I couldn’t help feeling a touch of nostalgia and even sadness last week as two once mighty icons competed for the headlines as they dillied and dallied and were ultimately both diminished by mishandled PR.
Instead of being forthright and bold, Doctor Who, back on earth in a pretty respectable format and to some decent reviews, revealed out of the blue that his latest manifestation in Christopher Eccleston was only doing one series. What a waste of everybody’s time.
I’m a Tom Baker man myself, but after an endless nationwide campaign which included being taken up by the Sun as a national treasure, afforded acres of coverage about the casting of Billy Piper, and even awarded a Save the Daleks crusade, surely everyone expected more of the institution than a quick wham-bam enhancement to the viewing figures and then off again?
Surely the point of the Doctor’s wanderings are that they go on for ever? They’re meant to become a “fixture” in the schedules, like Casualty or Match of the Day, and impart a sense of reliability to Saturday evenings. But no. Spin-Doctor Who, the new version, lacks the integrity of the old one.
It used its fame cynically, deliberately concealing the news of Eccleston’s refusal to lock himself into a long run until the main burst of launch publicity had done its job. Or perhaps the actor simply couldn’t face talking to any more giant blobs of mucus.
Someone else who couldn’t face talking to blobs but made the fatal error of letting the blobs know precisely how he felt was our good old Duke of Cornwall.
Now in his mid-50s and at last able to marry the woman he’s been in love with for 30 years, why on earth has he still not learnt how to handle the press?
Time after time he fails to appreciate the difference between unscrupulous paparazzi, BBC royal correspondents and the kind of people who write for The Spectator, branding them all as a frightful shower of guttersnipes who deserve nothing but to be looked down upon with sneering indifference if not outright contempt.
Because, he seems to forget, whatever they receive, they duly give back, with interest.
Frederick Forsyth in his Daily Express page last Friday revisited the conspiracy theory that the continual knock-knock-knocking of the Royal Family is part of a deliberate campaign by New Labour and the Murdoch press to bring the monarchy to its knees and thence its end.
If so, perhaps the actual members of the institution could stop actively helping the traitors’ cause, and instead accelerate a return to the Mark Bolland days of sophisticated deals behind the scenes, done with the press on the Prince’s behalf, instead of the stop-start PR we’re having to abide at the moment. Get with the modern media age and deal with Fleet Street because they aren’t going to let you go.
In the coming decade, which I rashly predict will see the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, the increasing frailty of the Queen and the marriage and heir-breeding programme of Prince William, the monarchy is going to need the active, positive support of the nation to continue in its present form, not just a quick tweak from PR’s sonic screwdriver.