They have been accused of reaping rich rewards while the company they run is on the verge of closure. Adam Aspinall went on the trail yesterday of the homes and lifestyles of the Phoenix directors

Ironic was the word that sprang to mind.

Thousands of workers at Longbridge were fretting over their futures. Meanwhile, at their boss's home, his wife was washing the car - fortunately, it was a Rover.

John Towers is the chairman of Phoenix Venture Holdings, the company which owns MG Rover and a man whose status is in danger of falling from hero - he spearheaded the rescue bid for Longbridge in 2000 - to zero.

Shortly before our arrival at the angular redbrick home known as Tall Trees, John's wife Beth had been lovingly washing their Rover.

The £500,000 family home in Bourton on Dunsmore near Rugby, Warwickshire, was guarded by the family's Australian Shepherd who was putting on a show of ferocious intimidation.

Polite and reassuring, she defended her husband, insisting he was doing everything he could to turn the business round, while voicing sympathy for the workers' plight.

Her husband's work pattern has been frenetic in recent weeks, working "flat out" was a phrase she had used.

Arriving home from Shanghai at midnight on Friday, he was called at 3am and was back on his computer. Yesterday, he was out of the house at 6.30am and at the Longbridge plant trying to work out a viable future for his company.

It is not only Mr Towers from the PVH directors who have chosen to reside in the Warwickshire countryside.

The weather was still fine as we pulled up outside the newly built six-bedroom house of John Edwards.

Nothing stirred in the £1.3 million mansion near the picturesque village of Claverdon but even from the road, it was obvious the washing up wasn't finished in the kitchen and a lone plastic football sat forlornly on the gravel drive.

A white Toyota Land Cruiser and polished Mercedes S Class sat languidly outside a four-door barn-style garage which could quite easily house the family of the average Longbridge worker.

Neighbours and villagers said he was nowhere to be seen. Indeed, some claimed never to have spotted him in the three years he has lived there.

Irene Young, the landlady of the Crown Inn pub in Claverdon Village, was forthright. "I don't know him, never seen him and didn't even know who he was until this week but I can't say he's disliked round here as people wouldn't recognise him if he jumped in front of your face."

Equally elusive yesterday was director Nick Stephenson, regarded as a popular figure just down the road in the village of Aston Cantlow on the outskirts of Birmingham.

He lives in a positively modest, £500,000, two-storey house known as The Bakery in the sleepy little hamlet that houses the uber cool gastro pub The King's Head.

The pub was busy conducting its roaring Sunday afternoon trade and there were more than a few of Nick's friends who had "lost track" of his whereabouts.

One neighbour who made a spectacle of reversing his gleaming silver BMW in front of the darkened windows of The Bakery said without prompting: "I haven't got a bad word to say about him, he is a good neighbour and is well liked around here and is always there when you need him."

Meanwhile, on the grim and gritty streets of Longbridge, a certain Michael Howard was making a big show of visiting workers at Groveley Lane just ten minutes from Gate Q at Longbridge.

Neighbours were hanging out of windows with their picture phones in hand and cars slowed and hooted at the sight of TV crews outside the three bedroom semi-detached house, worth approximately £110,000. It was a stark contrast to the relatively palatial homes of the Phoenix directors but onlookers gasped at the Doctor Who- style trick the house played as people spewed forth from its doors. Well, there was the Tory leader, his meticulous entourage plus the media and other local luminaries. But no MG Rover directors.

Who are the Phoenix Four at the centre of the current crisis?

John Towers, Nick Stephenson, Peter Beale and John Edwards became known as the 'Phoenix Four' after the group bought MG Rover in 2000.

John Towers The architect of the Phoenix Four bid and the chairman of Phoenix Venture Holdings.

The 57-year old was managing director of Rover in the run-up to BMW's purchase of MG Rover in 1994.

Initially hailed as a saviour, Mr Towers came under fire over the directors' pension fund and similar benefits.

The businessman lives with wife Beth in Bourton on Dunsmore, near Rugby.

He was educated at Durham Johnston grammar school and did a mechanical engineering degree at Bradford University.

Nick Stephenson The deputy chairman of Phoenix Venture Holdings who is regarded as one of the best-known engineers in Britain. He began at Perkins and joined MG Rover in 1991 as forward programmes director.

The 56-year-old lives in Aston Cantlow, outside Birmingham, with partner Sally, a water company quality control inspector.

He was educated at the private Ampleforth College near York and then studied engineering at London University.

Peter Beale A board director of Phoenix Venture Holdings, Beale is a Wye College, Kent, educated accountant and former tax manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

He was a finance director at Edwards of Stratford and managing director of Stratford Auto Body Centre.

The 49-year-old director lives with wife Jane in Dunhampstead, Worcestershire. He worked as a partner in another accountancy firm, Harrison, Priddey & Co, in Bromsgrove, before joining Edwards' car dealership in 1989.

John Edwards The deputy director of Phoenix Venture Holdings has a background in car distribution and retailing.

He has owned Rover dealerships since the late 1980s and currently controls Edwards Cars, based in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Mr Edwards, 57, who lives in Claverdon, Warwickshire, inherited his father's Rover franchise.

He was educated at Bromsgrove County High School and earned a chemistry degree from Birmingham University.