Labour Research, the independent trade union organisation, examined 106 such payments and said that the trend for bigger awards was still on the increase.
The "golden handshakes" amounted to a staggering pounds 49,066,616, producing an average pay-off of pounds 462,893. Six of the pay-offs were for more than pounds 1m.
Jim Fifield of the music publisher EMI led the table with a largest ever pay-off from a UK company. He received pounds 12.42m when he resigned from the EMI board and as president and chief executive of its US business, EMI music, in April this year, after 10 years with the group.
The record company paid Mr Fifield pounds 6.27m for the early termination of his contract plus a retirement contribution of pounds 6.15m.
Taking our Mr Fifield's payment reduces the average pay-off to pounds 349,015 but even this figure represents a 6.5 per cent increase on last year's average of pounds 327,771. Last month, Labour Research said that executives earning over pounds 500,000 in publicly listed companies received average pay rises of 14.6 per cent.
The organisation claims that its latest survey shows how private companies are failing to heed government calls to show more restraint on executive pay, and that the trend for big pay-offs for departing executives is continuing.
Second to Mr Fifield comes Richard Oster, who received pounds 2,950,902 when he resigned as chairman of Cookson, the Anglo-American ceramics and electronics group he had built up over the past 20 years.
He left following his move up to chairman of the group when "it became evident that it was not working out," as the replacement chairman Robert Malpas put it. Observers claimed the surprise departure was down to a personality clash with other members of the board.
Alastair Lyons, who was chief executive of National & Provincial Building Society before its takeover by Abbey National, subsequently left in April 1997 knowing he already had another job, as head of the National Provident Institution, to go to in the summer. Nevertheless Mr Lyons got a pounds 1,234,822 golden handshake from Abbey National.
Bill Harrison was similarly fortunate. He resigned as chief executive of BZW, the investment banking arm of Barclays Bank, in the spring of 1997 after less than a year in the post, pocketing pounds 946,000. Mr Harrison then popped up in another well paid job in the City, at Deutsche Morgan Grenfell.
Many top executives receive big payouts when their companies merge with other businesses. Roger Taylor resigned as executive vice chairman of Royal & Sun Alliance this spring, taking pounds 794,000 with him, following the merger of Royal Life and Sun Alliance.
More bizarrely, Michael Toulmin resigned from the board of United News & Media, the newspaper group that owns the Express, in December 1996.
Mr Toulmin did not get the traditional golden handshake but remained as an employee of the company "without duties" and was paid pounds 211,210 in pay and benefits last year, or over pounds 4,000 a week.
Jim Fifield, an American, was educated at Southern Methodist University. He joined EMI Music 10 years ago, and for the five years before that was head of CBS Fox, the American media group. He started his career with a 20-year stint at General Mills, an American conglomerate that makes blue jeans and other clothing. He is a trustee of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.
Based Rhode Island, Richard Oster set up his own company to supply the jewellery trade in New York with raw materials. Having made his first fortune, he came to the UK in the 1980s and bought Lead Industries, a lead refiner, and changed its name to Cookson. He built Cookson into a supplier of printed circuit boards. He left after falling out with fellow directors.
Having received his pay-off from National & Provincial, Alastair Lyons is now chief executive of National Provident, which put itself up for sale yesterday. The insurer could fetch between pounds 1.3bn and pounds 1.8bn.
This raises the prospect of Mr Lyons getting another huge pay-off if he leaves, or a juicy job as a condition of his staying as an employee of the new owner.
Bill Harrison, a straight talking native of Birmingham, was chief executive of BZW, the stockbroking and merchant banking arm of Barclays, when Barclays left that high-risk area last year. Mr Harrison joined Deutsche Morgan Grenfell to head the UK part of the German-owned investment bank. After a few weeks he was switched to client work.
When Royal Insurance and Sun Alliance merged a couple of years ago Roger Taylor was chief executive of Sun Alliance, and Richard Gamble was his opposite number at Royal. They were both architects of the merger, and then tried to share the top job. This didn't work, and the board combined the top roles at the end of last year. Both men left, Mr Taylor with pounds 794,000.
Michael Toulmin was chairman of United News & Media's local newspaper group UPN, which included the Yorkshire Post. In April 1996 United merged with MAI. Mr Toulmin was in a consortium which failed in its bid for the local newspaper chain. Stephen Grabiner was brought in to run United's local and national newspapers, and Mr Toulmin resigned.Reuse content