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Ex-journalist pens book on the UK’s first spin doctor

An ex-regional journalist has penned a book on the UK government’s first ever ‘spin doctor’ – claiming he made made Alastair Campbell look like a timid schoolboy.”

From the Frontline tells the story of Sir Basil Clarke’s stint as Britain’s first ever public relations man during the First World War.

Author Richard Evans, 37, a former Hull Daily Mail and Watford Observer journalist who is now Head of PR for charity Diabetes UK, began his book research after chancing upon a reference to Sir Basil in 2009.

Richard’s book vividly describes how, as a war correspondent Clarke spent months in France and Belgium, sending harrowing dispatches back home from the Frontline.

Sir Basil Clarke pioneer of PR in the UK

However at the tail-end of the war and during the Irish War of Independence, Clarke was hired to represent the UK Government. In 1927 he set up Britain’s first PR firm.

Said Richard: “Although PR was well-established in America, no-one had thought it necessary in Britain. The war changed all that because everyone could see the power of propaganda.

“When Sir Basil started in the role, it was a pioneering move and he later moved to Dublin Castle as the occupation of Ireland was deeply unpopular.”

Educated at Manchester Grammar School, the former journalist spent his formative years in Manchester before covering the outbreak of the First World War from the frontline.

A former boxer and rugby player, Sir Basil, who passed away in 1947, was no stranger to using his fists, ending up in court for bashing a former business associate with a rowing oar.

Possessing a fiery temper, the Altrincham-born PR man was no stranger to street brawls but could also move civil servants to tears with his classical piano playing.

However, unlike the early American PR practitioners, Richard claims Basil’s methods were a lot less cynical.

Although lambasted in the British and Irish press for a statement that appeared to gloss over Bloody Sunday, Richard believes errors were to blame rather than deliberate ‘spin’.

He said: “All the evidence points to it being a mistake. He had made written complaints about the quality of information his officials had been given in the past. As founding fathers go I think he did believe in the ethics of public relations and had a reputation for standing up to people.”

Richard  will be talking about his book From the Frontline: The Extraordinary Exploits of Sir Basil Clarke at Dunham Massey on June 7-9.