VIRGIN DIRECT, the financial services company fronted by Richard Branson - but controlled by insurance giant Australian Mutual Provident, which last year injected over £55m into the venture - is eager to distance itself from the image of Branson and his increasingly desperate publicity antics. Virgin Direct [which recorded a loss of £19.7m last year on sales of £315m] plans to phase-out Branson from its TV and press ads, replacing him as front man with the [relatively] more staid image of chief executive Rowan Gormley. Virgin is worried that more sophisticated investors may be deterred from purchasing its financial products because of Branson's image. Quote a spokesman [doubtless speaking with an Oz accent]: 'We want it to be seen that Virgin Direct has grown-up. If people are looking at investing in a pension, they might be put-off if they think the company is too wrapped-up in Branson.'[Well, would you hand over your piggy-bank to someone whose obsessive fervour for personal publicity drives him to pose for the press in drag and other weird attire?] The Branson-fronted TV ads have been dropped as has Ammirati Puris Lintas, the agency responsible for their creation, and the search for another agency is under way.