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Butlers in comeback by Mike Bennett From global retailer to Victorian victualler in one fell swoop. That's the fate of the 2,000 managed houses...

Butlers in comeback by Mike Bennett From global retailer to Victorian victualler in one fell swoop. That's the fate of the 2,000 managed houses operated by Six Continents, which has paved the way for its retail division to become a stand-alone operation in two months time by announcing the new name for it this week. The "back-to-the-future" decision to go with Mitchells & Butlers ­ founded in Birmingham in 1898 ­ appears to have caught everyone on the hop. "Too regional, too old," was trade consultant Phil Dixon's fear. Certainly, there are hundreds of down-at-heel pubs around the Midlands still carrying the M&B name, but long since sold off to other operators. "I wonder if the trendy young things running All Bar Ones up and down the country will be happy being associated with two hairy old blokes from the 19th century. Mind you, it's a damned sight better than some phoney Latin name," Dixon added. He was referring to Diageo, the child of the GrandMet/Guinness merger of the mid-1990s, and Consignia, the ill-fated and now abandoned title of the Post Office. 6C, still headquartered in England's second city, insisted reaction had been "overwhelmingly positive, everybody here loves it". But then the name may never see the light of day. Widespread expectation among industry professionals and City analysts continues that the pubs and bars business is just as likely to be swallowed up by a rival operator or a grouping of venture capitalists as soon as its true value is made known. And that's likely to be around the £3.5bn mark. But if it does survive­any chance it could be associated with the kind of "flat cap and ferrets" image of the old-time pubgoer? "Certainly not in the Midlands, where they were giants of vertical integration," said Laurel chief executive Ian Payne. "I worked for M&B for nine years and I've got a tremendous amount of affection for the name. It's real and it doesn't end in ia.' "But I suppose the test will be how it goes down in, say London, where the name isn't known at all. "If I were them, I'd just keep to the trading names like Ember Inns and keep M&B as the corporate entity." Universally loathed or not, Six Continents will, however, remain in existence. It's set to become the title of the international hotels business ­ the other half of the demerger. But maybe that will have to change in time. For, as geophysical pedants were quick to point out, there is a seventh continent ­ Antarctica. "Back to the drawing board if we do ever open a Holiday Inn in downtown Antarctica City sometime in the 22nd century!" quipped one 6C insider. Names that don't always appeal DIAGEO ­ Codded-up Latin name which appears to mean "we are everywhere." Unveiled when GrandMet and Guinness merged. SIX CONTINENTS ­ Butt of many a joke ­ "Sick and Incontinent", for example ­ when launched as the new moniker for the Bass Retail business in 2001. SCOTTISH COURAGE ­ Sniffily dismissed by one industry wag as "sounding like an insurance company or a racehorse" when the new merged beer business of S&N and Courage first saw the light of day in 1995. SPIRIT ­ In-house competition led to a name which "rightly expresses what the company is about", according to chief executive Karen Jones when the managed house operator was demerged from Punch.

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