harry diamond's memoir

Clients leave agencies for the oddest reasons. Two or three of mine dispensed with our services because I had done too good a job for them. They had had a considerable amount of publicity, were doing well, and thought they didn't need us any more. I also put two companies out of business by giving them so much publicity they were bought over by rivals. Not that they minded, but there was little profit in that for us as their buyers didn't want us.

can you get me into the papersI began to feel as if the things I was doing had little significance in the great scheme of things; that I was passing my time interestingly enough, but was not adding much to the sum total of the world's good or knowledge. I think I felt like the comic actor who yearned to play Shakespeare.

Then Harry Dutch, Public Relations Officer of Glasgow Corporation, advertised for an assistant and I felt this was the kind of job I should really be doing rather than selling sausages and shirts. Some of my friends and colleagues had a jaundiced view of the politicians who ran the city and told me I couldn't do much for their image or that of the city, which was regarded by many people outside it as "Siberia in a kilt."

I had for long felt strongly, however, that ordinary working people did not take enough interest in the things and people who influenced their lives. Local authorities exert quite a lot of influence over our lives one way or another and in those days I could hardly find anyone who had the slightest idea what their local authority was doing and why. I'm not convinced the situation is greatly different now.

I wrote to Harry, who had been the Corporation correspondent of the Herald in bygone days, and asked him if there was any point in my applying for the job as his assistant. He said yes so I applied and got the job. My first major triumph was in a Glasgow Week in Hamburg promotion. I had nothing to do with the organising of it but I did get the Public Relations bit to handle. I wrote a lot of stories leading up to the event and eventually a large party went to Hamburg for a week to promote Glasgow. Among the events were trade displays in 76 Hamburg department stores and shops, performances of The Taming of the Shrew by the Citizens Theatre Company, a challenge match between Rangers and Hamburg SV, an exhibition of Scottish paintings, a tourism exhibition, industrial conference, fashion shows, demonstrations of Scottish country dancing, and piping, and quite a number of civic receptions and dinners.

About 120 people went to Hamburg from Glasgow; businessmen, councillors, representatives from Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and the Clyde Tourist Authority. Our aim was to sell to Germany in a big way everything that Glasgow and the West of Scotland had to offer. Whether we did that or not I don't know but I do know we all had a good time.

Before we went to Hamburg I produced, with the help of the Glasgow Herald, a special edition of the paper to take to Germany. After the final edition had been printed about 3 a.m. on a Saturday morning the front and back pages were replated with stories, headlines and captions in German and the presses restarted. Five thousand copies were taken to a waiting aircraft at Glasgow Airport and flown to Germany. My stories were translated by Rosemarie Rey, a German-born member of the corporation's Public Relations staff.

The night we arrived in Hamburg the entire Glasgow contingent were guests at a state banquet given in our honour. I spent much of the evening autographing copies of the Glasgow Herald because my name was on the lead story on page one.

During the promotion I sat each morning in an elegant room in the Hamburg Plaza hotel churning out speeches for Lord Provost Sir William Gray to deliver. It was a hard grind but I enjoyed listening to the applause as Sir William uttered my golden words.

The reform of local government in Scotland was almost complete by then and the new authorities, including Strathclyde Regional Council, were busy recruiting staff. Strathclyde was to become the largest local authority in Britain and Harry understandably wanted to be its Head of Public Relations. He eventually got the job and I was left on my own in the City Chambers.

I didn't get the job of Head of Public Relations of Glasgow City Council automatically. I had to apply like everyone else. My application was one of 113. Twelve of us were interviewed one Sunday in a hotel in George Square. I did get the job eventually but it was a near thing. I only beat by a hair's breadth one man who interviewed rather better than me. At one point in the interview I picked up a pile of papers in a plastic folder which slipped out of my hands and dozens of sheets of paper flew all over the floor. At the end of the interview the chairman, Ellen McCulloch, a lady I got to know and like, asked me if there was anything else I wanted to say.

"Yes, there is. I want this job because I know it better than anyone else and I've been doing it for several months." The man I beat by a very narrow margin subsequently had five jobs in as many years.

It didn't take long to find out the character of some of the people I would be working for in the City Chambers, as the Town Hall is known in Scottish cities. My interviewers were four Conservative and four Labour members of the General Purposes Committee. All the Labour members voted for my appointment and all the Conservatives votes against. Luckily the chairman had the casting vote and I got the job.

A few days after I started work one of the Conservative members who had interviewed me and who had known about me for some time put his arm round my shoulder and said, "I knew you were the best man for the job Harry but I couldn't vote for you if the Labour side voted for you." This was in direct contravention of all the council's rules of employment as all appointments were non-political.

A story went round the City Chambers that Pat Lally, a senior councillor at the time, stopped Dick Dynes, the council leader, in the corridor and said, "You're not really going to give Diamond the job, are you?"

Dick replied, "He'll die if we don't and I don't have the time to go to Jewish funerals cos they last all day!" They don't, but why spoil a good story!

The day I started I had a secretary and a young man, Willie McGarva, I inherited from Harry Dutch. Willie had orginally come from the health department I think but turned out to be a valuable colleague. My secretary, Sandra Short, also turned out to be worth her weight in gold. Working for the local authority was dramatically different from anything I had experienced before. I was 47 when I joined the Corporation so I wasn't an innocent at large.

One thing that struck me with some force was the total lack of a sense of urgency in many of the people around me. There were times when I phoned senior officers for information about something and got the response, "Well, let me see, I'm busy this week and next week I'm having a few days off, then I have to go to a conference in Harrogate and.....Can you give me a ring in a couple of weeks?

With uncharacteristic restraint I said, "I think you misunderstand. I need the information now." I didn't always get it now but gradually my colleagues realised I was working in their interests, too, and they began to co-operate.

One man who proved a valuable friend was Theo Crombie, a town clerk depute and gifted administrator who could separate substance from hyperbole in a flash. He came into my office one morning and said, "I think I have a good story for you," which turned out to be the understatement of the decade.

Dorothy Henderson, a well-rounded, good-humoured but determined lady, started something which dramatically changed the face of Glasgow, won her a number of environmental awards, and helped me immeasurably to tell the world about the "new Glasgow."

One evening in 1974 she went to a meeting to hear about environmental improvement grants available from Glasgow City Council. She went home and told a friend, Mrs Angela Petrie, another owner-occupier in their grim, soot-blackened, unattractive block of tenement flats in the west end of the city.

The two women rounded up all the other 109 owner-occupiers in the block and formed Woodlands' Residents' Association. They applied for, and were granted, an improvement grant of £36,000. Then they went to work. They had the building stone-cleaned and to their surprise it came up a gleaming, honey colour.

They also had doors made for the closes, cleaned up gardens and back courts, and when they were finished they found they had created an architectural and environmental jewel. People in nearby tenement blocks and from property for miles around came to see what Dorothy and Angela had achieved, and embarked on similar improvements on their own properties.

In the years that followed most of Glasgow's tenement buildings were stone-cleaned and refurbished. When the city's business houses saw what the householders had done they did the same with their own buildings. The city council also cleaned its many properties, including the City Chambers and Glasgow was no longer the depressing, soot-blackened city of yesteryear.

When new hotels, office blocks, sports centres, walkways alongside the river Clyde, shopping centres, an extension to the Mitchell Library (making it the largest civic-owned reference library in Europe) a new transport museum, and other projects were built, the stories of how they all came about were written up for the news media at home and abroad. Gradually it dawned on the world that something interesting was happening to Glasgow.

Public Relations and professionally-written press releases did not change the image of Glasgow, even if they were written by an enthusiastic, tolerant team lead by an idiosyncratic leader. Behind the press releases were an army of people who had been working for years to enhance the quality of life in the city, politicians, administrators, developers, architects, builders, designers, artists, musicians, dreamers, people with ideas and no money, people with money and no ideas, and people who just wanted to get their names in the papers.

Out of this bubbling cauldron of endeavour and determination and enthusiasm and self-interest and arrogance emerged a product that was worth projecting to the world.