Former punks among MT's readership might remember Johnny Rotten's view of EMI, his one-time record label. 'It was all a frame,' he charmingly 'sang', 'they only did it 'cos of fame.' It was an EMI cock-up back at the tail end of 1976 that brought punk to the attention of the world when a PR operative unwisely substituted the Pistols for the indisposed members of Queen on a Bill Grundy ITV interview. This was the first time the great British public had ever heard the F word on prime-time television, and a legend was born. A few months later, Rotten was picked up carrying amphetamines and EMI dropped the hot Pistol potato, kissing goodbye, in the process, to the pounds 40,000 advance it had paid the group.
'They only did it 'cos of fame.' Certainly, EMI has enjoyed a fair bit of fame in the City over the past couple of years. And not all of it has been of the positive variety. While it lost sales and its share price dropped, the autocratic head, Sir Colin Southgate, became involved in brawls, first with his chosen successor Jim Fifield and then with Edgar Bronfmann of Seagram. Finally, last year, the leadership was handed to Eric Nicoli of United Biscuits, a man more familiar, it was muttered, with Hula Hoops and Jaffa Cakes than CDs. (He had been labelled 'the biscuit bungler' because of United Biscuits' poor market performance.)
City flak has been flying around Nicoli's ears ever since his appointment. Most observers considered him an unconvincing successor to the forceful Southgate. And cynics suggested that Nicoli's arrival was simply the latest tragi-comic episode in a boardroom soap opera that had left EMI, one of the jewels in corporate Britain, a lacklustre victim ripe for any predator. All the usual suspects were mentioned, from Disney's Michael Eisner to a sore Bronfmann or Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.