Tonight C4 launches a new programme by Oscar–winning director Danny Boyle on the issue of PR and the Metropolitan Police.
Babylon is a dark comedy which has attracted some well-known faces to star in its tale of an American PR expert parachuted into New Scotland Yard to deal with the PR messes the Met Police finds itself in and tries to get out of … while keeping its (hopefully positive) reputation intact.
At this stage I should put my hand up and say that I have a little bit of a vested interest in this. I began my career in media relations at New Scotland Yard’s Press Bureau which during the 1990s had a million queries a year.
While there I helped deal with terror attacks, riots and serial killers as well as matters which would be dismissed as stranger than fiction. Not the stuff of comedy (light or dark) but then PRis a subject which rarely gets a serious outing in popular culture.
Absolutely Fabulous, The Thick Of It and TwentyTwelve are British comedy examples of the PR person – frothy, psychotic, manipulative. Things don’t stop there with Sheridan Smith set to star in Flack, a Channel 4 comedy pilot set to air this year
Smith will play a PR executive struggling to keep her life on track while dealing with her clients in what C4 describes as a “classy, witty and bold show” where the next celebrity scandal is never far away and someone has to be there to pick up the pieces.” The follow-up to TwentyTwelve, W1A, will also hit the Beeb later in the year.
I looked across the pond to see what programmes (and films) they had which had a more realistic or at least balanced view of life dealing in PR.
I consulted a few lists where they lauded The Sweet Smell of Success (which is about a publicist) and Mad Men (about an advertising agency) so even those studying the subject don’t know what PR is about.
Frighteningly, the movies where PR is most prevalent are those in which politicians need to have their lives / careers fixed by the intervention of a ‘PR consultant’ – Wag The Dog, Primary Colors, The Candidate are all examples and in recent years the PR person is the one who cleans up the nefarious work of corporations. In The Island, the PR Director is there to help get rid of the bodies.
This isn’t a modern phenomenon. If you visit http://www.ijpc.org/page/ijpc_pr_practitioner the negative portrayal of portrayals of PR types goes back to the 19290s with movies such as Gentleman of the Press or The Half-Naked Truth, they are morally ambiguous if not downright two-face untrustworthy. I am sure the list isn’t exhaustive and I did chuckle when the list identified Malcolm Tucker as being played by Dana Wheeler-Nicholson (sic).
I have high hopes of Babylon as entertainment but will it show PR as I know it? It should be much, much better than the US ‘reality’ show The Spin Club but I think I may have to keep waiting for that definitivePR vehicle.