Dear Gerry Robinson

The head of Granada has launched a bid for Forte and is set to become the new 'Milk Bar King'
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The Independent Online
You have launched the biggest take-over in British catering history. As they say in Coronation Street, that product most readily associated in the public's mind with your company, Granada, "Well done, chuck". You have bid pounds 3.4bn for the Forte Group, which represents an awful lot of television rentals, motorway service station sandwiches and sales of Bet Gilroy memorial drinking mugs.

But it is worth it. Forte is an extraordinary company, reflecting the character of its founder, Lord Forte of Ripley. A short, pugilistic man of uncertain temper, Forte built an empire from the most unlikely of powerbases: a milk bar in London's Regent Street. Using the money generated by selling cholesterol to war-ravaged Londoners, Forte began hoovering up other catering conglomerates. By the Seventies, owning everything from the Cafe Royal to the catering concession at Heathrow, he was in a position to make his lasting mark on British culture. Which he did with the introduction of unopenable cartons of UHT milk, the popularisation of those metal tea- pots that infallibly deposit most of their contents in the saucer and, his most generous gift of all, the development of the Little Chef restaurant chain, a facility to fire the spirit of Prime Ministers.

But like many great men, Forte possessed a heroic flaw: a craving to be accepted by the Establishment, which he attempted by buying that rich man's plaything, the posh hotel. He hated it when, during his bitter take-over of the Trusthouse group in the Seventies, he was referred to as "the Milk Bar King"; he loathed it when, during his attempted buy- out of the Savoy group, his company was dismissed as "not at all suitable to run hotels of the calibre of the Savoy".

Wisely you appear not to be interested in the posh hotels in the Forte crown. Once you've secured the group, you intend to off-load them. You know that posh hotels are not nice big earners like motorway service stations. Posh hotels, for instance, require highly trained, thus highly expensive, staff; those of us who use them will have noticed that Little Chefs don't. You recognise that, in the business parlance, there is no synergy between owning the Georges V in Paris and the Forte Travelodge on the A1 roundabout south of Doncaster.

Besides, you have little time for the Establishment. You showed that when you took over at Granada and removed the august David Plowright as head of programmes, to wails of disapproval from the liberal classes.

But now you are on the point of becoming the biggest caterer in Britain, could you spare us one thing? Please don't be tempted to appear in one of those commercials extolling the virtues of American Express, as Rocco Forte, Lord Forte's son, did. Forte Junior's accent, a tortured re-tread of the Prince of Wales, eloquently said all that was needed to be said about a family set on belonging. Remain silent, keep the wife out of Tatler, and I pledge to up my Little Chef all-day breakfast consumption from three to five a week.

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