Anthea Turner proves the futility of the PR industry

'Even if people know who she is, they have no great desire to find out anything much about her'
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The Independent Online

Very good news indeed from the bestseller charts. Anthea Turner, the celebrity chipmunk, has had her autobiography written for her. The finest minds of the publicity machine have combined, and thought up one cunning wheeze after another to get her name into the newspapers. Serialisation, public appearances, news stories telling tales after school. The woman has laid herself utterly bare, telling her vast audience of all the heartache and sex and abuse that have gone into forming her bland bubbly personality.

Very good news indeed from the bestseller charts. Anthea Turner, the celebrity chipmunk, has had her autobiography written for her. The finest minds of the publicity machine have combined, and thought up one cunning wheeze after another to get her name into the newspapers. Serialisation, public appearances, news stories telling tales after school. The woman has laid herself utterly bare, telling her vast audience of all the heartache and sex and abuse that have gone into forming her bland bubbly personality.

If we had been paying attention, we would probably know more now about Anthea's relationships with a series of B-list hunks with Mills-and-Boon names than we could ever have hoped for. The books went into the shops, and the publicists must have sat back and congratulated themselves on a job well done. And guess what? No one's interested at all. With all this publicity, still no one wants to buy her book.

A grand total of 451 copies have been sold from one end of the country to the other. The woman is never off the television; she is never out of the newspapers; she is probably, faute de mieux, one of the best-known faces in the country; she has even persuaded the excellent Wendy Holden to write her book for her. And still nobody is interested, and nobody feels the slightest urge to remedy their ignorance about who she is or what she has done in her life.

I find this very encouraging. The rise to fame of such people is a curious business, based as it is not on any talent. Rather, if one television programme is successful, it is assumed that the viewers like the people who appear in it; they go on and make another one, and another. Pretty soon, they are famous, although nobody has actually troubled to find out whether the audience does, in fact, have any appreciation of these "stars".

It's only when they publish an autobiography, and the millions of people who, it is assumed, tune in every week to watch Anthea Turner bound up a staircase are asked to develop their interest to the point of paying to read about her that the artificiality of the situation emerges. It turns out, in fact, that most people are extremely vague about the difference between one characterless quiz-show hostess and another, and even if they know who Anthea Turner is, they certainly have no great desire to find out anything much about her.

Whether this will encourage the programme-makers to be a bit more inquiring about the value of their personalities, I don't know. Whether anyone now will sit down and ask themselves whether anyone actually likes to watch Dale Winton, Ainsley Harriott, Chris Evans and Anthea Turner and her even more appalling sister Wendy (a recent addition to the unspeakable menagerie) seems very unlikely. Of course there are some people towards whom audiences do have a certain irrational warmth, but for every likeable, natural Zoe Ball there are dozens of cavorting nightmares, watched by the great British public in a state of stony-faced embarrassment.

But, encouraging as it is to discover that Anthea Turner is not, as one had always suspected, The Nation's Sweetheart at all, the nicest thing about her failure to raise much interest in herself is that it demonstrates how utterly futile the whole PR industry is. As the old adage has it, you can't polish a turd. And however much money and effort is thrown at something, it will be wasted if the product is no good. The most brilliant ideas of Max Clifford will fail to interest anyone in a person if there is nothing remotely interesting connected with his client. If the client is personally dull and comes across as charmless and common, and her television programmes are dull and stupid, and her private life is pretty dull, too, then it is difficult to see what public relations can really achieve.

So corporations can't, it seems, have their way; they can't persuade people to like cultural products in the way they can persuade people to buy one soap powder after another. But, encouragingly, something really curious and entertaining will always get to the top, without a single celebrity interview or confession. The most successful television programmes haven't been marketed; they have built up an audience through personal recommendations, until even the PR industry had to notice that Father Ted or The Fast Show were big enough to be worthy of its attentions. But by then, its attentions were quite supererogatory.

They should stick to persuading viewers to watch the worst atrocities of corporate light-entertainment, since nobody in the history of the world has ever said to a friend, "Did you see Anthea Turner on Saturday night? I thought she was really good." She needs all the PR help she can get. But the effort of persuading us actually to like her is, thank God, quite beyond the capabilities of anyone's industry.

hensherp@dircon.co.uk

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