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A feud may be brewing in the House of Saatchi, leading agency watchers to conclude the brothers are trying to stage a comeback.

The evidence: Stinging newspaper stories, be-lieved by some to be inspired by Maurice Saatchi, clamor for the brothers' return to a more active role in their empire. The Saatchis, unhappy with their creation's performance on various levels, are believed to be frantically seeking financial support for a buyback of their agency, of which the brothers own less than 1%.

Maurice Saatchi, chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Co., is planning, for the first time ever, to have his own office in Saatchi's New York headquarters, part of a plan to rebuild the agency's North American business. He's promising agency executives he will renew contact with clients. And he will participate in a London meeting this week to discuss future plans, the latest auditors review and 1993 financial results to be announced March 15. (The empire in 1992 had billings of $11.58 billion, up 0.5%, and gross income of $1.69 billion, up 2.8%.)

Although the meeting is routine, Mr. Saatchi's participation isn't.

"He's trying to get reinvolved," said a Saatchi executive.

While Charles Saatchi has been the behind-the-scenes creative force and key strategist, Maurice Saatchi has been inconsistent in his involvement. In the early days, after the agency's founding in 1970, he concentrated on new business and then in the 1980s was embroiled in acquisitions. But by the time Robert Louis-Dreyfus was brought in as chief executive in 1989, both brothers seemed to have lost interest as the fortunes of their empire flagged. Charles Saatchi never even had a title until he became honorary president upon resigning from the board in late 1993.

The Saatchis won't comment. But observers are picking up clues reading between the lines of the ongoing weekly pro-Maurice Saatchi story in London's The Sunday Times. While making him look good, the stories tend to give just the opposite impression of Charles Scott, the current chief executive, indicating a possible big rift between the brothers and Mr. Scott.

Two weeks ago The Sunday Times said: "Surely it is time for Maurice Saatchi, the group's founder chairman, to get back into the company's day-to-day business affairs. He still has one of the best names in advertising." The next week, the newspaper reported Bill Muirhead's move to chief executive of the Saatchi network in North America.

Nowhere did the story point out that the Saatchi brothers were responsible for that long slide into financial turmoil, precipitated by their 1980s acquisition binge. The company ran into trouble late in the decade when it had difficulty repaying debt.

What the stories also don't say is exactly what the brothers and Mr. Scott are supposed to be fighting about. "Obviously, they're having a fight, aren't they?" said one Saatchi executive. "No one really understands it."

By some accounts, the arguments are as petty as the brothers' reluctance to vacate their lavish corporate headquarters in Berkeley Square to save an estimated $1.8 million a year.

According to a tale wags tell, the Saatchi board voted on the issue and only narrowly approved moving the brothers out.

Speculation, however, is that the Saatchis simply feel that it's time to make a move.

Saatchi observers like to speculate about whose side board members will take. The most likely Saatchi supporters are European Chairman of the Saatchi network Jeremy Sinclair; Stuart Cameron, a former Saatchi client at cigarette marketer Gallaher Ltd.; and Harvard University professor Theodore Levitt, who worked closely with Maurice Saatchi in the 1980s on merchandising the global advertising concept.

Likely to be in Mr. Scott's court are Mr. Louis-Dreyfus, who remains on the board; Wendy Smyth, chief financial officer; and Thomas Russell, chairman of Applied Bioscience International.

If the brothers' much-reported desire to buy back the Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Worldwide network is true, it's the worst-kept secret in the industry. But the London financial community no longer trusts them with hundreds of millions of dollars.

"Their long-term game [plan] is not just to get the public company back ... but a consistent strategy where they can buy the Saatchi network," one Saatchi watcher said. "They have a deep emotional relationship with their network and their name [on the door]."

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