After a week of working through the papers from Percival Stein, I have been considering his legacy. I suppose if one had to sum up my research, it’s clear that he was a lost son of Barnum. The papers provide evidence that advocates he was a man of passion, in love with something that was yet to be called a profession.
I believe I have now spent over ten years considering men like Stein and have tried to search for the constituents that drive this passion. I believe that at the nucleus of all the great publicists is this substantial will to succeed against all the odds. This core facet inexorably generates drive. I am not sure why I have toiled for hours trying to put on record these astonishing chancers, rogues and adventurers, perhaps it’s been to stop the modern carpet baggers pillaging their true legacy. I hope I have succeeded in breathing life into their memory, too long forgotten and ignored.
Percival Stein’s memory reinforces my quest I’m on a journey that will take a lifetime to complete. Their stories, like Stein’s remain potent and should shine brightly if only to inspire a generation of practitioners that might see a value in the total ardour of using the media as a canvas to paint pictures to tell a story. Of course some of the renegades have been pretenders and charlatans, but the saddest realisation is that many of the great publicists have been mortally wounded.
Developing a campaign can evolve a huge part of the publicists very being. A warrior can devote every waking hour in an attempt to come up with the inspirational and simplistic notion that ignites. The thrill and jubilation to see a campaign succeed has little to surpass its intoxication. To read and to listen to the fruits of one’s creativity is the buzz of buzzes. The adulation of the client unfortunately does not last long; for the more experienced, it’s merely a theme park ride. They strike at the root and overturn the innocence with a blunt instrument. Perceptibly an unconscious act; but in essence more a whim that forgets or doesn’t comprehend the drudgery of the task that has benignly been kept alive.
Daily, I read and study the modern media both off and online. The chore of having to watch and listen to the endless babble of self important information merchants is something I have lost a certain amount of enthusiasm for. The obesity of pompous opinion weighs down the wonder, the inheritance of folk like Stein should not be a fading ember. The impish generation were innocents, arguably oblivious to their true potential. At that point, the power of the media was not fully realised. Everyday the current generation of PR parishioners interplay with a breed of clients that has seen the impact of free ink and supportive voice. Now the contemporary generation spend hours playing with the possibilities of the web to turn a trick, but sometimes their labours are for fools. They are merely emotional accountants; the irksome who play with their semblance of power like a bureaucrat fumbles over mindless legislation. It’s their own forbidden pornography which arouses the senses via red tape official procedure that feels compelling no matter how over-complicated.
So getting back to contemplating the Stein file, and why I am on this mission to seek out the sons of Barnum. I think Stephen Fry’s recent speech at the launch of “The History Matters” campaign encapsulates my motives. Fry’s address was a tremendously well received credo on the importance of teaching history. Its hub was an appeal to the art of bringing gripping narratives alive. I suppose that’s what I am trying to do. I quote a part of Fry’s dazzling speech which I think reflects my own mission to expose the tales of the old stuntsters.
“The biggest challenge facing the great teachers and communicators of history is not to teach history itself, nor even the lessons of history, but why history matters. How to ignite the first spark of the will o’the wisp, the Jack o’lantern, the ignis fatuus [foolish fire] beloved of poets, which lights up one source of history and then another, zigzagging across the marsh, connecting and linking and writing bright words across the dark face of the present. There’s no phrase I can come up that will encapsulate in a winning sound-bite why history matters. We know that history matters, we know that it is thrilling, absorbing, fascinating, delightful and infuriating, that it is life.”
Oh well, back to the hamster wheel and trying to get off it, to balance my waking hours to meet the deadline of the book. I do hope my agent is reading the blog because I am avoiding his call.