"What do you think of the visit of King Olav to Edinburgh, Mr Diamond?" I was asked.
"Oh, very much so," I said. "As a matter of fact my wife and two sons are walking along Princes Street right now asking each other, 'I wonder how dad is getting on.'"
I waited a few seconds and added, "How IS daddy getting on?"
The chairman threw caution to the winds and gave a short bark which I took to be a manifestation of amusement. "Quite well. Quite well."
One member of the board asked me why I wanted to leave newspapers and I said, "Most days I feel we are entertaining our readers rather than informing them of what is important in their lives. If I wanted to be an entertainer I would buy a guitar and bawl into a microphone and make a fortune."
When I got back to Glasgow a telegram lay on the hall floor asking me to return for another interview the following day. This was taken by Harry Hart, the board's deputy chairman who hadn't been present during my interview but whose approval for my appointment was apparently vital.
Harry prattled on for 20 minutes about the great job the gas industry was doing and what a great honour it was to work for it. I never said a word. Eventually he jumped up, thrust out his hand, and said, "Welcome to the gas board, Mr Diamond." I muttered my thanks and left.
It was 1962, the year tramcars stopped running in Glasgow and the Americans orbited the earth six times. It was playing a tape recorder early one morning after the last edition of the Daily Express had gone to press that launched me on my Public Relations career. I was trying out a new recorder I had bought by reading bits from the Glasgow Herald. I wasn't being disloyal. It was our job to read other newspapers to see if they had anything of importance we didn't have. Mind you, the Express's opinion of what was important didn't very often coincide with the Herald's sense of news values.
Next morning I was listening to the items I had recorded and suddenly heard myself reading an advertisement for a Senior Public Relations Assistant for the Scottish Gas Board. I didn't know anything at all about Public Relations except that it had something to do with creating images or good impressions but the job looked quite attractive with sensible hours so I wrote an application and eventually got an interview at the board's headquarters in Edinburgh. It was a nice day so I took Jackie and the boys to Edinburgh by car. The city was festooned with bunting and flags in honour of the royal couple from Norway.
A couple of weeks or so after the interview I was given a couple of small but comfortable rooms overlooking George Square, a secretary, and no instructions about what I was supposed to do. I spent a few weeks walking about talking to people and very quickly realised that the gas industry did a lot more than cause explosions in old ladies' kitchens.
It was helping industry and commerce in all kinds of ways; by advising on myriad technical problems, by producing more efficient boilers and other equipment, and by converting solid fuel and electric boilers to the use of the cheaper gas.
In the domestic market, too, there were giant strides in the production of new and better heating and cooking appliances. Everyone in the industry was anxious to make their work known as widely as possible and I received magnificent co-operation from everyone. All this helped me to make considerable impact on the public consciousness, even if I do say it myself. In the 1960s, too, the search for gas and oil off the north east coast of Scotland provided many stories.
Our own flat was all-electric but as I had just become a spokesman for the gas industry in Scotland I thought it was appropriate that I should replace the electric appliances with gas ones so I bought a gas cooker and several modern, efficient gas fires and a squad of men took two or three days to fit them in.
Then one lunch-time we gathered at the cooker for the big switch-on. The gas fitter struck a match, held it to the gas ring, but nothing happened. The flame flickered out sadly. We tried another ring and again nothing. Then we tried the beautiful, chrome and timber gas fires I had bought. Still nothing.
The fitter looked at me and came away with the remarkable deduction, "They're no' working. There must be something wrong."
The appliances were disconnected and after some tests it was found that the pipes were filled with mud and dirt. When the lengths of piping were being pulled from the fitters' van one end fell into the gutter and scooped up the rubbish, clogging them completely. I was later able to amuse a number of gas industry dinners with this story.
Among the many interesting developments in the industry while I was there was the construction of a £2.4 million plant, a lot of money in those days, at Provan to produce virtually non-toxic gas from light distillate, a product of oil refining. I wrote a story about this which got a lot of publicity. Sydney Smith, the board chairman, came to Glasgow to be interviewed on BBC television by my friend John Hossack, their industrial correspondent.
After the interview I asked Mr Smith if he would be kind enough to give me a lift back to George Square as he had to catch a train at Queen Street railway stations nearby. On the way he said,"Whose idea was it to publicise Provan?"
"Really. Do you do a lot of this kind of thing?"
I thought this was rather an odd question in view of the fact that I had been telling Britain for a year about the great things the gas industry in Scotland was doing. I had also founded the newspaper Scottish Gas which quickly became one of the most quoted newspapers in the industry.
Another story which got a great deal of coverage was the installing in the sailing ship Carrick of gas boilers for central heating, cooking, and hot water for the galley, bathrooms, washrooms, and cabins. It was the first time in Britain that a gas-service had been laid from a busy city street, Broomielaw, to a ship floating on the water nearby, in this case the river Clyde.
The 103-year-old former City of Adelaide was at that time the headquarters of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Club (Scotland) Many years later when the Carrick became derelict a friend of mine, John MacLaughlin, caused a minor sensation by sculpting a bust of me from a piece of the Carrick's mast.
Among her most famous masters when she carried Australian wool and passengers 13,800 miles from Adelaide round tempestuous Cape Horn to London was Captain David Bruce, who had a wooden leg and wore a straw hat. He was succeeded in turn by each of his three sons.
I was the first journalist to write about the growth of Chinese restaurants in Scotland because they all used gas for cooking. The story appeared under a 3 1/2 inch deep headline in Chinese, written by one of the restaurateurs, on the front page story of Scottish Gas. I took the precaution of showing it to a couple of other Chinese to confirm that it said "Gas is best for cooking Chinese food because it is convenient and makes a very strong fire!" After all, a Chinese restaurant owner with a sense of humour could have ended my career.
Most of the other restaurants in Glasgow had gas kitchens and I wrote a great many articles for Scottish Gas and the catering press about them. Naturally it was necessary to sample the meals in the various restaurants which I did regularly at their expense. One of my favourite restaurants was The Courtyard, owned by former footballer Billy McPhail, but I had to stop going there because Billy wouldn't let me pay the bill.
My gas board employers almost choked over their rice crispies one Saturday morning when they saw the headlines on the front page of my old paper the Daily Express and several other newspapers, FED UP HARRY GIVES HIS CAR AWAY...
The previous evening I was driving home in the dark, rain-swept streets when the car conked out and glided gently to a halt. It was about the fourth time in a couple of months. I kicked and swore at it but it wouldn't budge. A figure bent against the driving rain approached and I said, "Want a car, mac?" and held out the keys. The man instinctively held out his hand and I dropped the keys in it and walked away.
When I got home I told Jackie what happened and she said, "Not before time." I knew it was a good story so I scribbled down a few sentences and phoned them round to the newspapers. The story even appeared in the Soviet newspaper PRAVDA a few days later. This one said we were so poor in Britain we couldn't afford to run cars so we gave them away. It didn't say how we could afford to buy the cars in the first place.
I went to the motor taxation office with the car's documents and told a clerk I no longer had the car, was no longer responsible for it, and wanted this fact noted.
"Did you sell it?" he wanted to know.
"No, I gave it away in the street."
"Ohhhh, so it was yooooo," said the clerk. "We have to talk to you. You can't just give your car away." He told me I had committed numerous transgressions against various Road Traffic Acts and whatnot and I was liable to prosecution.
"Listen, son," I said indignantly. "I carried a rifle for three years for the privilege of giving my fully paid and owned property to anyone I damn well like and if you don't concede that the car is no longer my responsibility I'll make you famous, too!"
The clerk disappeared into the back shop for a few minutes and when he came back he said, "Alright, leave it with us." I never heard any more from them. I did hear about the car, though. A friendly police traffic department tracked it down and told me later that it had conked out because of a wee electrical fault which a threepenny fuse had put right!
The story doesn't end there either. I bought another cheap car and was driving with Harvie and Michael in the back when we saw a big poster advertising White Horse Whisky. The poster said some guy was a magician and could make a glass of whisky disappear and added, rather irrelevantly I thought, "You can take a White Horse anywhere."
"I could do better that," I remarked to the boys, who of course immediately challenged me. When I got into the office I scribbed a few sentences on paper and finally arrived at "Harry Diamond, 20 Thorncliffe Gardens, Glasgow, gave his car to a passer-by when it broke down. He finds his White Horse a lot more reliable." Then came the campaign line, "You can take a White Horse anywhere."
I phoned White Horse in Glasgow for the name of their advertising agents and got a phone number in London. The guy in London said they didn't take suggestions from the public. Besides, they had hundreds of ideas in stock. "But you haven't even heard my idea, how do you know whether it's good enough or not?" I said.
"Write to us and we'll think about it," the voice at the other end said placatingly so I did that and also sent them a cutting of the story from the Express to emphasise the topicality of the story. A few days later I got a letter saying the White Horse account director liked the copy and please would I sign the accompanying form allowing them to use it in any way they pleased. The upshot was that the poster with my name and address appeared all over the country and I got at least a couple of dozen phone calls offering me new cars and holidays in the Caribbean if I allowed the callers to use my name in advertising campaigns. They all turned out to be hoax calls of course.
For years afterwards all my friends were convinced I got a vast sum of money and unlimited cases of whisky for my brilliant few words. The truth is I got a cheque for £10 and one bottle of the water of life.
One day I was invited to the press office of White Horse for a drink. The press officer asked me what I did for a living and I told him I worked in a jeweller's shop in Govan. I think my mind tortuously worked out that it was not a good idea to tell them I was a Public Relations man in case they thought I was trying to upstage them or something.
I was politely asked a lot of questions about jewellery and who bought it when the editor of a drinks magazine came in and said to me, "Hi, how's the gas industry's hot-shop Public Relations man?" The White Horse people took it well and we were friends for a long time afterwards. I even got another bottle of whisky one Christmas. I was told later that one or two rather stuffy members of the gas board expressed some concern about what the hell I was going to do for my next trick.
Walking through the showroom to my office one day I saw a girl of six or seven in a once-white dress, grubby face and wet nose climbing onto a display float carrying a very expensive group of appliances. Suddenly her mother's voice rent the air from across the room, "Haw, Natasha, get tae f...affa therr...."
Another day one of our managers phoned to ask me rather excitedly to come down to a house in Monteith Row, overlooking Glasgow Green, where some of the tobacco barons of a bygone age had their elegant establishments. They were anything but elegant by the 1960s.
"There's a couple dead in bed from gas poisoning and a crowd of reporters and photographers outside," said the gas manager. "Can you handle them, Harry?"
I rushed down to the house where I was led into a room where a blanket covered a man and woman in an iron-legged bed in a recess. The manager explained that underneath the blanket lay the bodies of a prostitute and a sailor she had picked up the previous evening. A gas pipe ran round the skirting board in the recess to a gas fire in the room. Apparently during the frolicking in the bed an iron leg had banged against the gas pipe and fractured it. The couple on the bed were too preoccupied even to notice the very distinctive smell of tetrahydrothiophene, which is put into the gas to give the familiar, characteristic smell.
"What can we tell the mob of reporters?" asked the gas manager.
"Come with me."
I went outside, stood at the top of the few steps leading to the door of the house like the Prime Minister outside No 10, and told the reporters exactly what happened. The gas manager almost had a cardiac arrest.
"Trust me," I told him.
"How the hell can we put that in the paper, Harry?" the reporters complained.
"That's your problem. You wanted to know what happened and I've told you." The photographers couldn't do anything either of course.
Next day all that appeared in one or two newspapers was the information that a man and woman had been found gassed in a house in Monteith Row. These were in the days when most newspapers, in Scotland anyway, did not go into details about sexual adventures. I doubt if they would bother to publish that kind of story now either.
I wouldn't want to seem callous but an extraordinary number of elderly ladies embedded themselves in kitchen walls in my day. They used to put a casserole or whatever in the oven, turn on the gas and discover they didn't have a match so they went round the house looking for the matchbox, came back, struck a match and.....booooom.
I was always asked by the newspapers for a comment and always told them what happened, adding "The appliance was in proper working order." The comment seemed a bit bland considering what had happened to the old dears.
Understandably I received a lot of complaints of one kind or another about the gas board which I didn't mind so much during office hours but I did resent having to listen to long tales of woe from friends and acquaintances wherever I went outside my job. The matter came to a head one day at the burial of a friend. I was standing tearfully at his graveside when I felt someone behind me tugging my coat. I ignored the first couple of tugs but at the third tug I pulled my coat roughly away. The man behind me whispered, "Your gas board is giving me a tough time," to which I responded rather more loudly than I intended, "I'll give you a lot more tough time if you don't leave me alone." That didn't prevent the man from approaching me after the funeral. I don't remember all I said but even if I did I couldn't put it down here. .
Once I helped the blood transfusion service to set up a ward in the basement of the gas board building in George Square so that members of the staff could donate blood. The event got a lot of coverage in the news media, mainly I think because of the heading on my press release, BLOOD LETTING AT THE GAS BOARD!
I commissioneed a photographer to take a picture of me giving away my life-sustaining fluid for the benefit of the journalism and Public Relations trade press but my brilliant idea backfired when a nurse told me after taking a sample of my blood, "I don't think we should take your blood, Mr Diamond. Your need is greater than ours!" That night I rushed to the doctor in a panic and was told, "Don't worry, you're not
dying. You're just a wee bit anaemic."
The editor of a technical reference book phoned me one day to say that all the hierarchy in the 12 area gas boards in Britain had alphabet soup after their names, degrees, technical qualifications, honours and so on but there was nothing after the name Harry Diamond and it looked odd. "Can we put anything after your name?"
"I'm an M.L.H.C.," I said. The phone went dead at that moment so I wasn't asked what the initials stood for but for years they appeared after my name in the directory. Came the night when I had to speak at an industry dinner in London. After my speech a voice asked, "What does M.L.H.C., stand for, Mr Diamond?".
There was absolute silence as I said into the microphone, "It stands for Member of Langside Hebrew Congregation."
At another dinner in London attended by anyone who was of any importance in the industry in Britain I was scheduled to be the seventh speaker. By the time it came to my turn the audience was catatonic. The red-breasted master of ceremonies announced stentoriously that Mr Diamond would now give his address. I stood up and said, "My address is 9 George Square, Glasgow," and sat down to tumultuous applause. People crowded round me afterwards and said, "Congratulations, Harry, best speech of the night!"
Among the people we recruited to help us promote the use of gas for cooking was the celebrated writer and television chef Fanny Cradock and her long-suffering husband Johnny, whose role was mainly to absorb abuse, run errands, and fetch the eggs for the irascible Fanny. On one of her visits to Glasgow I had the job of meeting her at the Central railway station on her arrival from London.
The train stopped, Fanny finally alighted regally and said to me imperiously when I introduced myself, "Get my luggage." I ignored her instruction and started to walk along the platform with her. "Get my luggage, I told you, " she repeated. "I expect your co-operation while I'm here and if I don't get it I'll report you to the chairman." She said this loud enough for everyone on the platform to hear.
"Listen, hen," I said in my best Glaswegian, "you can report me to the Pope and the Chief Rabbi but if you want my help don't bloody well talk to me like that or I'll leave you right now." To my considerable surprise and her eternal credit Fanny smiled broadly and said in her sergeant-major voice, "We'll get along fine" and took my arm. The long-suffering Johnny attended to the luggage.
Another celebrated artist with the frying pan gave me a tip which came in useful many years later when I had to do my own cooking; put anything at all in the pan and if it turns out O.K. take the credit for inventing it and the public will think you're a culinary genius. If it doesn't work, fling something else in the pan. I have since amazed and astonished many of my friends with the inventiveness of my cooking.
Speedway racing had a very large and enthusiastic following in Scotland so I decided to cash in on its popularity with the help of Ian Hoskins, a fast-talking Australian-born speedway promotor. I persuaded the Gas Board to buy a 500cc machine with a J.A.P. engine of the type that had won every major speedway event and world championship since it was introduced in 1930 and offered the SUPERBIKE as first prize in a speedway competition. Two hundred pounds worth of gas applicances were offered to spectators who forecast the first three riders past the post.
The event attracted an enormous number of spectators to the final at the White City in Glasgow and brought the gas industry a great deal of publicity for its imagination and enterprise.
Gas Board social occasions were always enjoyable, especially lunches and dinners with local authority people, commercial and industrial customers, and other big gas users. Our own internal social occasions also tended towards the indulgent. One group whose gatherings I always attended was the Service and Sales Circle, whose name is self-explanatory. and one year I was very gratified to be elected chairman.
This was quite an honour for someone who had not spent much of his life in the industry. I always thought there was an interesting cameraderie among gas industry people, more than in some of the other organisations I had worked for where the bonhomie had a brittle edge. There was a time when the gas manager in a town or village ranked in importance with the provost. Often they were the same person.
A speaker from the oil industry at one of our monthly meetings of the Service and Sales Circle responded in superior, sneering tones when I asked him if the exploration for gas and oil in the North Sea would have an adverse effect on the fishing grounds. I forget his exact words but I do recall the laughter at my expense when he implied that my question was the silliest he had ever been asked.
The reality of the situation is that the oilmen's hardware in the North Sea, 18,000 kilometres of pipeline, 430 platforms, 180 subsea installations and templates, 400 suspended wellheads, drilling rigs, pipelay vessels, trenching boats, supply boats and tankers and abandoned installations all disrupt the work of the 8,000 fishermen with their 2,200 fishing boats who contribute almost £1 billion a year to the British economy.
It becomes a matter of life and death when a fisherman has to decide in extreme weather conditions whether to stay and try to free thousands of pounds worth of nets caught on some abandoned oil equipment or get away before his ship and all aboard it go down.
The gas industry like anywhere else has its schemers and men of ambition. One Glasgow area manager in my time, a burly, no-nonsense type who took me to a very expensive restaurant soon after he was appointed, bought me a number of drinks, and asked me a series of questions about all the local managers in the area, How good did I think they were at their jobs...How were they regarded by the people around them, what families they had, did they drink, how were they with the female staff.
Mr Brandon obviously believed that knowledge was power and that as I had free access to everyone I would know all about them. I did know one or two interesting things as it happened but I gave Mr Brandon a string of naive, ingenuous answers and he quickly gave me up as a bad job. I don't think he spoke to me again for the rest of the two or three years he was area manager.