Manuel Villas-Boas, director of Espirito Santo Financial Group’s London operation, first came to work in the UK 30 years ago after the nationalisation of banks in his native Portugal during its mid-1970s turmoil.

He never permanently returned to Portugal, working for Manufacturers Hanover Trust and Royal Bank of Canada before joining Banco Espirito Santo in London in 1983.

“I’ve come all the way from syndicated loans to derivatives,” he says. The bank’s London-based project finance team was recently ranked as the sixth best in Europe by Dealogic.

But Villas-Boas, now 61, has a reputation in Portugal that extends far beyond banking. The hint is in his middle name, Magalhães, the explorer known in English as Magellan.

Although Magellan had no surviving direct descendants, Villas-Boas is a cousin 16 times removed and recently appeared on a programme about the explorer in the BBC’s Voyages of Discovery series.

The family connection had already led him to write a history, Os Magalhães, published in 1998.

That was followed in 2000 by a biography of another ancestor, João Jacinto de Magalhães, the 18th century scientist known in English as Jean-Hyacinthe Magellan.

Among his contributions was introducing Joseph Priestley to Antoine Lavoisier, an encounter that was instrumental in the discovery of oxygen.

Villas-Boas continues to focus, however, on the leader of the expedition that completed the first circumnavigation of the world, although – being killed in the Philippines – Magellan didn’t make it all the way himself.

“The fact that he died ensured his eternal fame,” argues Villas-Boas. “Had he not died, he might have sailed back the way he came”, across the Pacific.

Because conditions for sailing east are right only one month a year, he says it was likely that Magellan would have been lost, and with him the records kept by five diarists on board. In the event, the survivors sailed west towards home and the history books.

Villas-Boas’s appetite for writing is not sated. He has embarked on a history of contacts between Europe and Asia from Alexander the Great to, you guessed it, Magellan. “You have to end somewhere,” he says. This will be his first book written in English, proving that, just as for his namesake, new worlds remain to be explored.

Biofuelish things

Biofuels Corporation, the company behind the development of the UK’s biggest biodiesel plant, illustrates the volatility of renewable energy shares.

Anybody who bought at 180p in a £7.4m placing in May may now be cursing, having seen the shares, which peaked at 311p in March 2005, sink yesterday to less than 40p. Biofuels insists prospects are bright; Germany from January and Britain from April 2008 are mandated to use biodiesel as a constituent of diesel.

Should this optimism prove hard to swallow, investors can console themselves that Sean Sutcliffe, chief executive, bought at 230p. He says: “All I can say is, I’m sharing their pain.”

Good Fairey

Few companies reflect a century of British military and aviation history like Fairey. Started in 1915 as an aircraft maker, the company made twin-engined bombers in the first world war and the famous Fairey Swordfish during the 1930s.

After the second world war, it designed the Delta, which, with wing designs and a droop nose that prefigured Concorde, broke the world air speed record in 1956. In the 1970s, its Fairey Engineering subsidiary diversified into military bridges.

The Stockport workforce of the company lately known as WFEL makes bridges that can span 40 metres and be assembled by a team of eight in 90 minutes. Customers include US and UK forces in Iraq.

Ownership of Fairey’s successor companies has changed frequently (it was once owned by Pearson, the FT’s parent, in an age more friendly to conglomerates).

WFEL became part of United Technologies when the US defence company acquired Kidde in 2005, but Dunedin, the private equity house, has now backed a £48m management buy-out, bringing WFEL back into British hands.

The company has historic links to the Fairey brass band, frequently recognised as among Britain’s best but, alas, only seventh behind Grimethorpe Colliery in the most recent national championships. Fairey’s plays at Stockport’s town hall on Friday night – perhaps a chance for a Scots piper to provide accompaniment to fete WFEL’s new investors.

True for so many

The House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee is conducting an inquiry into personal internet security. Earlier this week, the Financial Services Authority, Apacs, Visa and Royal Bank of Scotland gave the committee their thoughts, particularly on the vital question of verifying identities.

One of their lordships raised a security loophole: “I’m often asked for my mother’s maiden name for authentification, and of course, anyone can look it up in Who’s Who.”

mudlark@ft.com

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