A funny thing, this PR game

Harry Hill has a new radio show - but he doesn't want to promote it. The public-relations industry is a self-perpetuating con, he tells Vincent Graff
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The Independent Online

You know it; I know it; he knows it. Harry Hill is talking to me for one reason: the 16 words that appear in italics at the end of this piece. It won't come as a shock to you that this is the deal. He has something to promote and he is here reluctantly and only on the condition that I promise to guide you, dear reader, in the direction of his latest product.

That, of course, is how public relations works - to the general benefit, it can be just about argued, of PRs, journalists and, if you are lucky, newspaper readers.

But if you, I and Sophie, the public-relations woman sitting in the corner of the room, are happy with the deal, the comedian himself is not. He reckons the public-relations industry is a fraud perpetuated on the star, who is caught up in the middle of a cosy stitch-up.

Let's get the nuts and bolts out of the way, then. Harry has a new Sunday-morning radio show on Capital FM, in London. Capital hopes he will attract new young, affluent listeners to the station. If you like him - I happen to think he is the funniest stand-up comic in the country, which is why I was so excited to meet him - it sounds like you'll like the programme. For two hours each week, he will be indulging in his usual brilliant nonsense. There'll be a regular soap, Dog-Breeder Crossroads ("The Crossroads Motel has been taken over by dog-breeders." Obviously), a quiz entitled "What Is the Blacksmith Making?", the Weekly Fly-Spray Challenge, and something called Steve Brown's Pedantry of Rock.

None of it sounds as though it will make any sense at all. Which is why I bet it will be amusing. It'll be playing on a radio near you too, he hopes. But, to be honest, he doubts the fact that you are reading about it here will make any difference to whether or not you will tune in. For he resents the public-relations industry that makes him sit through interviews like this, but that he feels forced to employ.

We have spent half an hour together, chatting in a studio at Capital's headquarters. He has been polite, friendly even, but vague and disengaged. Perhaps it is my fault, I worry, that he has not been fired up with enthusiasm for any of the subjects we have talked about.

Until I point out that he doesn't appear to approve of publicity interviews and the PR machinery behind them.

"You shouldn't get me started on this," he says.

He nods towards the PR woman from Avalon, his management company. "Sophie will kill me for this, but I have quite strong ideas about PR. I think a lot of it is a waste of time. I think it is a self-perpetuating industry. The PRs tell you that you have got to do PR. Why do they tell you that? They tell you it's to get your show [publicity] but I think it's because they are PRs and that is what PRs do."

He does not think a single extra person will listen to his show because of a piece in a newspaper? "Maybe a single extra person." But "when they say, 'Oh you've got to spend all day doing press', I think that's a day wasted."

He has done enough newspaper chats, enough telephone conversations with journalists about My Favourite Car, What's In Your Shopping Trolley, all the columns most brilliantly parodied by Private Eye's Me and My Spoon.

He reckons the only way to drum up interest is to advertise. He tested out his theory once by leaving questionnaires on seats during one of his tours, asking how people had heard that he was touring. "Number one, by a long way - adverts," he says. Interviews in the press came right near the bottom. "When I do my tours, I employ someone to do my PR for me, I employ someone to do marketing, but for me I think the best money spent is putting a big advert saying 'Harry Hill, on tour, in your town'.

"But you have a promoter who wants you to do PR. What I am trying to get through to people is that it doesn't necessarily make a huge difference. What other industry is there where huge amounts of money are changing hands and they can't tell you whether it's doing any good?"

Hill doesn't say any of this angrily - he is merely resigned. Perhaps I have just caught him on a bad day. Perhaps we just haven't clicked. Anyway, a deal is a deal, and I have made a promise. Bring on those all-important 16 words....

Harry Hill presents 'Funch' on 95.8 Capital FM at 10am-noon every Sunday from 13 July