel rooms. This, I understand, is a first for the upmarket Brook Street hotel, which has not bothered with such items up to now.

'I'm rather looking forward to it as it is just the kind of thing I do,' Viscount Raynham said.

There was an unholy din at Earl's Court yesterday as the Amusement Trades Exhibition buzzed into action. But amid all the bleeping racing simulators, virtual reality machines and amusement arcade contraptions, there was a British company with an interesting export story to tell.

Elton Amusement Products of Southport has been making the Kentucky Derby games for fairgrounds for nearly 20 years. The game consists of a dozen horses that move forward in a race depending on how many points the players can score by throwing balls into holes with different values.

But last year the company opened up a new market. It swapped the horses for camels and started flogging sets to the Arabs. So far it has sold games worth more than pounds 50,000 each to Kuwait and Beirut and is negotiating for sales in Yemen. 'They love it,' the sales manager, Tan Choudhry, says. 'They seem to enjoy the competitive element.'

Regulars at British airports will not be surprised to learn of events at Alpha, the in-flight catering division being floated off from Forte. The prospectus arrived late on City desks yesterday due to a printing error.

Once upon a time, parties in bid talks would dream up intriguing or at least interesting code names for themselves. The Goldsmith/Packer/Rothschild junta named their investment vehicles after golf courses, most notably 'Hoylake' which took the famous pounds 13bn tilt at BAT. Charles Sidney, the motor dealership spawned from the food group Albert Fisher, was dubbed 'Oedipus', which is rather ominous given what he did to his parents.

None of this nonsense for the photo booth operator Photo-Me and KIS, the French company, which announced their merger yesterday. They called themselves 'Peter' and 'Keith', just because they were the first names to enter the negotiators' heads.

(Photograph omitted)

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