Pugwash might be worth a punt as he sets sail for US

People & Business

Fancy taking a punt on Pugwash? Britt Allcroft, the AIM-listed company headed by Angus Wright, owns the world-wide rights to Captain Pugwash and has begun shooting 26 new episodes of the cartoon pirate show.

The programmes should be shown in a year's time, and while Britt Allcroft's share price has been a party-pooper over the past year they might perk up when the market hears about plans to screen Pugwash in the US.

An industry source said: "This could be bigger than Thomas the Tank Engine. It knocks the spots off Sooty and Noddy in the popularity stakes."

Britt Allcroft also holds the licence to develop products based on another cartoon hero, Thomas the Tank Engine, including toys and T-shirts.

Watch out in your local shops for Pugwash T-shirts. Other piratical clothes are mooted. Such products will never compare however with "Thomas the Tank Engine Fromage Frais" as well as Thomas rice seasoning, popular in Japan, apparently.

There has never been a better time to be a slimming trainspotter, it appears.

Thomas alone generated sales of pounds 11.5m and profits of pounds 2m for the year to June 1996, with this year's results due out on Monday. City sources expect the numbers comfortably to beat analysts' forecasts thanks to pre- Christmas sales of Thomas.

James Sherwood, the larger than life millionaire industrialist who owns the Great North Eastern Railway, has given an interview to this month's issue of The Railway Magazine which makes sobering reading for anyone planning a train journey.

At one point the American-born tycoon was asked about the telephone inquiry bureaux (TEBs) the Government ordered the new rail owners to set up after privatisation, to enable passengers nation-wide to find out train times, despite the fragmentation of the industry.

The TEBs were criticised in a recent report for failing to answer up to half of customers' enquiries. Mr Sherwood was unimpressed by the fuss.

"As far as I'm concerned, every phone call which comes into a TEB is an opportunity to sell, so we are going to have a blitz on our network and are going to say to everyone who calls in: `Don't call the TEB in future, call telesales.' "

Great North Eastern's telesales departments are separate from the TEBs and, unlike the latter, can actually flog tickets.

The rail mogul continues: "After a while, we will be able to go to the regulator and say, `Look, the number of calls we are getting to our TEBs is miniscule, so why not do away with them?' It will happen eventually, anyway, for as the number of calls to the TEBs drops we will reduce the staffing levels."

Mr Sherwood concludes with a flourish: "I know the regulator and the franchise director might not like it, but I couldn't care less what they think! Train operators have to be motivated and this is one way of doing it."

Rank Holidays is planning a big announcement for its Butlin's holiday camp business next Monday, which is why perhaps it has recruited Ken Johnston as Butlin's sales and marketing director. Mr Johnston joins from Pepsi Cola Company, where he was director of brand marketing for Pepsi's investment into central Europe.

Prior to that he was the country manager for Pepsi's launch in Israel, so he has plenty of international experience. Perhaps Butlin's is going to take on Euro Disney in France?

Back to reality. Mr Johnston, 37, got a BSc in civil engineering from the University of Lancaster after attending Exeter School, and he also has an MBA.

One of his first jobs was at Wella, the health care company, in 1986.

In 1988 he joined Pepsi Cola and spent the next eight years working abroad for the fizzy drinks company, including stints in Cyprus and Vienna.

Part of the reason for his joining Butlin's, I hear, is that he wanted to come home. Hi de Hi.

Hearing that Michael Hardern, the zany freelance butler and building society carpetbagger-in-chief, had been expelled by the Coventry Building Society before he could "make any trouble there", I phoned him up to hear his reaction.

I got a recorded message, addressed, no doubt, to the many people interested in obtaining his "Carpetbagger's Guide" on how to pressurise building societies into converting to bank status.

Mr Hardern's message says: "This is the close season for building societies until Michaelmas - 29 September. If, however, you can't resist helping, please consult carpetbagger.com [on the Internet] or send us a self-addressed envelope.

"We will send you information when hostilities re-commence in October."

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