Business

'With all due respect': Sir Philip runs the show

Sir Philip Green Image copyright Reuters

Former BHS owner Sir Philip Green has given evidence to the Business and the Work and Pensions select committees, which are investigating the demise of the 164-store group. The BBC's Jamie Robertson was in the room to witness the drama of the six-hour marathon.

The first thing you notice as former BHS owner Sir Philip Green walks into the Committee Room is the sun tan. Sir Philip has obviously been having more time in the sun than the MPs cross-questioning him.

Maybe they should get out more, though Monaco, where Sir Philip has his home might be a bit beyond their means. "I went there, I met the people, so I moved there," he replied when he was asked why he lived in the Mediterranean principality.

Oddly he mentioned nothing about its benevolent tax regime, which might, on reflection, have been the point of the question.

And then there were the hand gestures. MPs are remarkably static when they ask their questions, so when he threw his hands in the air and demanded of Richard Graham: "Are we in the same room? I don't think we are," there was a hint of the ham actor auditioning before a group of producers for a part in a Victorian melodrama.

And like every actor looking for a part, he wants to show due deference to his listeners.

"With due respect, sir," punctuates every other sentence. "Respectively sir." "With the greatest respect." And then he contradicts them, points at one MP and then another and waves his hands a little more.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption "Stop staring at me," Sir Philip tells Richard Fuller

But there is something else an actor does - control his audience. Sir Philip is working at it from the beginning. Halfway through an answer to Michelle Thompson, he turned on another MP, Richard Fuller, and told him to stop staring at him.

Mr Fuller looked a little hurt. And bearing in mind that there were 11 MPs all staring at him, it seemed a rather unreasonable request.

And what was his answer to the MPs questions? Well, there are a lot of "I don't remembers". It seems the appearance of large holes in BHS' pension fund slipped by unnoticed by the King of the High Street.

"I'm not running away," he cried. "I'm here voluntarily." Indeed, Sir Philip was very much there. He has what an actor might call, inadequately, "presence".

Then there was the sale of BHS to Mr Chappell, a former bankrupt, a racing driver and an associate of a known fraudster.

MP Richard Graham said that Sir Philip had described Mr Chappell as living in a fantasy land.

Sir Philip: "I did not."

Mr Graham insisted he had.

Sir Philip: "When did I say that?" and he looked around the room, his face a mask of astonishment, a man sorely maligned.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption 'When did I say that?' Sir Philip asks MPs

The MPs conferred amidst much nodding of heads and agreed that Sir Philip had said such a thing. They are, after all, the producers of this melodrama. Sir Philip is amazed and shakes his head, a picture of disbelief.

And then he is back on the attack: "No, no, no, no, no, with all due respect..."

He is interrupting again. Mr Graham ploughs on. He is a former diplomat, soft-spoken and polite.

Sir Philip's hands wave frantically and the questions keep on coming. Sir Philip turns the questions back on the MPs. At one point he ignores a question from one, and turns to another and asks him to continue.

And then the inevitable: "Sir Philip, we are asking the questions, not you."

Sir Philip bows his head briefly.

A moment later, the timing perfect, he's back: "I just don't like the way you are asking the question."

He butts in, he demands to answer questions, the committee chair demands to move on. He won't. "We must move on." He won't. Move on. He won't. Move on.

How long can this drama go on for? The answer is: a long time. But after more than five hours the performance is finally over. Longer than Hamlet.

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