People and Business: Ottakar falls, er, one pee

YOU WOULD think that running a chain of bookstores would be fun, but it can have its messier side, as James Heneage, managing director of Ottakar's, discovered last week.

Mr Heneage and Neil Lloyd, the finance director of the recently floated 30-strong chain, were showing two analysts around the Bromley bookstore. The chief is particularly proud of the extensive children's department, which features a large model rocket based on the Tintin book, Destination Moon. The model features a ladder up to a control room featuring lights and buttons for young hands to play with.

The two analysts were clamouring to get on board the rocket and "have a go" but were blocked by a movable bookstand. An embarrassed attendant had to explain that a customer, a young boy, had become "overexcited" while playing in the rocket and had peed copiously all over the cockpit's floor.

The visitors beat a hasty retreat. I am assured, however, that the incident will not affect Ottakar's stock market rating.

A JOKE doing the rounds of the City's dealing rooms: "What's the difference between a rouble and a dollar?" Answer: "A dollar."

Well, I thought it was funny.

RICHARD BRANSON moved further yesterday to impose his authority on the disastrous joint venture with the McCarthy brothers, Victory Corporation, by appointing Stephen Murphy, finance director of Virgin Group, as Victory's new chairman.

Mr Murphy will replace Ian Pluthero who plans to retire in October. Mr Branson's two-year-old business association with Rory and Tim McCarthy, based on clothing and cosmetics retailing, has gone sour, prompting the Virgin boss recently to increase his stake in Victory to 54.69 per cent from 51.2 per cent.

IS IT a Tesco takeover at Vodafone? Lord Maclaurin, the former head of Tesco and currently chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, took over as chairman of the mobile phone company on 21 July. Three months later and he's hired an ex-colleague from Tesco, John Gildersleeve, as a non-executive director.

Mr Gildersleeve, 54, joined Tesco in 1965 and is currently commercial and trading director, with responsibility over the supermarket group's operations in seven countries.

Standby for some cricketers at Vodafone...

WHEN Australian customs officials recently encountered a plain, brown box with a label identifying its contents as a "quaich", (correct) they immediately became suspicious.

Tests, including X-rays, gas testing and an appraising sniff by security dogs, allayed concerns that the package may have contained explosives, drugs, or other contraband, yet did not help officials categorise the import as animal, vegetable or mineral.

With the box safely quarantined, an inquiring phone call was placed to the intended recipient, a Bill McAndrew of Weir Engineering on the New South Wales Central Coast. Recounting the story in his Scottish brogue, Mr McAndrew said: "When I told them a `quaich' was a traditional solid silver cup for drinking whisky, they said: `You've got to be joking.' So in the end I had to provide them with a written description and guarantee."

Three days later the quaich was released and rushed to Weir's newly expanded Australian HQ for presentation by the chief executive of the Scottish pump-making group, Sir Ron Garrick, to the NSW State Premier, the honourable Bob Carr, MP. With the city of Sydney recently experiencing high levels of parasites in its water system, Sir Ron had no hesitation in suggesting to the Premier that he should err on the side of caution and always drink his single malt straight.

WE'VE HAD the Bank of England appointing the first female Chief Cashier, Merlyn Lowther. Now BAA has appointed its first woman director since the airports authority was launched 32 years ago. Valerie Gooding, chief executive of BUPA and a former employee at British Airways for 23 years, is the woman chosen to break the blokes' monopoly.

Mrs Gooding, 48, a married mother of two, joins BAA in November as a non-exec director.

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