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  1. Wealth
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August 4, 2010

Allan Shiach

By Spear's

I was politely asked to step down from the Board of a public company a few years ago. My crime? Being an independent member of that Board for too long

I WAS POLITELY asked to step down from the Board of a public company a few years ago. My crime? Being an independent member of that Board for too long. Just at the point where I had finally achieved a full understanding of every detail of the business, I was deemed to be ‘an insider’ and therefore unable to make objective decisions. It is one of the charms of this country that we devise bureaucracies to put forward insane rules in order to prevent imagined dangers at the expense of real value.
I WAS REMINDED of this company when talking about economic indicators. My secret best indicator of the condition of the national economy was entirely based on a glance at the classified advertising of a newspaper we owned. When the economy is headed for a tumble, fewer job opportunties are advertised. Conversely, in a rising economy, the tide of classifieds piles up on the beach of a newpaper’s classified section, forecasting better times ahead. It is a useful little secret.

My suspicion, though I cannot confirm it for apparent reasons, is that the price of call girls is probably another leading economic indicator. Aside from some rare beauty, I suspect that working girls today charge more or less the same as five years ago. This under-studied sector of the economy is relevant because it presumably reflects the ‘cash economy,’ always a useful indicator to those who take these matters seriously. I propose a hooker index. Just don’t let the hookers or Harriet Harman know. The first are surely too mercenary to miss an opportunity worth exploiting. The second is determined that all sex for sale is the ineluctable consequence of human trafficking.

I actually think it’s quite useful to have politicians who are not much involved in the real world. It leaves them free to think Big Thoughts and come up with Grand Solutions.
I BECAME CHAIRMAN of Macallan-Glenlivet, the whisky distiller, in an era when City institutions saw their business as identifying and supporting companies likely to produce capital value and income. From the moment the first US investment bank opened in the City, the era of money-shuffling and executive-rewarding began.

It was smarter to put a company into play and manipulate the outcome than to find a business worth investing in. This alone caused the banking crisis and will cause the next one as inevitably as tragedy. Ministers might hark to a Hearst newspaper editorial which once said that if bad institutions ‘can be got rid of only by killing, then the killing must be done.’
I WAS ASKED the other day if I could hazard what it is about Richard Littlejohn and Piers Morgan and Andrew Neil that makes them so unappealing?

The fact that they are journalists is surely not the key since there are perfectly charming journalists in the world. Perhaps it’s that assertive confidence in their opinions? Or is it the lust for fame at any expense? I think not. My belief is that there is a chill heart in certain journalists and this is the driver of their character, a willingness to keep the foot in the door until something quotable has been yielded.

Little did we know that this training lasts into the twilight of media life.
THAT WONDERFUL FILM Nothing Sacred has a Ben Hecht line of dialogue which I relish. ‘Newspapermen? The hand of God reaching down into the mire couldn’t elevate one of them to the depths of degradation. Not by a mile.’
I REMEMBER MY friend Willie Donaldson — wit, author and consort of low life — once telling me that Richard Ingrams, with whom he had a long public tussle, would state a scurrilous opinion about someone from the safety of the published page but would never have the guts to make the same allegation in person. I thought Willie scored a goal with a letter in which he spoke of Ingrams as being ‘a closet heterosexual’.
AS ONE OF the producers and writers of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, I have been involved lately in putting the show together for its Broadway debut. The legendary Nederlanders are our partners in this and when asked why, of all the shows they might choose, they plucked our humble offering, they replied that they had rarely come across a show with such good word-of-mouth. It is true that audiences leave just bursting with pleasure at its simple vulgarity, humour and cracking singalong musical score.

(Check for yourself on And if you have a spare hundred thousand to invest in NY, don’t call me because that would almost certainly be a breach of US rules which, for Broadway, are lot stricter than for a Wall Street IPO. Now you know who the SEC really trusts.)
DESPITE THE FACT that he turned down the opportunity to star in the best West End play so far this century, I declare that Jack Dee is a genius. I borrowed a line of his with which to conclude the eulogy at a friend’s funeral. The deceased was active in opposing pollution of his local water table. Speaking of this fact, I purloined Dee’s remark that there was so much oestrogen in the water these days that ‘You have to tell it how nice it looks before it’ll come out of the tap.’

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