People & Business

The award for the best punch-up of the year goes to The Sunday Telegraph Christmas party. The pugilists in question were two of the City's more redoubtable PR men, Brian Basham of Basham and Coyle, and David Burnside, formerly of British Airways, who nowadays also runs his own PR agency.

The two men of course are old sparring partners from the golden days at BA and both featured in the "dirty tricks" saga involving the airline's arch rival Virgin Atlantic. At the time Burnside was running the press office and Basham was employed as BA's external public relations adviser.

Anyway, back to that office party, where Burnside's well-known sense of humour got the better of him while Basham lived up to his name in style. Horseplay between the two somehow got out of hand and the Basham fist connected with the Burnside nose in spectacular fashion. "There was blood on the carpet," said one ex-journalist, though whether this was simply a red wine stain was hard to know.

Neil Bennett, The Sunday Telegraph's City Editor, managed to despatch the two into separate cabs. Bizarrely, Basham and Burnside ended up staying in the same house, having apparently made up. Evidently Fleet Street worked its calming Yuletide magic.

It all goes to show that Basham has not lost his capacity for the unexpected. Earlier this year he was involved in an incident at the Tower Thistle Hotel which resulted in one broken carpark security barrier and a rather embarrassed chauffeur being left to face the music and the hotel's less- than-amused security staff. Never a dull moment at Basham & Coyle these days.

And some news from another old bruiser. A fortnight hence Ken Livingstone, the former Labour leader of the Greater London Council and one of the leading candidates for post of Lord Mayor of London, will board HMS Belfast, the warship moored on the River Thames, to address the annual dinner given by RBS Advanta, the credit card people, for the financial press corps. Admirers of the veteran socialist are hoping Ken will deliver a critical broadside at the Government's economic policies to date.

The choice of speaker and venue could be suggestive. Belfast herself is the last of the big-gun cruisers that served in the Second World War. She celebrates her 60th birthday next March and has been moored in the Thames since she retired in 1971.

These days her 6 inch guns only fire blanks, and their next official duty will be to welcome the millennium, but I am told they could bombard Scratchwood service station on the M1 (or any other target of choice in the London area for that matter, I presume).

In the interests of even-handedness RBS Advanta has steered from hard a starboard to hard a port. Their last speaker, a year ago, was Norman Lamont, the former Conservative chancellor, who gave the then government's economic policies a good scuffing. Our Ken will speak on a subject of his own choice, of interest to the financial community, which presumably rules out newts, but the audience will be disappointed if they do not get at least a whiff of his no-nonsense speechmaking.

Paren Knadjian the marketing director at Datastream/ICV, the financial information provider, tells me that Turkey topped his survey of best-performing stock markets in 1997, with a gain of 222 per cent in local currency, and 78 per cent in sterling. Turkey came in just ahead of Russia, up 212 per cent in roubles and the clear winner in sterling with a gain of 202 per cent.

Paren is remarkably cheerful about the result, bearing in mind his ancestors came from Armenia, which has historically had a hard time from its neighbours, eg Turkey and Russia.

Meanwhile, the real turkeys for sterling investors were the tiger economies, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea and the Philippines, plus Bangladesh, where the tigers actually live.

How many companies can boast a chairman who has won an Emmy? VFG can, for one. The AIM-quoted tiddler that rents out film-making and broadcasting equipment has landed Richard Price as its chairman. Sixty-four year old Mr Price is best known as the founder of Primetime, the UK's largest independent distributor of television programmes. He also warmed the chairman's seat at BAFTA between 1991 and 1993.

But the little statuettes - the highest honour the US television industry has to offer - were awarded a few years ago for Nicholas Nickelby and Porgy and Bess, two programmes produced by Primetime. It is only a matter of time before some desperate rival goes one better and puts an Oscar winner on the board. Sir Anthony Hopkins could play the part, surely.

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