The sorry tale of an aristocrat on his uppers

BUNHILL

THE impoverished aristocrat is a bit of a cliche - and a suspicious cliche, too. If you are a lord, you just have to turn up at the House for a day to claim your pounds 132 allowance.

Unless, that is, you are an Irish lord, as John de Courcy, Lord Kingsale, is. His pedigree is impeccable: the 35th Baron Kingsale is descended from another John de Courcy, who conquered Ulster and was Governor of Ireland from 1185 to 1200. John is Premier Baron of Ireland and has a page and a half in Debrett's to prove it.

By the time he was born, in 1941, the family had gone through a "long downhill struggle", he says. The castle near Cork was 15 inches high at its tallest point, and the only money came from an oils-distilling company his father had sensibly married into. John went to Stowe and on to the Irish Guards, before trying his hand at business. Now he is living in a council flat in Somerset without a telephone.

What went wrong? Well, like one of the less successful PG Wodehouse characters (Ukridge comes to mind), he did a bit of this and a bit of that, and each time ended up with a bit less. It did not help that the factory went bust in the 1960s. But the real villain is his public school education. "It's no training for making a living," he says.

He did a bit of publishing, joining up with his cousin Kenneth de Courcy, Duc de Grantmesnil (who is worth a few Bunhills on his own). Through Kenneth, he is still director of d'Olier Grantmesnil and Courcy Acquisitions and the Marquis de Verneuil Trust. He is also director of the rather less exotic off-licence chain Bin Ends.

In Australia in the late 1980s he started a dating agency called Banaid (because you had to have an Aids test to get on the list). Then he he put his money into property on islands off Brisbane; then he got bored. "I do things for as long as I need them."

None of these produced much bunce. Sadly, another of his schemes produced too much. He invented the concept of the White Hunter at Woburn Abbey and sold the idea to the Duke of Bedford."We paid him pounds 1,000 and made pounds 2,000 on the first bank holiday," he says. "He bought the contract in- house."

He is now, he says, "failing to make a living as occasional journalist," but has some hope that his Irish estate - almost two acres with the 15- inch high castle - will be bought by the developer of an adjoining golf course.

He is about to start writing a column for a new computerised service called UK Online, which has its headquarters near his flat. He admits his best act is to play the impoverished aristocrat: the trouble is, it isn't an act.

I SPOTTED the following item in Design magazine. John Towers, the excellent chief executive of Rover, admits: "I have dark suits, light suits, grey suits, blue suits, but I always wear the same colour of red tie. I don't know why . . ." This is the strangest thing I have learnt about anyone for a long time. What can it mean? Perhaps a psychologist can let me know?

Wider throw of dice

IF YOU are a regular Perudo player, you are either a member of an exclusive media set that wafts around the Groucho Club in Soho, or you have bought a set from WH Smith. But you probably do not live far from London, because few copies of the Aztec dice game have been sold outside the capital.

That changes from next week when Hasbro, the enormous American company, relaunches the game. It has bought the licence from Cosmo Fry, scion of the Turkish Delight family, who discovered it in Peru (where it is called Dudo) while travelling with his chum Alfredo Ferandini. The enigmatic Alfredo owns 2 Brydges Place, a cosy club near Charing Cross; Perudo became a cult there and within a year its fame had spread several hundred yards north and west.

Hasbro hopes the game could be the next Trivial Pursuit. Parents should purse their lips: you win Perudo only if you are a terrific liar.

I NOTE that Wagamama, a "Japanese-style noodle bar" in Bloomsbury, London, has successfully stopped City Centre Restaurants calling a new chain Rajamama. This is good - I would take action against anyone called themselves Tubhill, Cobhill or even Breadhill or Bunmountain. But what the judge should really have banned, surely, is the food that CCR proposes to assault us with at the chain-that-is-not-Rajamama. This is described as "American-influenced curry". What can it be? Onion bhaji and ketchup? Pumpkin pie tandoori? Chicken tikka massala with large fries? My mind is still boggling.

Top of the tycoons

I ASKED you last week to come up with names for pop groups run by tycoons. Lots of you did (thank you), though most stuck to the three I suggested: Brown, Branson and Greenbury. Thus Cedric Brown's backing groups included the Perkettes, the Gas Cats and the Greeds. Richard Branson had the Virgin Queens, the Vestals and the Picklejars. Sir Richard Greenbury did quite well with Big Richard and the Options (or variations on same).

I liked the idea of the Governor of the Bank of England fantasising about higher interest rates with Eddie and the Dreamers and an inspired (and splendidly irrelevant) suggestion for three politicians from the early 1980s: Ian Gilmour, Francis Pym and Norman St John Stevas in Wet, Wet, Wet.

But the winner of Bunhill's fizziest must be Katie Stallard of Huddersfield, who launched a stream of consciousness with: "I saw Harvey-Jones and the Troubleshooters recently; their version of 'Tie a Multicoloured Ribbon Round the Old Man's Neck' was incredible . . ." She goes on to recall the reformed Gerry and the Crapmakers, Greenbury and the Share Option Schizos, and points out that Benetton and the Advertisers have had their famous single Picture This re-released many times with mixed success. "Cedric Brown and his combo 'The Minimal Wage' had been going along steadily until a bust-up at their latest gig in London," she reports, and ends: "Well, it's time to go and watch Murdoch the Media Mogul and his Million Minions."

QUITE soon British Airways will announce its staff are being given a more casual look. Market research, I am told, shows that BA people are regarded as stuffy when compared with Virgin's lot (who all have goatee beards).

I'm not sure this is wise. I liked it when BA's "personality girls" had rouged cheeks and were deliberately unreal - a bit like the royal family.

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