People & Business: Budgie the Helicopter flies into a $22m wrangle

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The Independent Online
The Duchess of York's creation, Budgie the Little Helicopter, flew into turbulence yesterday as the American marketing agents for the cuddly TV series issued a blood-curdling statement and a demand for $22m from its British owners, Sleepy Kids.

The row goes back to last spring, when Launey Hachmann & Harris went into Chapter 11, thus prompting Sleepy Kids to look for a new agent in the US. LHH yesterday issued a blistering assault on Sleepy Kids, saying that statements the British company made in 21 October were "improper".

LHH says Sleepy Kids should not have pinned the blame on it for Budgie's non-performance in the US, that its agency contract was not terminated, and that it was still owed $22m.

No one from Sleepy Kids was available for comment yesterday, but the bluster from LHH certainly didn't disturb the stock market. Sleepy Kids' shares rose 0.5p to 17.5p. Fergie can sleep safely in her four poster for the moment.

Not many editors who are sacked from newspapers then launch a magazine from the same building. Anil Bhoyrul was sacked as editor of Sunday Business in February in acrimonious circumstances, yet is about to relaunch Business Age magazine from the office block that houses the former organ, just off London's Oxford Street.

Anil was sacked by SB's owner Luke Johnson, son of right-wing columnist Paul Johnson. However, Tom Rubython, who founded SB and is another ex- editor, owns the lease to the building, and is happy to rent space to his old colleague.

"We have a separate door," says Anil. "After I was sacked from Sunday Business, I talked to a number of people who had been considering buying into the paper, and they were keen on backing the relaunch of Business Age instead.

"We're aiming for a launch sometime in late May, with a circulation of around 50,000. It'll be a 164-page glossy with lots of entertaining controversy. Our first issue will name a well known businessman as a crook. We'll probably get sued for it - we've budgeted for that," says Anil.

Tom Rubython and Anil used to run Business Age until it was bought a couple of years ago by VNU, who changed its format and then closed it down. Anil bought back the title this spring and has recruited Sunday Business's sales director Charlie Kerr and design director Trudi Roche - who also used to work on the old Business Age. Whether anyone will make any money out of this musical chairs is another story.

Ian Shay resigned yesterday as finance director of Coda Group, the loss-making accounting software supplier. A spokesman for Coda said that the group had redirected the bulk of its operations to the US, and more international skills were now needed. "Mr Shay felt he would be better off elsewhere," said the spokesman.

Robert Brown, Coda's chief executive, moved to the East Coast from the UK last year in order to spearhead the group's recovery. "The thinking is that if Coda is going to make it internationally as a supplier of accounting software, then it has to make it in the world's biggest software market," says the spokesman. Meanwhile the search for a new finance director goes on.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants' attempt at a television programme may have sunk in a sea of red ink, but that has not put off the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (Cima), which is now launching its own video service, the Finance Channel.

In the book-keeping equivalent of Red Hot Dutch, the Channel will feature five "modern, lively magazine-style programmes" each month "designed to help accountants in business respond to and forecast business change". I can feel my eyelids getting heavier already.

The channel will be produced at Television Education Network's studios at Channel 4 and will cost a wallet-denuding pounds 82 a month.

Hepworth, the building materials company, says that its chief executive, John Carter, has resigned "for personal reasons". A spokesman says Mr Carter's departure was amicable and based on mutual agreement, and that the former chief executive was leaving to pursue other interests.

Mr Carter is 51 and has been chief executive at Hepworth for five years, having joined the company in 1987. The spokesman denied there was any rupture over strategy or disagreement behind the news. The group has started its search for a replacement.

Mr Carter's resignation comes just ahead of a changeover of the chairmanship, with Jeremy Lancaster due to takeover as chairman from Sir Roland Smith.