3 MAY 1975, Page 29

A fool and his money

The trouble-makers

Bernard Hollowood

I hear that many companies are being assailed by left-wing trouble-makers who buy one or two shares which entitle them to attend AGMs where they make things hot for the chairman and his colleagues.

This is not exactly a new ploy, though it is, I believe, more prevalent now than in the 'fifties when I was on the board of Snacker and Diplomatic Small Things Co (1928) Ltd.

Snacker's used to preface its Annual General Meeting with a slap-up buffet lunch and the first questions from the lefties invariably dealt with some aspect of this beanfeast. . . .

"Less than an hour ago," one of them said, "we were lacing into champagne and caviar and other ridiculously expensive luxury goodies. Who pays for this feast? The shareholders, the grossly underpaid workers, or the consumer of our products — in unnecessarily high prices? If some kind of repast is considered essential on these occasions — and some of us consider it a shocking waste — why not make it a tea and biscuits affair?"

Growls of approval from the speaker's buddies and a few hearhears. The chairman, his face flushed, leaned left and had a few words with the accountant.

"I am happy to tell you," he said at length, "that the cost of the buffet lunch is a legitimate deductible expense. Shareholders, workers and customers are unaffected. Perhaps I may remind the questioner that some of our shareholders travel many miles to attend this meeting. The least we can do is provide them with refreshments."

Three of the interlopers were instantly on their feet.

"If the luncheon is a deductible expense," said one, "it means that the Exchequer bears the cost and the Exchequer means the ordinary taxpayer. We are guzzling food and drink provided by the ordinary PAYE taxpayer and it's disgusting."

"I'd like to challenge the chairman's statement," said another, "about shareholders travelling long distances. There are thirteen of us present and we happen to know that seven of us come from either Croydon or Islington. I invite the remaining six to state how far they have travelled to get to this meeting."

One elderly lady said "Hampstead," but before the other five could pipe up the chairman inter "I am conducting this meeting," he said. "I happen to know that last year one shareholder came down from Ayrshire."

"Das Kapital," said a female trouble-maker, "was written in the British Museum by a German philosopher called Karl Marx (1818-1883), and in it he explained how capitalist greed would result in overproduction and acute poverty for the masses. The workers, he said, would be impoverished by exploitation and unable to buy the fruits of their own labour. Well, we have seen this happen at Snacker's where not one employee in twenty can possibly afford to buy our oscilloscopes and. ."

"Your question, please!" said the chairman. "This is all very interesting, I'm sure, but it is getting us nowhere."

Is that the same Marx who is buried in Highgate Cemetery?" said a female shareholder.

-The same," said a Marxist and my question is this: "Why is this company trading with the racist, capitalist pigs of America?"

The chairmen reminded the meeting that three of Snacker's directors were American and asked the Marxist to have the decency to withdraw his last remark. . . .

At another AGM a troublemaker made a personal attack on Jeremy Dukane, one of our directors. He said that work in the factory was held up and deliveries of exports delayed by incessant gossip concerning the morals of the director. Dukane's name had been linked with a number of wellknown socialite courtesans and it was common knowledge that he had been barred from the enclosure at Epsom, the front stalls at Drury Lane and the pavilion at the Oval.

"The workers of Snacker and Diplocket suffer by association with this rake," he said. "Most of them are deeply religious and belong to the Church of Latterday Righteousness and they are sorely troubled by rumours of licentiousness affecting one of their number. Snacker's is a family concern and the workers are ashamed of the delinquency of brother Dukane."

"We are not here to . ." began the chairman.

"I protest in the strongest possible . . ." said Dukane.

But the trouble-maker continued the assault and claimed that Dukane's amorous activities had been responsible for the breakdown of the milling machine in 'C' shop, the faulty stapling of nearly two million 'boulder' cards destined for Japan, five nervous breakdowns among girls in the fettling shed and a continuing shortfall in output.

In total silence Dukane left the hall and the meeting was adjourned for half an hour to allow those not privy to the details of the rumoured scandal to get 'with it.' A week or so later Dukane resigned his director-. ship to become chairman of the Benson Fountain of Moral Uplift with headquarters in Syracuse (USA) and Stockport.

I was involved only once in this trouble-making. That was in 1957 when there was a question about my car.

"I keep a close watch on com

pany property," said a particularly hairy shareholder, "and know all the registration numbers of our, cars by heart. Now the other day I spotted Mr Hollowood's car, an Austin 'Princess' (FR20016 XL) parked outside Barrett's Billiards Saloon in Greenwich. It was wearing `L'-plates and I put on my thinking cap. Was Mr H. teaching his son, if he had one, to drive and play snooker? Was the car out on hire with Mr H pocketing the rental?

"I waited for two hours and finally my patience was rewarded when Mr H stepped from the saloon with Miss Christie of the typing pool. They lit cigarettes and drove away, Mr H at the wheel, and I think an explanation is called for."

Fortunately, I was in the clear. told the meeting that I had been investigating a complaint that Snacker employees, from the dispatch department, were visiting the saloon in company time. Miss Christie had accompanied me to take notes of my findings. The car was my own and had not been paid for by the firm, and the 'L'-plates were in fact identity discs marked 'E' left over from the previous Saturday's rally of Sunbeam-Talbots. Heavy rain had happened to wash away two of the horizontal strokes of the 'E.'

As I sat down the top table burst into applause and there were murmurs of appreciation from the body of the hall.

Oddly enough, nobody mentioned my slip about the Sunbeam-Talbot and for once the trouble-makers had been put in their place.

Bernard Holiowood, formerly editor of Punch, writes this column weekly in The Spectator