My Mentor: Alan Edwards on Keith Altham

'The grounding advice that Keith gave me has been a bedrock throughout my career'

Monday 29 November 2004 01:00

I got my entree into the world of PR in Bingley, Staffordshire, of all places. I was reviewing a Who gig for a music paper in 1974. Their PR was Keith Altham, and realising I was a big Who fan, he offered me a job. It seemed like a good idea. I figured I'd do it for a month or so and sort out my finances.

Music PR was a recent invention, and had not yet become a trendy career - in fact nobody really knew what it was. Not only was Keith the PR man of the moment - representing artists such as The Who, T Rex, Ten Years After, Uriah Heep and Eric Burdon - but he was also a friend and confidante of figures such as Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend in a way that doesn't happen now. Before doing PR he'd been features editor of the NME.

To be honest, Keith was a hard taskmaster and I served an old-fashioned apprenticeship; it certainly was in terms of the salary. I used to have to supplement my wages by appropriating spare Uriah Heep albums from the review cupboard and selling them. I saved on rent by sleeping on the office settee.

As well as introducing me to Fleet Street's movers and shakers, he taught me the tricks of the trade. He also drummed into me the basics for an efficient PR - things like always returning calls, actually sending a record when you said you would.

I make light of it, but the grounding advice that Keith gave me has been a bedrock throughout my career. The PR world has changed a lot since I started out. It's a much more broad church now and as well as representing people like David Bowie, Paul McCartney and Naomi Campbell, we handle the public relations for clients like Heart FM and The X Factor.

I still talk to Keith regularly. For besides being my mentor he was somewhat of a father figure to me.I sometimes wonder where I'd be now if our paths hadn't crossed in Bingley that fateful night.

*Alan Edwards is founder and chief executive of the Outside Organisation, a leading PR agency in the pop and showbusiness world

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