Blackhurst's diary: In which our diarist diagnoses the cause of Bob Ayling's fall at BA, commiserates with under-appreciated inventor Willy Johnson and confesses his sins as a tipster

Blackhurst's diary: In which our diarist diagnoses the cause of Bob Ayling's fall at BA, commiserates with under-appreciated inventor Willy Johnson and confesses his sins as a tipster - THE STABILISER THAT AYLING LACKED

by CHRIS BLACKHURST, deputy editor, The Express
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010


While they were colleagues at British Airways, Lord King, the BA chairman, and Lord Marshall, its chief executive, never seemed to get on. They were chalk and cheese: King the robust visionary; Marshall the quiet technocrat.

In a recent article in the BA pensioners' magazine, Marshall talks about the airline's history and his own contribution to it, with scarcely a mention of King. This has infuriated King's friends. As the conversation turns to the forced departure of Bob Ayling, BA's chief executive, King's views are typically trenchant and, perhaps inevitably, centre on Ayling being exposed and isolated, without a strong chairman above him.

When King went as chairman, Marshall wanted to step into his shoes - but as a hands-on executive chairman, with Ayling taking Marshall's job.

Sir Michael Angus, a senior BA non-executive board member, strongly resisted the proposal. Angus had firm opinions on corporate governance and structures and did not see the need for both an executive chairman and a chief executive.

Marshall became chairman but was free to go off to sit on other boards, which he duly did - in droves. Unlike Marshall, who could always talk to King (and see his ideas rejected long before they took off), Ayling had no such sounding board. If only Ayling had been able to turn to King, say the former chairman's supporters, things might have been so, so different.


Nine years ago, I interviewed an inventor called Willy Johnson. He lived in a flat in Chiswick, West London, and was trying to stir up interest in a device 'to do for television what the Walkman has done for hi-fi'.

He made me wear a pair of ski goggles (the lenses were blacked out and the screen was on the inside of the goggles) and put on a video of The Magnificent Seven. I was entranced. Yul Brynner and his cohorts, and the sound of hooves and gunfire was all around. Johnson named his gadget Gogglevox.

We met up again the other day. Before lunch in a London hotel he took me to his room. This time the film was Armageddon and again the effect was quite brilliant, like watching the movie on a 52-inch screen. Now produced by Olympus, the Gogglevox has become Eye-Trek, a sleek, lightweight headset complete with tiny earpieces.

Today Johnson lives in Guernsey, a tax exile worth at least pounds 200 million.

His tale of how he failed to interest British manufacturers and went to Japan, where he was welcomed with open arms, is depressing. In this country he was viewed as an eccentric; in Japan he was revered. His product has just gone on sale in British shops.

His company, Durand Technology, employs 30 and is developing other projects, notably E-larm, a method of making valuable e-documents and internet transactions secure that is being developed with the Bank of England.

That should guarantee British financial backing. Don't count on it. The Japanese and Americans are circling: 'Who would think this country invented the steam engine? Whatever happened to British management's creativity and risk-taking?' asks Johnson. Whatever did happen to it?


The Mirror share-buying scandal reminds me of my own experience as a stock tipster. As a City editor I was expected to tip shares. Reluctantly, I agreed. I need not have worried for lack of material. As soon as the first column appeared I was inundated, with every PR under the sun pumping some obscure company or other. Like a lemon, I fell for their spiel and tipped away quite happily (without buying as well). I had a rude awakening, however, when my mother rang in a rage. She had just been accosted in Marks & Spencer by an old family friend who had followed one of my tips and put in all her life savings, only to see the share price plummet.

Could I imagine my mother's embarrassment? I could, and I stopped. Then I had the bright idea of starting a 'regional share of the week', getting regional stockbrokers to recommend a company in their area. Unlike City firms, they would really know who, on their patch, was worth following.

This went well until someone pointed out just how keen one or two of the stockbrokers were to participate. Close inspection revealed that, instead of applying independent analysis, they were promoting companies in which they themselves had an interest ...


Two talks on managing a national newspaper. One to Cardiff Journalism School and the other to Year 6 Primary. Despite the age difference, the questions were similar. One 10-year-old boy was terrier-like in his persistence. 'Is it true what my dad says, that your paper makes up stories?' Then, from the same boy: 'My dad says the ink rubs off your paper and it's very grey.' The school won't tell me the boy's name. When I find it, his dad should watch out.

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