Pembroke: Pen proves mightier than dirty trick

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To The Ivy, a posh London restaurant, to celebrate the launch of Dirty Tricks, Martyn Gregory's long- awaited account of the BA-Virgin bust- up. The assembled throng was interesting both for those present and notable absentees. Richard Branson was there along with Brian Basham, BA's former PR consultant, and Harry Goodman, formerly of International Leisure Group. Graciously declining the invitation were Sir Colin Marshall, Lord King and all other members of the BA hierarchy.

But it was cheering to hear that not everyone within BA has lost their sense of humour over the impending publication. Robert Ayling, BA's otherwise ubiquitous managing director, has let it be known that he would love a copy of the book - as long as it is signed by Richard Branson.

Never slow with a riposte, the bearded one has replied that he is only too happy to oblige - as long as he can have one signed by Sir Colin Marshall. Sir Colin's response can only be guessed at.

The Poultry head offices of Midland Bank were echoing with much chuckling yesterday as executives drank in the story about Sir William Purves and his traffic accessory.

The story goes that Sir William, head honcho of HSBC, Midland's parent, and a man who is treated as something akin to royalty in Hong Kong, has come in for special treatment by the local highways department. It has equipped the gridlock- hating Sir William (or his chauffeur, to be precise) with a little hand-held gizmo that changes the traffic lights from red to green.

Lowly pedestrians have to tug their forelocks and wait while the high- falutin' banker glides past in his limo from one engagement to the next.

Back in traffic-choked London, his Midland colleagues are joking that Sir William could do with one when back in Blighty to ease his passage to and from his Midland nerve centre. Wags are saying he has already applied for one but been rejected.

More on Midland Bank. Some say that British Invisibles, the worthy but dull outfit that promotes British invisible exports such as banking and insurance, is in need of a spot of repair work. It could be about to get it as I hear that Sir Brian Pearse, who steps down as chief executive of Midland at the end of the month, is in line to become chairman.

Mr Pearse is clearly looking for worthy causes rather than promises of large bundles of cash in his post-bankerly incarnation. Other jobs in his portfolio include treasurer of King's College and chairman of the Housing Corporation.

Word reaches us of a gaffe committed by a senior banker in the offices of George Loudon, the art- loving former head of Midland Montagu, who was ousted following the HSBC takeover.

The pair had entertained a group of Chinese clients who had borrowed pounds 3.5m to build a duck hatchery in China. A few weeks later, the executive was visiting the Midland man's office when he spied a fascinating cardboard and plywood contraption on the desk. Its duck-sized holes gave the game away. 'I see the Chinese have given you one of their duck hatcheries,' the banker exclaimed.

Nothing of the sort, it seems. The bundle was the latest and rather expensive addition to Mr Loudon's collection of abstruse modern art. Whoops.

To festivities in fashionable Chelsea to celebrate the 50th birthday of the Lloyd's broker Barry Clementson (London's wealthiest broker, Bill Brown, put in an appearance).

Proceedings went with a swing until guests repaired to the nearby Conrad Hotel for a nightcap. Nothing doing, replied the barperson, pointing out that unless they were residents, they were not entitled to additional beverages after normal licensing hours.

An enterprising member of the party demanded to be booked into the cheapest room in the hotel (a suite at pounds 110) and proceeded to order a round of fortifying fluids. He was then startled to be asked by an unworldly steward: 'What morning papers would you like, sir?'

The campaign to find Britain's healthiest company has yielded some interesting entries. The organisers, the Wellness Forum, say Forward Trust conducted hypnotherapy sessions before introducing its smoking ban. And Lucas, the engineering group, found that when it conducted stress counselling sessions, a significant number of patients were stressed for reasons that had nothing to do with work. They were simply having boyfriend or girlfriend trouble.

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