People and Business: Help, I need an insurer

HELPHIRE, a company that provides practical and financial help to people involved in road accidents, is raising nearly pounds 9m for an acquisition, just six years after being formed - on a squash court.

Mark Jackson, a GP, met Michael Symons, a solicitor, while pounding around the squash court at Combe Grove Manor Hotel, near Bath, in 1992. The duo started off by providing car hire and repair services on credit to motorists involved in accidents which weren't their fault.

The company made its money from the car hire charges and the repair charges, which it recovered from the other drivers' insurers.

Now Helphire is raising pounds 8.9m through a placing and open offer in order to buy Countrywide Assistance, a motor insurer. Mr Symons, chief executive of Helphire, says the acquisition will give them a larger client base and a new income stream.

THE RIPPLES continue to spread from Germany's annexing of the British motor industry. Rolls-Royce, now under the wing of Volkswagen, has poached Doug Dickson, managing director of Rover Oxford - part, of course, of the BMW family - to be its new board member for manufacturing.

Rover assures us that Mr Dickson's defection will have no effect on production of the R75, the new retro model from Cowley on which so many of its hopes are pinned.

THE FOLLOWING story about one of Her Majesty the Queen's previous visits to the Bank of England may be apocryphal, but a senior banking source assures me it is true.

Observing yesterday's Royal tour of the City, which included the Queen and Prince Phillip being introduced to the Monetary Policy Committee in Threadneedle Street, the banker recalls a previous Royal visit. The powers that be in the Bank decided to install a Royal loo within the building, just in case, and one of the few female staffers was pushed into the loo to test it out. In the event it wasn't used, and passed into general use.

A Bank spokesman yesterday was unable to confirm or deny this charming story. It did, however, jolt his own memories of a press trip to the opening of a North Sea gas field some 20-odd years ago.

The Queen was there to open the field. "British Gas had constructed a Royal loo in a marquee within the main marquee - literally a throne," the Bank spokesman recalls.

The sight was "absolutely surreal", he says. They don't have this kind of fun in republics, do they ...

ADDRESSING THE much-depleted ranks of Barclays Capital's staff on Tuesday night, chief executive Bob Diamond told the Christmas party throng that experiencing the turmoil in global markets recently was like "the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan." Let's hope Barclays Capital makes it through the present strife safe and sound.

BRITISH AEROSPACE is taking the technology it used for the EuroFighter to design, build and test a series of revolutionary carbon-fibre "wing" masts for the UK's yachtsmen entering the next Olympics.

The Royal Yachting Association is delighted by a deal it has just clinched with BAe worth around a quarter of a million pounds which will provide masts for Richard Stenhouse, 32, and Iain Percy, 22, for their Sydney 2000 campaigns.

Mr Stenhouse came twelfth in the Atlanta Olympics two years ago. Mr Percy, who has just graduated from Bristol University in economics, is already ranked third in Europe and seventh in the world.

BAe is providing a Cray supercomputer and its military aircraft and operations faculty at Farnborough to help develop the new masts.

MARY LOU Carrington has left Liffe where she was business development director, to join the Prudential as new business development director of its corporate pensions division.

And Paribas has poached Guy Hart to its fixed income syndicate desk in London. Mr Hart will report to David Ovenden, global head of syndicate at Paribas.