harry diamond's memoir

can you get me into the papersJohn Cable-Robbie was an imaginative headmaster of Durrington Middle School in Sussex who named 14 of the 25 classrooms in his school after British cities including Liverpool, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow, instead of giving them the conventional numbers. The children were asked to write projects about their cities and the 35 pupils in the Glasgow class, aged 9 and 10, each sent me a letter asking for information about the city. I stayed behind in the office one night and made up 35 packs of information and sent them off. Not long afterwards I got 35 letters of thanks. Many of the children said they would like to visit Glasgow one day. Some of them touchingly showed the innocence and trustfulness of youth by ending their letters with love and good wishes. It was obvious the letters had been composed by the children themselves and not by a teacher because they told me things the teacher wouldn't have thought of. Then I had a brainwave, or a brainstorm, whichever way you look at it. If my job was to persuade everyone that Glasgow was a good place, here was a great opportunity. Why didn't I invite the children to Glasgow and let them see for themselves what we had to offer? As a journalist I knew that a story like this would be picked up eagerly by the news media. With the help of my assistant Willie McGarva I researched the cost of transporting 35 children and a handful of teachers from Worthing to Glasgow, putting them all up in a hotel for two nights, taking them on bus tours round the city and entertaining them. British Rail and the New Glasgow Centre Hotel gave us special rates and the whole bill came to £900, which seemed a very reasonable expenditure for the kind of favourable publicity the city would get. I took my proposal to the Labour-controlled Policy and Resources Committee, to whom I was answerable for my department, and the resultant discussion was reported throughout Britain. Tory leader Jack Richmond, who had earlier got me nation-wide headlines by telling me I had delusions of grandeur, weighed in again with, There is something distasteful in this project which is admittedly to try to influence children of nine and ten years and through them their parents about the good qualities of Glasgow. I thought this was a particularly inane remark as the whole purpose of the exercise was influence people in favour of Glasgow. John Young, Jack's deputy, exploded, Anyone who extends this type of invitation in the present economic climate must be stark raving bonkers. A local authority like Glasgow, in creating a precedent like this, could find itself playing host to many other groups of schoolchildren. Supposing children in Peking, Melbourne, or Auckland have a classroom project on Glasgow, are they (the Labour administration) also going to send them an invitation to visit the city at our expense? Dick Dynes, leader of the council and chairman of the Policy and Resources committee, told John Young, "Your language is unnecessarily explosive and uncharitable. I am sure it will not reflect the attitude of the council or the people of Glasgow." The committee, which of course had a majority of Labour members, then approved the proposal. All this was great stuff for my journalist colleagues. Next day's headlines read STORM OVER PLAN TO INVITE PUPILS.......ROW LOOMS OVER FREE SCHOOL TRIP......SCHOOL TRIP STARTS FREE-FOR-ALL. The Daily Record said of the Tories, "How mean can you get? We only wish that ALL civic public relations officers used a budged so shrewdly. Two readers of the Glasgow Herald did not approve of the visit. Mr David Tomlinson wrote, At a time when mentally handicapped and deprived children's schools have been closed, youth clubs and summer camps cancelled, and subsidies removed from educational trips for our own children, for the district council to host a visit by school children to our city is at best reckless and at worst a further monument to the maladministration of our city." Ms Elizabeth Wardrop wrote on the same lines. Neither writer apparently knew that the cuts they complained about were not the responsibility of Glasgow City Council. The Brighton Argus commented, By opening their sporrans and showering money on a group of Sassenach children the Glasgow council has dispelled the myth that the Scots are mean, but then added rather churlishly, The children of Durrington could set their Northern benefactors an example of good housekeeping if, instead of accepting the jaunt, they asked for the cash. They could then spend the money on one of the sections of their own community hardest hit by cuts in social services. The ratepayers of Worthing, however, did not think we were bonkers. They were delighted by our gesture although I learned later that members of the borough council were very worried indeed at the thought of having to return our hospitality. On a Thursday afternoon in April 1976 the children, their headmaster, and five teachers eventually arrived in Glasgow and were met at the Central railway station by a large contingent of councillors and press. Jack Richmond and John Young stayed away, pleading pressure of business. The visitors were taken to the City Chambers for a civic reception and then to their hotel, in which their rooms had their own television, radio, telephone, and bathroom. The bathroom was important because we didn't want children wandering about hotel corridors in the middle of the night. The visitors were overwhelmed. In the next two days the children were taken to Glasgow's famous Art Gallery and Museum at Kelvingrove, the Thomson Foundation Television College, where they operated cameras, went into control rooms, and saw themselves on televison, the offices of the Daily Record, a pop concert, and various other places. All this was reported by newspapers, radio and television throughout the country, including of course the Worthing Gazette (the editor's son was one of our visitors) West Sussex Gazette, Evening Argus, and Radio Brighton. Mr R. A. Syderif, manager of the Marine and General Mutual Life Assurance Society office in Glasgow, told his head office in Worthing about the visit and they sent me a cheque for £100 towards the expenses with a letter saying, We feel the goodwill engendered by your invitation is most worthy of support, and John Menzies, the bookshops chain, gave each of the children a £1 voucher to spend in their main city centre store. During their tour of the city a woman bought all the children ice cream. As I predicted the visit was an enormous success. Newspaper readers from all over the country wrote to me congratulating me on the idea and even the Tories on my council had to admit that the city had received a great deal of favourable publicity. Mr Frederick G Bagshaw wrote from London, "Mr Keir Hardie would undoubteldy have approved your action." I wasn't too sure of the relevance of this comment but I was grateful for it just the same. After the visit the children of course wrote letters of thanks to the Lord Provost, councillors, department officials and almost everyone else they met. I estimate they must have written about 500 letters altogether. Typical of the letters was the one from nine-year-old Timothy Hughes, Thank you for the wonderful time you gave us in Glasgow. I enjoyed myself very much. Thank you for the food which was very nice indeed. Thank you for the places you took us to. My mum liked the heather very much. I learned quite a bit in the city of Glasgow. One little girl couldn't come to Glasgow because she had chicken-pox so I sent her a Glasgow tartan scarf. She wrote back, I will always think of the scarf as a kind gift from you and the people of Glasgow. I only wish I could have come with the other children. I hope you are keeping well. love from Susan Jenkins. A boy wrote to say he hoped the hotel bill wasn't too expensive. John Cable-Robbie wrote a letter of thanks to the Lord Provost, who really had had very little to do with the exercise. His only function was to get his picture in the papers with the children. The letter said, Everyone was so kind and generous to us and the greatest credit must reflect upon your Public Relations Officer for his organisation which could not be improved. We were all sorry to leave. I can only say thank you on behalf of 35 children who are absolutely certain that Glasgow is a wonderful, friendly city, 70 delighted parents, and 750 children who are envious of their companions' good fortune. This particular Lord Provost, who was determined during his term of office not to give me credit for anything, did not tell me about the letter, but his secretary Eric Hamilton thought I should see it. As a human interest story it was probably one of the most successful Public Relations exercises I ever carried out.

The children who came to Glasgow were:

Kim Dowell Marion Churcher

Alan Ifould Alan Olieff

Peter Barnard Richard Pearce

Joanne Giles Christopher Pullen

Robert Morley Nicholas Smith

Karen Sherrell Timothy Hughes

Andrew Sinsbury Debra Lloyd

Anthony O'Connor Amanda Harding

Philip White Lyndsey Clarke

Richard Cork Andrea Simpkins

Allison Stiles Mark Sinsbury

Melanie Haylock Shirley Naftel

Nicholas Brown Sally Howell

Sheila Crump Stella Smith

Christina Hull Simon Hart

Elaine Smith Vanessa Mitchell

Andrew Roast Alison Alcock

The visit had one result that no-one could foresee. Valerie Coward, one of the teachers, wrote to me about three months later to say, We thought you would like to know that as a direct result of your brainstorm, Bob (Johnson, another teacher who came with the party) and I got engaged a couple of weeks ago. Now see what you've done!

This story also received considerable press coverage under headlines like THE CITY OF ROMANCE and THE CITY OF LOVE. One of the comments attributed to me was, "It's all part of our service. We are always trying to bring some joy into people's lives!" Valery and Bob's son Jamie is now 18.