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Licensed to thrill in the Lords

The name's Howe, Geoffrey Howe. One glint of his glasses and women faint. Taunt him with the jibe of being savaged by a dead sheep and he will throw his dry sherry, shaken not stirred, in your face. Lord Howe is the one, the only, holder of the passport numbered 007.

Douglas Hurd, the former foreign secretary, has, as I reported some time ago, nabbed the chief prize of passport number 001. But Lord Howe's is probably the one that all Cabinet ministers secretly sought.

All except one, that is. The 007 films may have embraced a female M. But could the numbers 007 have accompanied the picture of a female prime minister? It seems not. At the launch of a report on opening our doors to EU travellers yesterday, Lord Howe disclosed that his 007 number had been offered first to the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who declined.

Probably very wisely. By now the much travelled Lady T would have heard the same joke from every immigration officer. Mind you, whether the non cinema-going, non fiction-reading former prime minister would have known who James Bond was is another matter.

A breathtaking schedule

Bill Houghton, principal trumpet for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, is expending considerable stocks of the proverbial puff this week. He is playing in Germany on Friday night, flies home on Saturday and runs in the London Marathon on Sunday. As soon as the race finishes, he flies back to rejoin the German tour to use whatever puff he has left in the final concert that same night.

Follow the fat cats - and watch the fur fly

Fighting talk from the new Sunday business newspaper, entitled - with great perspicacity - the Sunday Business.

Pre-launch, staff gathered in the founder Tom Rubython's Marylebone flat for a rousing pep talk before next Sunday's launch. Rubython, you will recall, was the former founder of Business Age magazine - and as such earned a certain notoriety for the staggering regularity of his appearances in the libel courts. The magazine reportedly had to put aside pounds 6,000 a week just to cover its editor's somewhat daring interpretations of defamation laws.

Undaunted by this trail of litigious encounters, Rubython introduced the assembled staff to his "hot shot" lawyer. "Any doubts about a story, folks - this is your man!" he assured them. And to prove it, he put his money where his mouth is: a cool pounds 5,000 for the first Sunday Business journalist to "nail a fat cat".

It is hard to say who will be more worried by the challenge - Britain's fat cats, or the Sunday Business lawyer.

Orange controversy could prove fruitful

The judges of the new women-only fiction prize may not have thought much of the overall entries - judge and novelist Susan Hill, you will remember, said the quality of entries was "abysmal, terrible". But the prize's sponsor is happy, almost. Orange, the mobile phone company, which is sponsoring the pounds 30,000 prize, confirmed to me that the agreement is "potentially" a three-year sponsorship but there is a clause for a revaluation a month after the prize is awarded. That sounds like a warning note.

But there is a silver lining. Orange's head of public relations, Mark Humphrey, added: "It is looking very encouraging. The Booker Prize has written congratulating us on the amount of coverage; we've had more than they get in 10 years."

HM Customs, simply the best

I receive a note headed "Important Message" from those considerate chaps at HM Customs and Excise. Ever helpful, they are simplifying the VAT regulations. The message reads: "As a deregulatory measure, the implementation of the Second VAT Simplification Directive has changed the definition for the treatment of processing work from goods to services."

If only all of life were so simple.

Eagle Eye

No FT flight, no comment

Sir Peter de la Billiere once described the brotherhood of defence correspondents as "a sort of first 11 among British journalists". Like any elite society, it has its initiation ceremonies, one of which is the delight of being flown across the countryside by the Royal Air Force at 500mph, 250 feet above the ground, in a fast combat jet, such as a Jaguar (above) or Tornado, experiencing sensations ranging from sheer terror to a "digestive event". Such fine lads and lasses take it all on the chin, of course. But one newspaper the RAF could definitely not frighten was the Financial Times. Bernard Gray, its defence correspondent for some time, finally came up for his flight in a two-seater Jaguar. Until they put him on the scales. Regrettably, the RAF said, the well-built Mr Gray was too large for the ejector seat. These heavyweight newspapers ...