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A year is a long time in business, too

IN THE run-up to last year's general election, 43 leading businessmen wrote a letter to the Times urging the country to vote Conservative. During the previous 12 years, the Tories had been responsible for a 'reappearance of a spirit of enterprise . . . dramatic improvements in productivity . . . substantial inward investment'. Keep them in power, the letter said, and the spirit of enterprise would 'bring growing prosperity to Britain in the Nineties'.

What a difference a year makes. When that letter was signed just over a year ago, none of the signatories - an earl, two peers, 13 knights, a banker, manufacturers, and several hoteliers - anticipated the extent of the recession and its effect on British industry. Certainly not John Bairstow, chairman and joint managing director of Queens Moat Houses, one of Europe's largest hotel operators, who later claimed that his experiences under a Labour government had soured him for all time.

He is feeling pretty sour at the moment, however. Two days ago, share dealings in Queens Moat were suspended after the collapse of a refinancing deal. A few months ago, he was asked whether he regretted signing the letter, and he admitted that the Government had been rightly criticised. His language may be a touch stronger now.

FIRMS such as Queens Moat Houses may be interested in a lecture by Jackie Kernaghan to British travel agents later this month. Or would have been, if she hadn't pulled out of the convention in Majorca after the collapse of her own company, Riva Travel. She would have wowed the delegates with 'How to promote your business


Kingdom come

SOME time this summer, probably in June, something royal is going to happen. Don't stop reading. It won't be in this country, and it won't involve either of those young women.

Anyone educated at Bradfield College or Cambridge in the Seventies may remember Ronald Mutebi, a pleasant man who wanted to be a lawyer.

That was not his only ambition, however. As his childhood friends will remember, his father was King Freddy, Kabaka Mutesa II, the first president of Buganda, who was overthrown by Prime Minister Milton Obote in 1966, and died two years later in London.

With Obote and Amin around, the chances of the young Mutebi, now 38, acceding to his throne were non-existent. But things have loosened up. A man at the Ugandan High Commission told us yesterday that there was a 'strong possibility' that Mutebi would be crowned, given his government's concession to allow him back as long as he didn't meddle in state politics.

IT MAY work, but we doubt it. The following card probably won't last long in this telephone box, let alone the contents of the money box, but this is what it says: 'To the would-be thief. This telephone is rented privately from British Telecom. It is connected to a computerised security circuit and the money is removed each night. But here is a further word of advice: turn to Jesus, not to crime.' The location: Devil's Bridge, Dyfed.

Green shoots

RING the eminent merchant banker Robin Herbert at home, and you'll be a long time on the phone. 'This is the butler speaking. May I take a message? Mr Herbert is in the garden.' Fine, you think, until the butler tells you he may not see his master for some time because it's rather a large garden (or estate in this case.)

But it's only to be expected, you say, of a man who is also president of the Royal Horticultural Society. He is soon to leave after nine years and a new man, Sir Simon Hornby, chairman of W H Smith, will take over in November.

Sir Simon has several large gardens - so he'll also presumably be difficult to get to the phone. But that's at home. At work, he is accessible to all. And so are the RHS publications that he will soon be responsible for. The society's publications take pride of place on special promotion shelves in Sir Simon's own shops, and there are several flattering references to them in the W H Smith catalogue.

'Unrivalled for clarity and sheer elegance' (Encyclopedia of Gardening) is just one of many examples. The RHS says W H Smith's bookselling capacity had nothing to do with the decision to nominate Sir Simon as president. We're not suggesting that it did. It's just rather handy, that's all.

THE ANNUAL 1 April newspaper game went a bit awry yesterday (we knew it would, which is why we didn't take part). In its round-up, the Guardian falsely accused the Telegraph of fabricating a story about the world's first flying moth-collecting machine, and our own paper for lying about the discovery of the 3,000-year-old home of Asterix. No doubt about one of the Guardian's April Fools: an interview with Stella Rimington by its ace intelligence reporter, Eugene Ivanov.


2 April 1884 Edmond Goncourt writes in his journal: 'Zeze Daudet came here today with his father. He wanted to cut the goldfish with the pruning-shears, he tried to pull off all the rhododendron buds without being seen and he did his best to wreak havoc wherever his little hand could reach; and when he had broken or destroyed something, his face shone with happiness. I had already met this instinct for destruction, in perhaps an even fiercer, more inhuman, more frenzied form, in a child as beautiful and intelligent as Zeze, the little Behaine, who died from meningitis. In that child jubilation over the breaking up of things had something diabolical about it. I had observed the same weird appetite for the annihilation of objects in another child, Pierre Gavarni's little boy. But the latter having a quiet, gentle, orderly nature, always asked permission to destroy.'