Over now to Flip Heston, reporting live from the Dorchester. Flip, it's been an eventful afternoon.
It certainly has, Tom. It was a relatively low key Baron Havoc who addressed reporters here today. Normally ebullient, frequently exhibiting a penchant for rhetoric and crowd-pleasing theatrics, it was a markedly different figure who strode into the conference suite, flanked by henchmen and with his trademark ermine-trimmed cape billowing out behind him.
And if he appeared to be more than a little subdued, then it wasn't without good reason. Currently ranked third on Time Magazine's list of 'Most Influential Supervillains', Baron Havoc has come a long way since his humble beginnings as a neighbourhood street hoodlum. Thanks to his super-secret death miasma, laser vision and bulletproof underpants, the Baron has risen swiftly through the ranks of Evilus Inc, one of the planet's most diabolical international crime syndicates, to become the youngest and arguably most evil chief executive officer in its forty year history. It's no mean feat. With its grubby fingers firmly planted into some extremely important pies - including most of the major corporations in the western world, at least seven governments and a pie stall in Camden market - competition for the top job is fierce. And while the board of directors has publicly stated that it will stand by the Baron after this latest scandal, the arch villain is inevitably going to feel the heat over the next few months. After all, it's not every day that the CEO of a multinational corporation wipes a small town in Shropshire off the face of the Earth, and the question that both the board and the shareholders will be asking now is: can he turn this fiasco around?
Only time will be able to answer that question, of course, but if his performance here today is anything to go by then it looks like he might just pull this one off. Baron Havoc opened by saying, quite unequivocally, that he 'very much regretted' the annihilation of Ludlow. He told journalists that he had visited the town personally on several occasions, most recently to attend a conference on world domination, and said that the knowledge that its friendly, welcoming people, its quaint public houses and its delightful architecture were now distributed throughout the ionosphere as a series of charged particles was something that made him 'quite sad'.
Despite that, the Baron deftly sidestepped any suggestion that he would not collect his bonus this year, and in answer to reporters' questions he made it clear that he had no memory of ordering the attack. It should never have happened, he said. Clearly there had been an error of judgement, as it was completely out of character for an organisation which regularly threatens to unleash neutronic terror on the major capital cities of the world to instead turn its attention to a sleepy market town whose biggest claim to fame was that the launderette stayed open until eight o'clock on Thursdays.
In the organisation's defence, however, he did point out that in the six years that he has been CEO this is only the second time that a small town had been accidentally vaporised - a record that is all the more impressive, he said, when compared to some of Evilus Inc's competitors, who are doing that kind of thing all the time.
"The important thing now is to learn from our mistakes," the Baron told journalists. "We are not an organisation which tolerates failure. There are lessons to be learnt, procedures to be reviewed." He went on to explain that a robust staff retraining programme was being planned, comprising formal threats, executive beatings and a tank full of corporate piranhas.
Will this be enough to restore confidence in Evilus? Well it's early days yet, but there seems little doubt that Baron Havoc is genuinely embarrassed and saddened by this unfortunate miscalculation. "You deserved better," he told the press conference. "And we let you down. I understand that, I really do. Believe me, no one wants this business over more than I do. I want my life back."
Stirring and heartfelt words, but the real test will come tomorrow morning when the markets open. This is Flip Heston, live from the Dorchester.