I was on a brief trip to London yesterday, trying to get away from the stifling heat of the countryside, when who should I bump into but my old friend, Adrian Wardour-Street, the uncrowned king of PR. He steered me into a cool all-day bar called something like Mezzogiorno and ordered something called a schlitzer.
"Schlitzer?" I said. "Don't you mean a spritzer?"
"Nah," he said. "That's old hat. Schlitzer is this month's drink. Half American beer, half mineral water."
"Sounds horrible," I said.
"It is horrible," he said. "That's the price you pay for fashion. Almost every trendy drink that I can think of is horrible. Lager and lime was horrible, especially when it was a bottle of Mexican lager with a lime stuck in the neck. Thank God that went out of fashion. Ever tried black velvet? Half Guinness, half champagne? Once ultra-fashionable? It's revolting. Mark you, I've never liked buck's fizz much. Ruin of good bubbly, ruin of nice orange juice."
I'd never known Adrian to be so honest about anything. I ordered myself an apple juice before anything worse could happen.
"So, Adrian, what's on your mind?"
"On my mind? Well, George Orwell, mostly, actually."
I'd never know the uncrowned king of PR mention a dead author before. I was shaken.
"Why George Orwell?"
"Because he was so incredibly trendy. He changed his name from Blair, as if prescient of the fact that one day it would be a dreadful name to have. He wrote a book from which two of the biggest TV programmes today take their name..."
"Big Brother...?" I said
"...and Room 101. And he also did some pioneer work on rumours."
"Yes. During the war he became fascinated by the way rumours sprang from nowhere, with no traceable source, so as a sort of experiment he tried to start his own rumour, to see how long it would take to come back to him. He started spreading the rumour that beer was about to be rationed."
"And did it get back to him?"
"Nope," said Adrian.
"And what does that prove?"
"That amateurs shouldn't get mixed up in the business," said Adrian, with some satisfaction.
"Amateurs?" I said. "You mean there are professional rumour-mongers?"
"You are looking at one," said Adrian. "As of last month I have a government brief to spread the right rumours."
"What kind of rumour would a government want to spread?" I said.
"Well, for instance, that farmers are deliberately infecting their own herds or flocks with foot-and-mouth disease to get compensation."
"You mean, you..?"
"One of mine," said Adrian. "We're trying to get the farmers unpopular again. Then there's all the Brass Eye stuff, and paedophilia. Remember the angry mob that attacked the paediatrician and burnt her house to the ground or something?"
"Another rumour," said Adrian. "Never actually happened, so far as I know. But now we're spreading a rumour that Chris Morris, who did the Brass Eye programme, is a satyr."
"I thought he was a satirist."
"Yes, but the public may not know the difference. You may have noticed that all sorts of ministers such as Tessa Jowell and Beverley Hughes have been wheeled on to the media to blacken Chris Morris's name? That's to make it look as if the government is actually doing something about paedophilia."
"But they're not?"
"Of course they are. They're blackening Chris Morris's name."
"Though not actually bothering to watch the programme?"
"They have had the programme described to them. That's all they need to do to feel sickened. With practice, they won't even need to have it described to them before they feel sickened, but they're inexperienced at the moment. Anyway it's all working terribly well."
"How do you know?"
"Because the Daily Mail is right behind us. Haven't you seen the Daily Mail recently?"
"No," I said, "but I've had it described to me, and honestly I felt quite sick."
Adrian didn't laugh but he said "That's nice – I might need that when the Mail turns against us again" and proceeded to write it down.Reuse content