People & Business: A good night out with Margaret Thatcher and Pablo Picasso

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The Independent Online
Allied Dunbar, the insurance company owned by BAT Industries, may have cause to regret its decision to hold a drinks party for journalists at London's Madame Tussaud's on Wednesday night.

The proceedings in the waxwork museum rather got out of hand, and various journalists, flushed with drink, molested Margaret Thatcher, stole John Major's glasses and replaced Pablo Picasso's Gitane cigarette with a Marlboro Light.

A spokeswoman for Madame Tussaud's is unflustered, however. "Every morning at six o'clock our inspectors examine each waxwork for damage, and this morning there were no problems reported."

In fact, as Madame Tussaud's is a popular venue for business parties, "souvenir hunting" is quite common, she said. "About a year ago someone at a business party tried to walk off with Robespierre's head, which is stuck on a pole. The mask of the French revolutionary was made by Madame Tussaud herself 200 years ago. Our staff have to be very vigilant." And the Picasso cigarette replacement is also "very, very common" she said.

"It happens all the time, but usually people don't have the courtesy to replace it, they just steal it. Unfortunately Picasso didn't smoke Marlboro Lights, so we'll have to replace it from our props department."

A "strictly confidential" guide for Scottish Amicable executives on how to parry troublesome questions from the media about the proposed flotation has fallen into my hands.

The 27-page "External Questions and Answers Draft" prepared by spin doctors the Maitland Consultancy prepares executives for nasty questions such as "Why are your investment managers so bad?"("Short-term performance is not what is relevant to our investors") and "Why are your with-profit payouts so lousy?" The guide uses three codenames, Cygnet, Swan and Lake, representing Scottish Amicable, Swiss Re and Securitas, a Swiss insurance combine. The Swiss are pumping pounds 395m into the flotation, which will include a pounds 14m incentive scheme for 12 ScotAm directors.

One of the questions posed by the guide is: "What was the cost of putting the scheme together?" Answer: "The costs of the deal are not yet available." Then it asks: "Why is this costing three times as much as any other scheme?" Answer: "This deal is highly innovative and it took a long time to get all the details right. Also, we are paying Lake's costs...."

I suspect some of ScotAm's policyholders may have preferred a different code-name for the scheme: Ugly Duckling.

Deutsche Morgan Grenfell, currently embroiled in the Nicola Horlick fiasco, has promoted Jonathan Asquith to the new role of chief operating officer, where he will be number two to chief executive Michael Dobson.

Mr Asquith, 40, is a scion of the Liberal Asquith family and a distant relative of Helena Bonham Carter, the fragrant actress. Oxford educated and a qualified barrister, Mr Asquith is variously described by colleagues as "having a mind like a steel trap" and "a very, very able operator", so Mr Dobson will be glad of his abilities in these tense times.

Mr Asquith has spent his whole career with Morgan Grenfell, which he joined in 1979. Michael Philipp, 43, is replacing him as global head of equities.

The American Varity part of Lucas Varity continues to strengthen its grip on its British Lucas partner since the "merger" last September, with the appointment of Tony Gilroy as an executive director.

The difference with previous appointments by Varity is that Mr Gilroy is a Brit rather than an American, having worked in the British car industry since joining Ford in 1954. He is probably best known for his spell at Land Rover, before joining VarityPerkins, the valve maker, in 1989.

Mr Gilroy is keen on golf, hill-walking, music and reading. He will return to the UK after several years in Buffalo, New York, where he was president and chief operating officer of Varity Corporation.

Professor Sir Roland Smith has retired as chairman of Hepworth, a post he has held for the past 11 years. Jeremy Lancaster joins the board as non-executive deputy chairman and will succeed Sir Roland as chairman at the May AGM.

Not that Sir Roland will be idle. He is still a director of Associated British Foods, Manchester United, Guinness Flight Venture Capital Trust, Wilson Bowden and Temple Bar Investment Trust.