David Parkin on Britain’s answer to Mad Men and crazy characters in football

FAREWELL then Lord Bell.

With his slicked-back hair, Savile Row suits, and heavy drinking and smoking, Tim Bell, who made his name at advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, before going on to found the public relations firm Bell Pottinger, could have been the leading man in a British version of Mad Men.

He was credited with coming up with the slogan: “Labour isn’t working” when he advised Margaret Thatcher ahead of her winning the 1979 General Election.

He went on to work with her throughout the rest of her career and was a political spin doctor before the phrase was even coined.

Some describe Britain’s first female Prime Minister as a controversial character.

That was nothing compared to some of the clients that Tim Bell happily represented.

Among his clients were the Pinochet regime, Asma al-Assad, wife of the Syrian dictator, the Sultan of Brunei and the Sri Lankan government during its war with the Tamils.

In the UK his firm represented the Tory minister David Mellor during his extramarital affair, the businessman Ernest Saunders, convicted of manipulating Guinness shares during a takeover battle, Mohamed Al Fayed, the owner of Harrods, Rebekah Wade, the Murdoch executive during the phone hacking scandal, and Neil Hamilton in his battle with the Guardian over the cash for questions scandal.

Bell took a verbal baseball bat to critics of his work.

When I did some media training for a law firm with my friend Nathan Lane he included an interview Lord Bell did with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight in which he leaves on of broadcasting’s toughest inquisitors literally exasperated with nowhere left to go.

But Lord Bell said there were limits to who he would have as clients.

“Contrary to the illusion people have, I would not represent Saddam Hussein or Hitler,” he told the Daily Telegraph in 2015.

“I have represented people who are thought to be evil, but I only represent them because they promised me they were going to stop being evil and when they carried on being evil, I walked away,” he added.

The agency declined to represent Zimbabwe’s feared leader Robert Mugabe over a financial transaction, but only because he did not take their advice.

But there was one client which die-hard Thatcherite Lord Bell admitted that he could never represent – the Labour Party.

Nevertheless the man who was knighted by Margaret Thatcher was awarded a peerage by Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Buccaneering, bloody-minded, they don’t make them like Bell any more.


I’M not aware that Lord Bell ever represented any football clients, or even had any interest whatsoever in the beautiful game.

But given their reputations I think most of them would have passed the English Football League’s ‘fit and proper person test’.

In a week which has seen the demise of Bury Football Club, one of the founding members of the Football League and another historic club, Bolton Wanderers, teetering on the brink, the governance of the sport has been placed sharply in the spotlight.

The cast of characters swirling around both clubs are a boastful, arrogant bunch who appear to inhabit a land of make believe.

Debbie Jevans, the executive chairman of the EFL, has been at pains to distance the organisation from the pantomime which the ownership of Bolton and Bury have become.

To be honest she is doing a lot of sweeping up following the departure of chief executive Shaun Harvey.

He’s the man some blame for many of the current woes facing lower league clubs and who appeared to have been given his marching orders after signing a TV deal which many Championship club chairmen felt wasn’t big enough.

I have no idea what makes you a fit and proper person to own a football club.

I’m sure Shaun Harvey does.

His experience includes working under Geoffrey Richmond as managing director of Bradford City and a similar role working for Ken Bates at Leeds United.


TALKING of Ken Bates, I was reminded of Old Greybeard the other day when I heard that veteran Fleet Street football reporter Steve Curry had died.

The Manchester-born Curry worked on most of the major national newspapers and had a contacts book that was the envy of the industry.

I only met him once.

When Ken Bates was chairman of Leeds United he put the club into administration and succeeded in buying it back, debt-free, via some offshore companies.

He held a press conference at the Malmaison Hotel in Leeds, just round the corner from his penthouse apartment.

The Yorkshire Post’s football correspondent Richard Sutcliffe was invited and, as the newspaper’s then business editor I was too, given that most of Leeds United’s recent history involved off-the-pitch financial events rather than any on-the-pitch highlights.

Also there were Fleet Street legends Steve Curry, then of the Daily Mail and Harry Harris of the Daily Mirror.

A former colleague of Harry Harris once told me he was a great story-getter but writing those stories was never his strong point.

They became know as ‘Harryisms’.

Harris started one report about England playing an international match in Israel with the words: “As I stand here looking out over Bethlehem, where the legendary Jesus Christ was born…”

Back to the Maimaison press conference. It was all very amicable with former Chelsea chairman Bates answering straightforward questions from the football journalists.

I then asked a question about who was behind the offshore funds which had bought the club – and Bates cut the press conference short but not before giving me an invective-filled flea in my ear for my impertinence.

However he still included me in an invitation to join him in the private dining room of the hotel where the wine flowed and the steaks were perfectly grilled.

The football journalists swapped some great stories and it emerged that Bates and Steve Curry jointly owned a London wine bar where Curry’s wife was the manager.

I was about to raise the question of whether this was entirely ethical given Curry had to write stories about Bates, but then someone refilled my glass with a fine Rioja and I decided to let it ride.


YOU can’t say that Yorkshire didn’t get its fair share of positive publicity last weekend.

The Ebor Festival at York was another huge racing success while the Leeds Festival took place in blazing sunshine and we witnessed one of, if not the greatest, climaxes to an Ashes test match in history.

Given my jetpack was in for a service I could only attend one of these occasions (I actually wasn’t invited to the Ebor and couldn’t find a cravat to match my wellies for Leeds Fest) so went to the second day of the Ashes Test at Headingley last Friday as a guest of Richard Larking and Alistair Scott-Somers of Progeny Law.

Fellow guest Geoff Thomas, a corporate financier with a Cockapoo, assured me he was a big fan of this blog when I bumped into him in Pets at Home the week before.

But perhaps that’s because the last time I went to the cricket with him he ended up breakdancing in the stands – and I don’t think England had won anything.

Behaviour like that clearly merited a mention in dispatches and I think Geoff fancied another taste of the limelight.

So he wore a T-shirt with ‘Blogger’ on the front.

I think he believed that would get him another mention.

He must be daft.

Have a great weekend.


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