UK: BLACKHURST'S DIARY. - In which our diarist reports on the Serb offensive on Scottish football, awaits the sale of our last arms maker, and spots a young gun in the computer game wars.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

In which our diarist reports on the Serb offensive on Scottish football, awaits the sale of our last arms maker, and spots a young gun in the computer game wars.

By CHRIS BLACKHURST, deputy editor of The Express.


Remember the name: Demis Hassabis. He is the ultimate computer genius kid, a 22-year-old already worth a paper fortune and poised to take the computer game world by storm. He is not at all nerdy, just the sort of lad who likes a pint in his Camden Town local. But don't be fooled by the casual, personable exterior. He's brilliant.

A chess master at 12 and then the highest ranked boy of his age in the world, he still plays Kasparov - for fun. Five years ago, he won a competition to work for a software-design studio. Too young to join full-time, he worked in the summer holidays and co-wrote Theme Park, one of the bestselling games of all time. Showered with multi-million-pound follow-up offers, Hassabis turned his back on commerce to go to Cambridge, where he gained a double first in computer science (naturally). Last year he formed a company called Elixir Studios in North London, with a group of friends.

Today, Elixir has 13 staff and has linked up with Eidos, producer of the mega-selling game Tomb Raider, to produce three new games. Such is the awe in which he is held that the industry is predicting Hassabis' first effort, soon to be unveiled, will be the biggest ever.


Even in war, business is business. A lawyer in Brussels, Giovanni di Stefano, has been in touch with newspapers on behalf of one Zeljko Raznatovic to complain about his treatment by the press. Raznatovic is better known as Arkan, the Serb businessman and paramilitary who has been indicted as a war criminal. And di Stefano is the same man who has been trying to buy Dundee United Football Club from Peter and Jimmy Marr, who were well along in negotiations to sell their 86% stake to di Stefano, despite his links with Arkan, who owns a team in Serbia. Mindful of public opinion, the Marrs now say that any deal is on hold, at least until the conflict ends. (Very decent of them). But then, even by its fierce standards, Scottish football may get its most terrifying boss to date.


Bafflement in Britain's Asian business community over the claim made on behalf of the billionaire Hinduja brothers that they give some £50 million a year to charity. 'Nearer £200,000 in this country - and even then it's with strings attached,' snorts a close observer of brothers Gopi and Sri, who quietly got UK citizenship last month. The word in the Asian community is the brothers were furious at how Labour had feted their rival, Swraj (now Lord) Paul, and they wanted something similar. Perish the thought that their donations were exaggerated to win favour. One presumes - I add quickly to avoid the wrath of a lawyer - the bulk of their giving is overseas.


Whatever happened to that breed vital to the wellbeing of British corporate life: the Scottish buccaneer? The recent sale by Tom Farmer of his Kwik-Fit empire to Ford was merely the latest in a line of disposals by once-proud Scots. In the past few months alone, Tom Hunter has sold his Sports Division retail chain to England's Dave Whelan and another bright Scots star, Richard Emmanuel, sold his DX Communications mobile phone business to Atlantic Power. Independence? The Scottish business community has long since given up the struggle.


To dinner with an official of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, who tells me his organisation is braced to fund the rebuilding of Yugoslavia, once peace is declared. And which companies stand to gain the business? Why, those like GEC and Racal, whose military products NATO is deploying, and whose civilian divisions are ready to rebuild radar and power systems.


While the politicians were waxing on at Westminster over Serbia, another defence issue was going unnoticed. It seems that the fate of Royal Ordnance, the last British manufacturer of rifle parts and propellants, is in the melting pot. Its owner, British Aerospace, my spies tell me, would quietly like to flog it to a German concern. And a surprising ally for BAe's intentions emerged in the shape of the Ministry of Defence, which appeared to be doing its utmost to see that Royal Ordnance has no future at all by recently placing a large order with a South African armaments group. MPs on the Defence Select Committee have belatedly woken up to the fact that British jobs are threatened. Fortunately for the Government, the corps of defence correspondents had been more than distracted, their attention occupied by falling bombs - many of which, ironically, were made by Royal Ordnance.

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