Award winners pucker up for cameras

John Mitchell stole the show at the Drinks Retailing Awards with an impromptu speech that was gracious, heartwarming, amusing and extremely bitter at the price of the public transport that had ferried him and wife Lynda from Sheffield to Mayfair. He only had about 30 seconds to prepare his address because we somehow "forgot" to mention his award when we invited him as our guest.

Nobody was more enchanted than fellow winner James Rackham, crowned the nation's best independent spirits retailer on the same night. A firm handshake and a slap on the back might have been in order, but both retailers lived up to their reputation for a passionate approach to their trade (right).

The bald truth

It's not just in the UK that honest drinks retailers are being caught out by crafty test purchase stings. There has been an outcry in Hamilton, New Zealand, where the youngster being sent in by police to buy alcohol looks remarkably mature for his years. He's even going bald.

The Liquor Licensing Authority 's Judge Bill Unwin and Phillipa Ballard agreed the 17-year-old volunteer looked 25 if he was a day. Regulations stipulate that youngsters in stings should look their age, but this appears to be too much aggravation for the local police. "It is very difficult to find someone who suits guidelines," protests senior constable Jim Kernohan.

Robber gets it in the neck

There are criminal geniuses, and there are meat-headed thickos. When a ­robber burst into a Threshers branch armed with a crowbar, he forgot about the tattoo he'd thoughtfully had inscribed on the back of his neck. CCTV cameras got a lovely shot of the word "Lee" and it wasn't long before 23-year-old Lee Ormondroyd of Augustus Gate, Stevenage, was in custody. Two weeks ago he was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for the off-licence raid and a robbery in Hatfield.

Needy and greedy

Isn't it nice when people are honest? Shame it came a bit late in the case of 23-year-old sales assistant Elaine Gilchrist, who admitted taking £900 from Simply Food & Drink in Maryport by cancelling transactions and failing to record sales. According to local press , she committed the offence because she "needed it, and because of greed".

Have you got a licence for that?

Cobra Beer's Karan Bilimoria is pictured here getting back to his roots - he started out selling the Indian lager from the boot of his clapped out Citroën 2CV. Fifteen years later Bilimoria is a lord, he's been awarded the CBE and he's celebrating the publication of his autobiography, Bottled for Business - The Less Gassy Guide to Entrepreneurship. He'd better get a lift home after drinking all that lot.

Lack of diploma-cy

WSET chief executive Ian Harris couldn't resist ribbing Tesco BWS boss Dan Jago about the results of his diploma last week. As the pair co-host ed the WSET's Awards of Excellence at Vintners' Hall, Harris said he'd searched through dusty archives to find Jago's score from years ago.

"Do you remember what you got?" teased Harris, later adding "it wasn't a distinction ... it wasn't even a merit".

"I'm not sure I took that exam at all," retorted Jago, who later said he had no plans to study for the MW due to its likely impact on his social life.

Jago - formerly boss of Bibendum - did a fine job of livening up the awards ceremony, which took in 38 categories. After announcing the winner of one of the trophies, he was told the woman in question - a Bibendum staffer - was not there.

"In true Bibendum fashion, the delivery didn't quite get here in time - I can say that now," he quipped.

A long goodbye

"I will be out of the office starting 31/12/2006 and will not return until 30/12/2007."

So states the out-of-office e-mail reply from Andrew Willy in the Selfridges wine department.

"I will respond to your message when I return."

"And I thought teachers had long breaks!" gasped one eminent member of the wine-writing fraternity.