Pembroke: Franklin is putting on its own Ritz

OLD ETONIAN David Naylor-Leyland made another bold move in London's hotel market yesterday when he snapped up Dukes Hotel from Trafalgar House. The news came just days after Trafalgar House hung a 'for sale' sign outside the Ritz on Piccadilly with an asking price of around pounds 30m.

Mr Naylor-Leyland is an interesting chap. Still only 39, he is a former lifeguard and one-time champion amateur jockey (which must have been tricky since he is over six feet tall). He once completed the final furlongs of a Czechoslovakian steeplechase without his stirrups. 'I did it for England,' he squeaked at the time.

His Franklin Hotels group now has three hotels in its portfolio: the 64-bedroom Dukes in St James's Place, plus the smaller Franklin in Knightsbridge and the 30-bedroom Egerton House.

The former property developer's strategy is to build a presence in the town house hotel sector. This means smaller hotels with a more cosy feel (and lower room rates) than, say, the Dorchester and the Grosvenor House.

'Rates at Dukes are presently over pounds 200 a night. Some suites are over pounds 300,' says the imposing hotelier. 'Prices like that make a hotel very different to market, which is why the place is only half full.'

Mr Naylor-Leyland's technique involves stripping out expensive overheads such as the hotel restaurant and armies of under-employed doormen and porters and pitching room rates at the slightly more wallet-friendly rates of pounds 140.

He must be doing something right. Hambro European Ventures structured the deal and yesterday took a sizeable stake in the business.

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IT IS JUST days since the big British Rail split which saw the creation of Railtrack on April Fools' Day. But the buck-passing has already started.

A colleague tells me that one day last week, his journey into London was so bad - with even more bumping, jolting and juddering than usual - that he was moved to complain to a Network SouthEast official.

'It's not the train,' the BR man replied. 'It's the track.' A sign of things to come, perhaps?

THE REFRESHINGLY honest Enlightened Tobacco Company, which produces cigarettes called Death, raised the stakes in the fag wars yesterday. It has unveiled a pounds 500,000 advertising campaign to reposition its main brand Death (it is using a different tobacco) and to back the launch of Death Lights - or Slow Death as the management fondly describes its low-tar version.

With slogans that include 'They're every bit as good as other cigarettes. And every bit as bad' and '13.5m smokers will admit it's bad for them. Only one tobacco company will', the sinister black billboards should cause a few giggles and set a few nerve ends jangling among London's commuters over the next few weeks.

IT IS THE ultimate sign of China's burgeoning market economy. Rolls-Royce is to set up a distribution network there. The purveyors of one of capitalism's most enduring status symbols has already sold around 50 Rollers in China through its Hong Kong franchise.

Now Inchcape, which also holds the Rolls-Royce and Jaguar licences in Hong Kong, will be cooking up the Chinese market for Silver Spirits, Silver Sports and Corniche 4 convertibles.

FOR THE Chinese it's Rolls-Royces. But in Vietnam, the next big thing might well be a nice pint of Guinness. Guinness has announced that its eponymous stout is to be brewed locally by a Vietnam brewer for the first time.

Guinness started selling its dark nectar in Vietnam nearly two years ago by shipping it in from Malaysia. At the moment Guinness-less locals have to seek out one of the 100 outlets that flog the stuff. Now Guinness says the 48p bottles will be much easier to get hold of.

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