Now officially more popular than Wayne Rooney (estimated value circa £30m), comparethemarket mascot Aleksandr Orlov has been put on the market for a mere £19.95.

Yes, for under twenty quid you will soon be able purchase your very own Aleksandr Orlov exclusively from gaudy Knightsbridge bazaar Harrods. Clad in smoking jacket and cravat, this year’s must-have Christmas toy even says “simples” if you jab him in the ribs.

In other meerkat news: Arshenal’s Andrey Arsavin apparently now endures the nickname meerkat on account of his accent. But have you ever wondered why meerkats – indigenous to South West Africa should be speaking with Russian accents?

Creative post-rationalisations include his arrival as a student back in the cold war era when many Africans shivered their way through a Soviet higher education, and – the official version – that he was kidnapped by Russian gangsters – but escaped… hmmm.

Could it be perhaps that the ad agency confused meerkats with another steppe-dwelling burrowing mammal the Marmot (marmota bobac) who might be expected to have a Russian – or at least a Mongolian – accent?

Apparently not. Ad agency insiders have confirmed the worst suspicions of thin-skinned East Europeans who regard the ads as racist by admitting the whole thing stemmed from hearing someone pronounce comparethemarket with a Slavic accent.

And the name? Borrowed perhaps from Alexander Mikhailovich Orlov the soviet spymaster who directed the kidnapping and execution of the POUM leader Andreu Nin before defecting to the US in 1938. Or could it be (this week’s cheap excuse for a picture of a scantily clad female) that they were inspired by Russian philologist Marina Orlova?

No idea, mate.

But love or loath, it’s hard to quibble with a spokescreature who took CTM’s brand awareness from 20% to 59% in the first eight months of the campaign, resulting in an 80% rise in quotes requested and a 73% drop in acquisition costs.

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