Pembroke: Caesar has a stab at defying fate

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I HEAR that the battle for con trol of Principal Hotels, a 20-strong chain in the North of England, has been settled, although Roman history nearly scuppered the deal.

A management buyout team supported by NatWest Markets and Blenheim Capital Ventures won the day with a pounds 65m bid. But Blenheim's managing director took much persuading to sign the contract because it was on the dreaded Ides of March. His name is Gary Caesar.

'I'm terribly superstitious and was convinced something odious was going to happen,' says Mr Caesar, who has checked the Principal personnel records for staff called Brutus.

'It's funny because when I was at school people would always come up to me on 15 March and stab me in the back. No one does that any more, so perhaps bankers don't read Shakespeare.'

ALLIED DUNBAR, the life insurance and pensions group that has been trying to play down its butch 'Allied Crowbar' image, seems to have suffered a bit of a relapse. The annual dinner for its best-performing brokers descended into farce when several women walked out in disgust and one left in tears after an evening of bawdy entertainment.

According to the latest issue of Financial Adviser, the entertainment at London's Inter-Continental Hotel started with an erotic dance troupe called Lipstick. Then came the comedian Bernard Manning (standing in for Jo Brand), who ran through his usual repertoire of jokes.

Blushing Allied Dunbar execs have sent bouquets to the 26 women who attended the thrash. 'Some thought it all a bit of a hoot, though they would have preferred the Chippendales,' Crowbar was saying yesterday.

SIZE MATTERS, or it does if you are a Mercury customer. First Mortgage Securities, a small mortgage provider, and National Savings found they had been given almost identical freephone Mercury numbers earlier this week and started getting each other's calls. This had little FMS mightily miffed as it had hauled in extra staff to man the lines only to find them inundated with calls for granny bonds and the like.

While FMS has struggled for three days to get an acceptable response, Mercury apparently leapt like a scalded cat when National Savings complained.

All has now been resolved and NMS has a new number (0500 050055) active from Saturday. 'We've tried to mis- dial it deliberately to see what we get and so far the only similar number is the Association of Retired Persons over 50, so I think we're all right,' a relieved spokesperson said.

THEY ARE probably calling Marc Rinaldi Top Gun on the foreign exchange desk at Merrill Lynch. The trader has won a trip to Florida, where he and his wife will fly a pair of F16 fighters. The couple, who won a competition sponsored by Sprintel, a financial paging service, will be taught basic combat manoeuvres and take part in a dogfight (accompanied by an experienced pilot, of course).

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FRESH IN from Hong Kong: Sir William Purves, the God-like head of HSBC, has moved to quash the scurrilous suggestion that he has a remote control device that switches the Hong Kong traffic lights from red to green. The illustrious banker has many electronic gizmos but a traffic lights zapper is not among them.

THE CITY was underwhelmed by the news that Storm Group, the merchandising and licensing group that owns the rights to The Wombles, had introduced a new member.

Alderney, the new junior Womble, has apparently declared war on water pollution as her number one priority. Storm's shares ended the day unchanged at 181 2 p.