Sword awards drop a clanger

Next week the top awards in the world of public relations will be presented, glorying in the pomposity of the title, the Institute of Public Relations Sword of Excellence Awards (logo, left).

I have my own nomination for the booby prize. I would like to put forward the Institute of Public Relations - the largest professional body of its type in Europe, as it happily informs us, and prone to a goodly PR cock- up, I am happy to inform it.

The institute's own press information about the awards ceremony leads off on the fact that "North West Water's handling of the Yorkshire drought crisis last year is among the finalist campaigns competing for the Institute of Public Relations' prestigious 1996 Sword of Excellence Award", etc, etc.

At least two alarm bells would have rung in the head of anyone not suffering the after-effects of a PR lunch. First, Yorkshire is not in the North- west. Second, wasn't Yorkshire Water's PR a bit of a disaster? As I recall, profits and share dividends jumped as the drought set in, a quarter of the company's water leaked out, hosepipes were banned, a thousand tankers a day brought in water and they had dressing-down from the Environment Secretary. The managing director who revealed his sparse bathing habits to the nation admitted: "We had not run our PR effectively since privatisation."

A North West Water official said: "Our boundaries are Carlisle down to Crewe, we have nothing to do with Yorkshire at all except that they are our neighbours, that is the only connection."

When I pointed out this little fact to Jeremy Weinberg, spokesman for the Institute of Public Relations, he replied disarmingly: "Jeepers creepers! That is a big oversight on my part that is rather embarrassing."

If all PRs talked like that, one could almost learn to love them.

My other job? I'm a Scottish scribbler

The most unusual declaration in the Register of Members' Interests this week must have been Quentin Davies's flock of sheep (what a Tory whip would give for that). But my eye was caught by how many MPs have time to scribble north of the border. Gordon Brown, Brian Wilson, Helen Liddell, Alex Salmond and George Galloway earn from pounds 5,000 to pounds 15,000 a year writing columns in various Scottish newspapers. Is Scottish journalism not throwing up sufficient columnists, or are Scottish MPs all journalists manque? I trust they are all union members - the NUJ in Scotland should investigate.

Naughty callers

Civil servants in Devizes have been puzzled (I hope) by a spate of phone calls requesting catalogues of naughty knickers, and silk stockings and suspenders. The mystery was solved when BT admitted that directory inquiries staff have been confusing the Government's wildlife advisers, English Nature, with a Wiltshire-based mail-order company, English Naturally.

Sir Michael sends his apologies ...

Prestigious awards, up-market venue, shame about the lack of winners. The Royal Philharmonic Society's annual music awards at the Dorchester Hotel were all set this week to be the classical music ceremony of the year. The society was utterly unfazed by the absence of Itzhak Perlman, instrumentalist of the year. Busy man ... performing in New York. Ian Bostridge, tenor, won the debut award. He was making a debut elsewhere. The Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen won the opera category for Mathis Der Maler at the Royal Opera House. He was in Stockholm, presenting an award to Pierre Boulez. Etiquette demanded that presenting took precedence over receiving.

Not to worry. On to Carlo Rizzi, musical director of the Welsh National Opera Orchestra, award-winner for the year's finest orchestral series of performances. Out comes the man in the dinner jacket again. Embarrassed cough. Signor Rizzi would love to have been here, but his wife has just given birth.

Never mind, there is always the star turn: the venerable Sir Michael Tippett (above), 91, winner of the society's award for best large-scale composition of the year, The Rose Lake, "a further manifestation of his unique genius".

Alas, even geniuses get toothache. Sir Michael was at the dentist.

Identity crisis

From Belfast's the Irish News: "Mr Gerry Casey of Drumlin Drive, Lurgan, has asked us to point out that he is not the Mr Gerry Casey of Lurgan who has had a number of letters published recently in the Irish News." So that's clear, then.

A shoot in Italy would be Ab Fab

Never believe television people when they say they have definitely made their last episode: they always come back. Good thing, too, in the case of the Absolutely Fabulous team, which is combining again to make a one- hour BBC special to be shown later this year.

However, plans for an Ab Fab feature film seem to be going nowhere fast. The movie was originally to have been shot last year. The BBC says it is still on the agenda. Certainly, Ab Fab's creator, writer and star, Jennifer Saunders, has good reason to keep hoping. She tells me: "I'm very keen to shoot some of it in Italy. No plot reason, really. I just fancy going to Italy."

Spoken like Edina herself.

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