It was only last Saturday that Sir Richard Sykes, the wiry Yokshireman who chairs Glaxo Wellcome, made the crucial telephone call to Jan Leschly, his opposite number at SmithKline Beecham. Sir Richard was at his home in London while Mr Leschly was in Philadelphia. The Glaxo man congratulated Mr Leschly on the company's proposed deal with American Home Products (AHP), but suggested there was another way of creating a powerful new force in the drugs industry - a Glaxo/SmithKline merger.
Mr Leschly was a receptive audience. The charismatic Dane, who once ranked in the top 10 in men's world tennis, had already started to cool on the AHP deal. The reason, it is understood, was that Jack Stafford, the chairman of AHP, had decided he wanted to stay on in an active role in the enlarged group. Previously, it was thought that Mr Stafford, who has not been in the best of health, would step aside.
Though Mr Leschly would have liked a deal with AHP, the prospect of a tie-up with Glaxo was even more attractive. He agreed to meet with Sir Richard at a New York hotel on Tuesday. Amazingly, it seems that the pair managed to agree on most of the issues at this one face-to-face meeting. Analysts say this is because the two know each other well, having worked together at Squibbs, the US drugs giant, in the past.
The SmithKline board met on Thursday in Philadelphia to agree the terms. The Glaxo board met to do the same in London the following day. But as the two companies prepared to make the announcement, one key task remanded. Mr Leschly had to place the telephone call to Mr Stafford to tell him that their deal was off. The reaction, sources say, "was not exactly polite".