Magazine article The Spectator

Don't Worry, Al. I'm on the Case

Magazine article The Spectator

Don't Worry, Al. I'm on the Case

Article excerpt

Alan Clark is in hot water again. As an opening sentence that would have earned me a rebuke from the succession of gnarled mentors on local and provincial newspapers under whom I groaned for years from the age of 16. That's not news, they would growl. Clark's always in hot water. The news would be if he was in lukewarm water. They would still print the stuff, though. Mr Clark has arrived at that stage when someone does not have to say or do much to be in the news. Such people have been in the news so often before that they are news by definition. They are not to be confused with people who are news ex ofcio, people such as the Pope, the President of the United States and the Prime Minister. An uninteresting soul can hold those offices and still be news because news is what the offices are. It is much harder to be news simply because one is oneself.

Mr Clark is now in the Hurley class. He just has to turn up. Can anyone remember when Miss Hurley did anything other than turn up? Not that this is any objection. There are some people whom most people are happy to see turning up, and Miss Hurley is one.

It is, then, a tribute to Mr Clark that he still bothers to get into hot water, to do things - or rather to say things - when to remain famous he no longer has to. Sir Arthur Sullivan said that at dinner, once you have a reputation as a wit, you only have to say `pass the mustard' for everyone at table to laugh. At dinner, Mr Clark only has to turn to the woman next to him and introduce himself for us all to assure one another that Al's behaving badly again.

Yet still he takes the trouble to get into trouble. In October he got into trouble with both liberals and Fenians for announcing that the only way to solve the Irish question was to shoot 600 Irish people in one night. This week he got into trouble with Tory Wets for writing that the late Conservative politician Iain Macleod was a `card-sharp' whose back was bent, not by disease, but by the chips on his shoulder; and with both Unionists and Mr Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, for saying that Adams and McGuinness should be allowed to sit in the Commons without taking the oath of allegiance to the Crown.

I would defend him in all of these troubles. Here I must strike a personal note. My attitude to Mr Clark's troubles over the years has convinced me that I would be very good if I ever went into public relations.

Public relations is the occupation of the 1990s. The occupation of the 1980s was something to do with the City. That of the 1960s and 1970s was something to do with sociology. That of the 1940s was something to do with war. The 1990s is the decade of PR. Admittedly, there were PR persons before the 1990s. To us observers of occupational fashion, the first PR person whom we could name appeared in the late 1970s: Sir Tim Bell. He became famous by doing PR for Mrs Thatcher in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, the name known to us laymen is Hobsbawm-Macaulay.

I shall explain what all this has to do with Mr Clark in a moment, but if I may continue on the subject of Hobsbawm-Macaulay, they came to my attention when they did the PR for a recent event with which The Spectator was connected. I confess that, until then, I am not sure whether I had heard of them. `Hobsbawm-Macaulay is representing us,' I was told. But we've already got very efficient libel lawyers, I thought. Then it was explained that Hobsbawm-Macaulay are the PR firm. One of them was the daughter of the famous historian, I was told. …

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