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A BRACE of former Tory ministers picked up non-executive directorships yesterday. Angela Knight, former Economic Secretary to the Treasury, has joined SAUR Water Services, the parent of Mid Southern Water and South West Water, while Baroness Chalker of Wallasey, former Minister of Overseas Development, has been appointed an advisory director of Unilever.

SAUR has also given a non-exec job to The Baroness Detta O'Caithan, who made such a performance of heading up the Barbican Centre in London.

Unilever has appointed Hilmar Kopper, former top spokesman for Deutsche Bank, as an advisory director. Baroness Chalker is filling the seat of Karl Otto Pohl, former Bundesbank boss, on the advisory board, and she will become a member of the Anglo-Dutch giant's external affairs and corporate relations committee as well.

ANOTHER former Tory MP to gain preferment this week is Dudley Fishburn, former member for Kensington and an ex-editor of The Economist. Mr Fishburn has been picked to take over from David Keys as chairman of HFC Bank UK, the door-to door credit operation, when Mr Keys retires in September. Mr Fishburn has been a director of HFC, apart from a short break, since 1989.

BUT IT'S not just Tories picking up the prizes. Labour peer Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, former general secretary of the Inland Revenue Staff Federation (IRSF), has joined accountants Horwath Clark Whitehill.

Before you ask, the ex-Revenue man will not providing clients with inside knowledge of tax avoidance schemes. Clive Brook, ennobled last autumn, will be working with "charities, education and owner-managed businesses, and will also provide Parliamentary advice," says the firm.

Peter Salter, Horwath Clark Whitehill's chief executive, says : "We welcome Lord Brooke's help and advice, which will enable us to develop our services into an increasingly valuable area for clients."

ABN AMRO has snapped up the three-strong building sector research team from the bit of BZW recently gobbled up by CSFB Howard Seymour and Harvey Robinson were in the top four of the Reuters, Extel and Greenwich charts for the last three years, while Scott Fulton is a more recent arrival from Merrill Lynch.

Incidentally that's ABN Amro without the former Hoare Govett on the end. The venerable City name Hoare Govett followed James Capel and Morgan Grenfell into the history books a month ago. Just Hoare Govett Corporate Finance survives in the UK to fly the flag.

Meanwhile Brian Cook has entered the rotating doors of CSFB's offices in Canary Wharf in the opposite direction, joining the investment bank as head of European corporate banking. Mr Cook, 39, was previously head of BHF Bank in the US, where he specialised in leveraged lending.

He will report jointly to Christopher Carter, head of European corporate and investment banking, and Mark Patterson, managing director, investment banking division leveraged finance.

WHEN is a hostile bid really hostile? This question occurs to me as WH Smith sells off its Waterstone's chain to EMI, announces a share buyback and sees its share price hit 473.5p. When Tim Waterstone launched his "hostile" bid for the chain six months ago using corporate finance team Peter Thompson and Andrew Bracey of SBC Warburg, WH Smith's share price languished at 370p. The company's boss Richard Handover huffed and puffed and declared that there would be no change in strategy.

Now he appears to have implemented the Warburg duo's strategy to the letter, and the share price is positively blooming. Perhaps Mr Handover should send Messrs Thompson and Bracey a bottle of bubbly for their troubles?

A CAMBRIDGE-based firm has just published what it claims is the most expensive history book ever, at a mere pounds 600 a pop. Yuki - Twenty Years has been commissioned by the famous Japanese-born clothes designer, now based in Britain, called Yuki.

Appropriately enough during British Fashion Week, the book, featuring lavish illustrations and only the most expensive paper and bindings, celebrates Yuki's 20 years in the rag trade. Yuki designed clothes worn by the late Princess Diana during one of her visits to Japan, I am told. Meanwhile the publishers, Book Production Consultants, are celebrating their own Silver Jubilee this year, but they say their own commemorative book will be a more modest affair.

ASH & LACY, West Midlands metal bashers, have appointed David Probert chairman-designate to succeed David Fletcher on 19 May following the group's annual general meeting. Ash & Lacy said Mr Probert is due to retire as an executive of W Canning shortly before taking up his new role, but he will continue as non-executive chairman of W Canning.