I’ve always felt a bit bad for Lord Tim Bell, the British PR guru, who died today aged 77. It must have been a bit of a bummer to be christened Timothy and not something more posh sounding. If only his mum and dad had known what greatness he would aspire to then they wouldn’t have named him after a chain of British chemists which disappeared in the 1960s.
[Timothy Whites for anyone under the age of 50 and not British].
I mean really, Lord Timothy? He should have been called Peregrine or Maximilian (or max-a-million – am I right, Timbo?). I wonder if he ever felt inferior around his business partners like the perfectly named Piers Pottinger.
I used to work for Tim, or the Big Dong, as we never called him. Not directly worked for him, but my third ever PR job was with Good Relations which was part of the Lowe Bell Communications Group. We did all the humdrum stuff while he focused on getting Thatcher Thatcher Milk Snatcher into power three times. I was 24-ish when I joined GR as an Account Executive and lived on avocado toast as a necessity rather than choice.
Never a man to let scruples get in the way of a fat monthly retainer, Timotei’s client list was a who’s who of monsters and monstrous egos: Thatcher, Yeltsin, Pinochet, the South African Government, and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
But his ruthless pursuit of the almighty pound coin did touch our work too. Good Relations held the account for Nutrasweet, owned by Monsanto. Possible legal action prevents me from mentioning the locked filing cabinet that supposedly definitely contained damaging research into the supposedly definitely deathly effects of aspartame. And I also had the joy of working on the account for the Malaysian Timber Council. Quite what a 24-year-old was supposed to do when the call came that another of those bloody sarawaks had chained themselves to the railings in front of the Malaysian embassy is beyond me. I should probably dig out the article I wrote for Posh Homes & Interiors on why teak looks great in the forest but even better in your plantation house. And how it’s perfectly offset by some delightful ivory accessories.
I imagine that his comment below was meant to be comforting and to address any concerns over his moral turpitude but I do find it a bit strange given that all three examples he gives were dead at the time.
In the end, it was South Africa that did in him. Or more specifically his role in stirring up racial tensions to protect Jacob Zuma. Who said PR can’t produce real results?
But I’ve been reading a lot about Lord Timmo today and what’s really stood out is how closely tied he was to the Conservative Party, especially during the Thatcher family values era. And then I realised that given his background it all made absolute sense:
On 19 November 1977 Bell was fined £50 for indecency. He had exposed himself while masturbating at his Hampstead bathroom window on 21 October in full view of female passers-by. He left Saatchi to found Lowe Howard-Spink & Bell (serving as deputy chairman) in 1985 and bought out part of it, which became his own agency, Lowe Bell Communications, in 1989.
Are you sure it wasn’t Lowe Howard-Spunkin’ Bell, eh Lord Timster?
To honour today’s sad news I wonder if Google UK could come up with one of those clever home page images combining Tim Bell, Margaret Thatcher and some spilled milk? Add a few female passers-by and it’s a party.
ps. If you want to read more about the South Africa scandal, this is a good read: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/06/25/the-reputation-laundering-firm-that-ruined-its-own-reputation