Susie Rushton: Will Twitter put PRs out of business?


Twitter is leakier than a hedgehog's underpants. Isn't that one of its best uses – as a messageboard for the disclosure of cheeky, sneaky revelations? Mark Upton, the senior civil servant who has just been collared for tweeting rude remarks about his political bosses at the Department for Communities and Local Government, obviously thought so. For months he used the handle Naked Civil Servant to anonymously pour scorn over Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps, most entertainingly in a tweet on the day of the Royal Wedding which joked that the pair had come as Wills and Kate to a departmental fancy dress party.

Upton was careful enough to use his iPhone to post the tweets, but made the error of using the office wi-fi, which led to his unmasking. But other troublesome leakers don't even go to the bother of assuming a pseudonym – probably because they don't even realise their tweets are illicit.

In the strange world of public relations, the very foundations of existence are broadcast schedules, timed interviews and orchestrated announcements. Now the BBC PR department is fed up with "the talent" tweeting about the latest show they've recorded, or which guest star is about to appear in an upcoming episode – information that is near to worthless to most of the general public, but a valuable commodity to flacks. BBC executives want to introduce a clause to contracts that will ban loose-lipped actors and writers from revealing "sensitive" information before time via Twitter. The most egregious example of this is said to be the actions of Sophie Ellis-Bextor, who recently tweeted that Sting would be appearing as a guest star alongside her in a new Ricky Gervais series Life's Too Short – a choice nugget that the PR department were presumably saving up for a exclusive in The Sun's Bizarre gossip column.

To a PR man, the problem with Twitter is that it is read by so many journalists. But that is also one of its big attractions. Plenty of publicists tweet themselves, knowing that social networking and microblogging sites are the quickest and most effective way to reach multiple media outlets. It's also pretty obvious that, when it suits them, entertainment PRs will ask a celebrity to deliberately tweet about a new show or launch, because more people "follow" their feeds (for instance, Sophie Ellis-Bextor has 43,230 followers, while the BBC Press Office has 12,659).

In the old media age, publicity departments could choreograph information with Stalinist efficiency. Now control is impossible. Perhaps forcing actors to sign non-tweeting agreements is the only way to deal with the anarchy of the web. Otherwise, actors, newsreaders and scriptwriters could simply self-promote their own shows on Twitter, and what would that leave the good people of the PR department to do?

Corridor of contemplation, courtyard of cacophony

Off to the new Serpentine Pavilion at the weekend, now one of the highlights of the architectural calendar in London. Designed this year by the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, the temporary construction is quieter than previous buildings, in several senses of the word.

A monolithic black box decorated with no more fanfare than a single string of white fairy lights, this building from the outside resembles a very chic, minimalist marquee for a private party. The area around the building was peaceful and not crowded, even on a warm Sunday afternoon. The entrance looks like the doorway to a crypt: just a black shadow cut into a wall. Inside, you find yourself in a dim corridor that appears to run around the perimeter of the pavilion. The shadows are only broken by low wattage, institutional-style pendant lights. It's all quite Twin Peaks.

Then you turn a corner and suddenly the corridor opens up on a pretty internal courtyard garden, a square of sky above, and a cacophony of chatter – this is where the crowds are, sitting on low benches in groups, having a high old time. Yet, outside the pavilion, all sound is completely muffled. One of Zumthor's best-known buildings is the Therme Vals spa-hotel in Switzerland, another beautiful box, this time made from local quartzite rock, that sits above thermal springs. The new Pavilion is a chance to experience Zumthor's version of peaceful contemplation for free – right in the middle of London.

You haven't arrived until there's a statue of you

OK, here's one for the pub quiz: What do Ronald Reagan, Michael Jackson and Paddington Bear have in common? As of yesterday, they are all among a select group of overseas figures commemorated in the capital with statues. You can't miss the new Reagan in Grosvenor Square – he's 10ft tall and made from bronze – and the late King of Pop is a towering figure at Fulham FC's ground, but you could pass by the little Paddington (plus suitcase) in the station of the same name. In a city where British generals and royals are widely represented in bronze and stone, the list of foreigners memorialised is short, but quite interesting.

American presidents are well represented, and not only opposite the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square; my favourite is Roosevelt, who sits on a bench with Churchill on Bond Street, forever contemplating the gems in the window of Boucheron. Gandhi (sitting cross-legged, Tavistock Square) and a handsome bust of Jawaharlal Nehru (in requisite jacket, Aldwych) are also head-turners.

The slightly creepy eight-year-old Mozart on Orange Street in Belgravia, marking the 1764 visit the boy made with his pushy parent, is worth looking for. And later this month a man from the other side of the Iron Curtain will be honoured, in an unveiling that will be rather more low-key than Ronnie's arrival yesterday: Yuri Gagarin is to be immortalised on the Mall in a new statue on the anniversary of his post-spaceflight visit to London in July 1961. Gagarin is the first Soviet-era Russian to be given a statue here, and he'll stand opposite another adventurer Captain Cook, joining Ronald Reagan in London's most exclusive club of émigrés.