23 DECEMBER 1972, Page 33

Skinflint's City Diary

It is hard to believe that there is such an absence of originality and creative power Within the Department of Trade and Industry as to prevent further funds being directed to Mr Tom Fellow's Tracked Hovercraft Limited, who have almost spent the E5+ million allocated for the development of the Hovertrain. Much more money should be available for this far-seeing venture. Admittedly there is the dead weight of British Railways' judgment against any move from steel rails.

When Richard Marsh was appointed to head British Railways I thought that the country might have found its Dr Todt. It would not be long, so I thought, before he would be drawing up a forty year plan to rebuild the tracked transport system of Britain as a nation-wide programme of linear city-like development. Once these ideas were developed I thought Richard Marsh would stand for a stubbornness and lack of conciliation from the vetoing powers of the politicians and the Treasury. He appeared to me to have the energies of mind and an intense absorption in the matters in hand in spite of missing, rather obviously, the chance of producing ephemeral tracts and pamphlets that' we have become accustomed to expecting as a guide to larger plans.

Richard Marsh does not appear to have that open wilfulness (in spite of accepting Lord Melchett as Sir George Weidenfeld's nomination to head British Steel) to reac'n his ends when more placable methods used have failed. He appears to sustain simultaneously a pair of opinions, the modernising of British Railways and the rejection of a fundamentally different transportation system, that are ludicrously incompatible.

J. Paul Getty

J. Paul Getty, the head of Tidewater Oil, With a host of interests and possibly the richest man in the world, has had the Closest association with, and many friends in, this country which he has chosen to make his home for the last twenty years.

He is a kindly open man liked by everyone I have met who knows him. Last week was his eightieth birthday and he allowed Margaret Argyll, who is far nicer than most people believe and has had her share of troubles, poor dear, to arrange his birthday party. As the years have passed Paul Getty has become a Will Rogers of business with some spontaneous deeply-thought homily for the moment; when he was the underbidder for a major North Sea concession he said, ruefully, "It is hard to argue with the highest bid." His interest in great art is more sincerely held (without self-interest) than he admits. Three or four years ago he accepted an invitation from Humphry Berkeley to a reception for the United Nations Association given in the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall. Since he appeared lost on entering the packed room and did not immediately recognise anyone and as I had met him on certain occasions in the past, I mumbled something about Humphry Berkeley and the United Nations Association. "I came for the ceiling," he replied looking long and intently at Rubens's work. "Wonderful," he said, leaving without troubling Humphry, who I am sure had been looking forward to something substantial for the United Nations.

Penny foolish

I hope we have not seen the last of Penny Brahms of the "Shilling and, five nude photos" will case. She is always worth a glance and was a real tonic for readers of the Sun and News of the World.

The authorities are said to be looking for the barrister Ronald Shulman to help them in their enquiries. They have searched South America but not found Shulman who was once married to Sir Basil Samuel's daughter and lived in Chester Square, but there is a chance that they may find him in Reading if they care to look. Someone who knew him by sight has been saying he noticed him there a couple of weeks ago.

Steel again

It is encouraging to hear that the British Steel Corporation plans to concentrate steel production in massiVe units close to deep water ports and to start phasing out such places as Ebbw Vale, which impose uneconomic transportation costs, have been cleared with the Prime Minister who has insisted on an extension to the time scale to avoid immediate unemployment.

Lord Melchett has been singularly unfortunate in finding a new career as Chairman of BSC, in which he 'has become even less distinguished than as someone in a merchant bank. He suffers so one hears, from violent fluctuations of mood, passing from foolhardy self assertion to abject dejection in spite of having the reassurance in such trifles as fleet of aircrafts and the exotic trappings of a merchant prince. During his term as Chairman marred by the set-back of serious personal ill health and appalling corporate loss he has not once appeared to the public to be taking the calm steady view.

The forward movement of BSC s plans appears welcome. All we may hope is that Peter Walker has them scanned with special diligence by a team from right outside the BSC or the ministries. We cannot afford to be wrong again.

Silver and gold

Green's Commodity Market Comments is a bi-weekly review published by the Economic News Agency of New York owned and edited by Charles Stahl who I meet occasionally when he visits England. He has traditionally taken, with some justification one may say, a conspiracy theory anti-establishment view of the gold and silver bullion markets, often arguing that the market in silver at any rate, in the United States, is manipulated by four or five silver buyers. This month Stahl mentions that silver stocks, and, for that matter, gold stocks held by bullion dealers in London are a tightly kept secret. London dealers privately estimate that United Kingdom silver stocks are in the range of 110-130 million ounces. Charles Stahl disagrees strongly, estimating the stocks at 69.6 million ounces, and that applying the 1972 rate of disappearance to 1973 that silver stocks will be fully exhausted next year.

A wonderful thought for the punter and I wish it was likely to be true. However, like the attempted pepper corner between the Wars there is a catch somewhere. I don't know where it is but I am not going to be pulled into silver futures again and I shall wait to see the reappearance on cue of disappearing silver.