Pembroke: Tailors ride forth from Savile Row

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The Independent Online
Lord Weatherill, the dapper former speaker of the House of Commons, is planning a spot of empire-building. Not in the Palace of Westminster, but in his old family business. Bernard Weatherill, the traditional equestrian outfitter in London's Savile Row, is setting a well-heeled riding boot on the path to expansion.

Founded in the 1920s by Bernard Weatherill senior, the store is now run by a management buyout team led by Hugh Holland. Lord Weatherill, now 73, sold his stake in the store but remains president.

'We are busy trying to sign licensing agreements in America and in Japan,' says the willowy Mr Holland. 'We would also like to open a new shop around the Bond Street area. With our long association with the rural aristocracy, I feel we are well-placed to become an up-market Ralph Lauren.'

For up-market, read expensive. The shop sells lounge suits at upwards of pounds 1,300 and red hunting coats at pounds 197.50 (plus VAT). Plans are afoot for a range of new items involving traditional country fabrics such as tweed and corduroy.

Lord Weatherill, who spent five years as an apprentice breeches stitcher in his younger days, is equally enthusiastic. 'My vision of Britain is for a quality nation. We might not be able to compete in mass production but we can produce fine individual things. That is what we are trying to do here.'

Sir Kit McMahon, non-executive chairman of Pentos, the troubled Dillons to Rymans retailer, might feel the need for a Savile Row visit. A forthright question at yesterday's results meetings caught the former Midland Bank chairman decidedly off guard. Expecting questions about the company's balance sheet, he was bowled a googlie when asked where his tie was from. 'The Garrick', he replied, fingering a club tie that, while denoting membership of an illustrious institution, was looking a little worse for wear. The response from the floor was harsh to say the least. 'Had it a long time, have you?'

A slightly more predictable question at the Pentos gathering was 'What is Terry Maher doing now?'. The answer was that the former chairman, who left the group in November, is writing a book with the somewhat ironic working title How to Run a Book Company. Presumably, given the mess Pentos, owner of the Dillons chain, got into this is a joke. But the chief executive, Bill McGrath, confirmed that Dillons would stock the volume - 'but only if given a healthy discount'.

Philip Ames, the genial Lancastrian whose retail chain 4 Play Records slid into receivership earlier this week, is probably too busy to write a book. But if he does he might call it, Branson and me: Big jobs I've turned down.

Mr Ames - who says his biggest mistake was trying to run a music business from the North of England - once ran the Virgin Records chain on behalf of Richard Branson. But when the bearded wonder sold his smaller shops to WH Smith he offered Mr Ames a top job at Virgin. Mr Ames declined, deciding instead to build his own chain.

'Richard offered me a very good position within Virgin, looking after global retail operations - which would have meant travelling everywhere from Paris to Japan,' he recalls. 'But it would have meant moving south, so I resisted the offer.'

Gerard McCloskey, an acknowledged expert on the coal industry, takes a keener interest than most in the privatisation of British Coal.

He notes that the bill privatising British Coal received its third reading in the house last Wednesday - the same day a private member's bill was introduced seeking to legalise euthanasia.

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