Tag Archives: public relations

Has Tesco got so big that it does not care about PR or charging one price?

There was a report on the Guardian website a couple of days ago about someone who was almost thrown out of a Tesco store for attempting to compare prices on the shelves. He had noticed a bizarre piece of pricing in which it was more expensive (per bottle) to buy Highland Spring water in 4-packs than in lesser quantities: the opposite of what a casual shopper would assume.

This is something I had noticed myself. There was a surreal period where, at my local Tesco, it was significantly cheaper to buy four individual cans of Red Bull than to buy a 4-pack of Red Bull – the opposite of what you would expect. No special offers were involved; this was the normal, everyday price.

In the case of the Guardian reporter, when he was seen on the Tesco security cameras to be standing by shelves writing down something on a piece of paper, the store’s deputy manager approached him and, when told he was “writing down prices”, responded:

“You’re not allowed to do that. It’s illegal… It’s illegal to write things down and you can’t take any photographs, either. If you want to check the prices, take the item to the till and pay for it there. The price will be on the receipt.”

The store manager told him the same thing.

I thought this might be a quirk. But, when I posted a link to the Guardian article on my Google+ account, someone responded:

“I got escorted from Tesco for taking a snap of price tag on my phone. The same thing – item packed in bulk was 100% more expensive than buying four separate items.”

Someone posted on the Guardian website:

I saw a splendid offer there the other day, some revolting looking snack, 20p each or 4 for a £1.00…

And someone else posted:

Recent gems include:
Fruit squash: £1.35 a bottle or 2 for £2.75
NCG soups: £1 or 2 for £3.00
Bread: £1 a loaf or 2 for £2.00.

There are two things here.

What on earth are Tesco doing with their pricing policy? Occasionally you see TV ads claiming Tesco prices are cheaper than their competitors; and they put prices online. But the company has no actual single price throughout the country – or even in the same neighbourhood. Smaller Tesco Metro stores already routinely charge more for items than larger Tesco stores.

I live in Borehamwood in Hertfordshire. The Tesco store there charges lower prices on everyday items than the Tesco Metro in Radlett, three miles away in the next small town.

Tesco has no uniform pricing. Although it buys in bulk at a set price, it does not sell at a set price and is taking different profit margins from customers in different areas and even at different stores within the same area.

Its TV ads, which quote specific prices for specific products, wrongly imply that there is a single standard price for all items at Tesco. There is not. You go into a Tesco store, you take pot luck on what you pay.

And what’s with this surreal leaping on anyone who dares to attempt to write down the prices in their stores?

Tesco has got so big it appears to have lost control of itself.

1 Comment

Filed under PR, Shopping

Lewis Schaffer stunt scuppered; Charlie Chuck fights back with ducks in his hair

A few days ago, I wrote a blog which basically lamented the lack of decent publicity stunts at the Edinburgh Fringe. This is of particular interest to me as I organise the annual Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best Fringe publicity stunt. I started it because the Fringe seemed to have lost part of its original irresponsibility.

In 2009, American comic Lewis Schaffer won the Cunning Stunt Award for a fake press release in which he claimed he was sponsoring the former Perrier Awards for £99 and they would henceforth be named after him.

But once is never enough for Lewis.

A few weeks ago, he was going to issue a list of the Top 20 comedians not to have appeared on television and he was going to put himself in the No 7 position “because I don’t really believe in myself”.

I thought this was an interesting self-publicity idea. But his plan was accidentally scuppered when, a couple of days later, Malcolm Hardee judge and doyenne of Fringe comedy critics Kate Copstick, coincidentally published a list in the Scotsman newspaper of her 20 Comedians to Catch at the Edinburgh Festival. As she put Lewis in third place on this ‘proper’ list of good comedians, it tragically undercut his self-deprecation schtick.

Still, I have hopes he will come up with another unexpected publicity stunt. I have always fantasised about him dressed as a chicken. But any Schafferian avian stunt may have been scuppered too.

I had a phone call yesterday from Charlie Chuck whose girlfriend, as I blogged a couple of days ago, has 21 ducks in her back garden, some of them small chicks.

Ducks are occasionally mentioned in Charlie Chuck’s act and he had a cartoon character of himself created years ago which has ducks in its hair so, on the phone, he suggested that… yup… He suggested I should go up to Leicestershire and see him in his girlfriend’s back garden where I could take photographs of him with ducks in his hair.

Or, at least, ducklings.

“There’s this little one that’s up for it and probably more,” he told me. “This one’s only four days old and it’s well up for a bit o’ adventure. It loves being in me hair.”

This idea was so obviously insane and pointless that I immediately said Yes.

I’m driving up in a couple of days time.

As there are not and never will be any hard-and-fast rules for any Malcolm Hardee Award, I see no conflict of interest in taking the photos myself and then, if they are any good and get any publicity for the show, nominating Charlie Chuck for the Cunning Stunt Award.

But, in fact, I’m not convinced one publicity photo taken in a back garden in rural Leicestershire counts as a publicity stunt.

If he were to walk down Princes Street in Edinburgh during the Fringe with 15 birds in his hair, yelling out details of his two shows, that would be a stunt.

But, if it works as a photo – which it may not – it gives an idea of the area we’re interested in for the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

I think mad, bad and dangerous to know is almost always good.

Pity about the price of petrol.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, PR

IMF managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, dressed up in babies’ clothes and sucking on a large dummy

What is wrong with the managing director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn?

That man needs serious PR counselling. He looked guilty and dodgy in the New York court. Probably with good reason.

I do like to be lazy and not shave for a bit myself (I had a beard, aged 25-50) but, really, if you are going to be in court charged with attempted rape and you know there will be TV cameras there, then do shave, wear a tie and try to look innocent, not like a rather down-at-heel caged wolf.

It’s enough to give bankers a bad name.

When I was a researcher on The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross TV show, as a possible interviewee, I once chatted to a woman who ran an infantilist business, Her market was grown men (allegedly not paedophiles…) who liked to dress up in babies’ clothes. Giant nappies, the whole caboodle.

If you are an American, for “nappies” read “diapers”.

And they had parties.

Apparently the sort of men who like this tend to be men in very straight, responsible jobs like bank managers. It makes you wonder about Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

I have never had much respect for authority figures anyway but, when you imagine them dressed up in giant nappies sucking on over-sized dummies sitting in specially-made giant-sized cots, it tends to make them seem less authoritative…

If you are an American, for “dummies” read “pacifiers”.

The woman who ran the infantilist business was, at that time, the girlfriend of a now-deceased special effects man who worked on Hammer horror films. I knew him slightly. He was brought up in Kent and, as a child, used to dig up the skeletons of Napoleonic prisoners of war buried in the Kent marshes. He didn’t like his girlfriend to eat food in front of other people.

There are some interesting people around. I am comparatively dull.

Mark you, compared to some of these people, Arnold Schwarzenegger’ sex life would be dull.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Crime, Legal system, Movies, PR, Sex

Are Pipex/TalkTalk, BT and Virgin Media in a contest to be the most incompetent UK telecoms company?

Right… Standby for a pointless complaint about an insanely incompetent British company. Indeed, companies. No enlightening information. No message for Mankind.  Just a rant… You have been warned… What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t have a rant?

Is there actually no competent telecoms company anywhere in Britain?

Really.

A serious question.

BT treats its customers with much the same care and respect as the Libyan and Syrian governments treat its people.

But Pipex/TalkTalk appears to be in some sort of heavy-handed contest with BT and Virgin Media to win a prize as the most PR-stupid and professionally incompetent telecoms company in the UK. They seem to manage to be devious, deaf and incompetent simultaneously. At least Virgin Media is not devious, it’s just plain incompetent.

Virgin Media claims to have the fastest broadband in Britain but, in my first-hand experience, its broadband does not work for 60% of the time and constantly drops. Someone else I know reckoned, for her, Virgin Media’s broadband was perhaps 10% the speed of her former BT line for 90% of the time. Perhaps it has the fastest broadband in Britain over a measured two second spurt. Try to get any customer service, of course, and you might as well be trying to play football underwater.

As for Pipex/TalkTalk…

In the last five weeks, I have had five cold calls from them using an 0161 (Manchester) telephone number but actually phoning from abroad to avoid the restrictions on cold calling within the UK. When I asked the man with the Indian accent where he was phoning from, he said South Africa.

At least Pipex/TalkTalk’s people are comprehensible, if unwelcome. BT, in my limited experience, have ‘help centres’ in ‘proper’ India staffed by unfortunate people with accents more incomprehensible than drunken Glaswegians wearing gas masks. That’s not racism, it’s a rant against BT’s stupidity in having foreign help centres. They might as well have their help centres staffed by deaf mutes in Guatemala for all the good they do. When will BT realise that saving money on help centres costs them more in lost customers and disastrous damage to their already low image?

I used to be with Pipex. I left because they were generally incompetent, they couldn’t actually supply me with VAT bills and two separate Pipex people told me I had to make phone calls to them not use the internet because the Pipex online service was “insecure”. Not reassuring in a telecoms company. What I didn’t know then but do know now is that apparently Pipex routinely cut off customers who left them before the changeover date for a new supplier so that customers were left without a line.

Now they are trying to tell me they are part of Pipex/TalkTalk and are a brand sparkling new company and offer sparkling service.

I think Colonel Gaddafi’s spokesman has been saying much the same thing about the Libyan regime every few weeks over the last few months. I can’t say I’m convinced.

I work on the principle of three strikes and you’re out.

If I get cold calls, I ask to be removed from the list of the company. After trying this twice – or, if they’re lucky, three times – the phrase “Fuck off, you cunt,” tends to get used in the hope they put me on a list of people who perhaps don’t altogether want to be cold called and might just hurl random verbal abuse at anyone who calls me.

If I forced my way into the home of the chairman of Pipex/TalkTalk five times in five weeks, I somehow think the sentence “Fuck off, you cunt,” might be very justifiably used by him to me. If someone forces their way into my home, uninvited, via my telephone line, I feel much the same applies. If you come into my home uninvited, you can’t complain I am being unreasonably impolite if I tell you to fuck off out of it again.

I find “Fuck off, you cunt,” is often an effective deterrent to unwanted calls and far less hassle than complaining to any alleged regulatory body. With luck, the company has some list of abusive potential customers. Pipex/TalkTalk seem not to understand the words – simple enough to understand, I would have thought.

Like I say, five calls in five weeks.

Clearly they think it is good PR to circumvent the UK restrictions on cold calling by phoning from foreign soil. And clearly they think it is good PR to keep calling an ex-customer who is not a current subscriber and who had zero interest in re-joining them even before these annoying phone calls.

They’re not alone, of course.

I had much the same trouble with BT. I eventually left them when they would not stop making marketing calls to me despite the fact I was on the Telephone Preference Service list to receive no calls.

“We can’t stop marketing calls,” I was told by two separate BT Helpline people. “It’s another department… No, I don’t know which department. It must be one of our marketing departments.”

A friend of mine tells me the tale of BT harassing her dying mother with marketing calls which could not be stopped. It added to the distress of her mother in the months before she died. This same friend has had  a worse time than me – she herself had hassle from BT marketing calls for months and now has had computer-generated calls from Barclaycard for six months (using an array of different originating numbers and still continuing) because their computer got her confused with someone else. The calls say – “Please call this number”.

Can she get the calls stopped by calling the number(s) given? No she can’t. Can she get the calls stopped by writing to Barclaycard? No she can’t.

I am currently with the very efficient Sky TV, though their lines are supplied by the appalling BT and occasionally drop in two of my rooms. But, unlike the utterly unspeakable Virgin Media lines, at least they work almost all the time.

Sky seem to be the only British telecoms company that has anything like a customer-friendly policy – or a broadband service that works – or any corporate ideology that values PR.

So Rupert Murdoch is OK with me.

But perhaps I am tempting fate…

(There was a later mention about this in my blog on 22nd May)

1 Comment

Filed under Ad industry, PR, Telecoms

The bum-numbing recording of that IKEA ad and the Auschwitz Factor in live audience shows

What is it with my blog about the TV recording of the IKEA ad which I posted on 10th March – almost a month ago?

I have been blogging seriously (perhaps that’s the wrong word) since December and I now get fairly healthy hits on my blog but, yesterday, the hits went through the roof and early this morning – between midnight yesterday and 0230 this morning – the IKEA blog on its own got more hits than I normally get in an entire day.

Who is up at 0230 apart from me, burglars, comedians and the incontinent?

The answer seems to be that people were re-Tweeting the link to the blog and, also, I got an e-mail from someone saying “Loved your blog… have passed it around the ad industry”.

Maybe ad men have weak bladders and like to see other ad people score own goals.

The hits went even more apeshit later this morning when people other than incontinent ad men woke up.

The irony is I have still not seen the actual ad itself on broadcast TV – only the version on YouTube.

My friend who went with me to the recording is equally bemused about the number of hits on my blog and clearly – possibly permanently – emotionally scarred by the IKEA recording experience, appears to have turned to hallucinogenic drugs because yesterday he asked me:

“Do you think it was a real ad? I’ve not seen it on TV. You’ve not seen it on TV. They surely can’t be broadcasting a furniture ad on television making a joke about women weeing themselves? Maybe they were just pretending to make an ad for some reason and were filming our reactions to it for some other reason. It can’t have been a real ad.”

“But,” I told him. “It’s IKEA. They’re Swedish. They’re not known for their surreal humour.”

“It just can’t have been real.” my friend replied. “Maybe they were researching something. Maybe it was an experiment of some kind. You were there. Did it look like they were filming a real ad.”

“Well…” I said.

But I’m increasingly pleased I was there.

Someone commented yesterday that they couldn’t understand why the audience at the recording didn’t leave.

It’s a very interesting question indeed.

Partly the answer is, I think, that only people on the ends of rows in audience seating can leave without drawing attention to themselves; partly I guess it is because, if a couple leave, it feels to them that it is they who are are the odd ones out, not the people who stay. Partly it may be that, in a bad situation, you simply hope against hope that the horror will diminish.

I guess the main answer is that there is some strange human urge not to move in awful situations: like rabbits in an oncoming car’s headlights. When people are herded together in large groups in a forest or in a camp and know they are going to be killed, by and large, they don’t run. They walk to their deaths. It’s the Auschwitz Factor. I’m sorry if that offends anyone by trivialising the Holocaust, but it’s true. I know they thought they were going into showers at Auschwitz, but the general principle is true. Given the option of certain death if they stay or probable death if they run, people tend to choose certain death. People in forests dug their own graves and stood on the edge of the pits waiting to be shot.

I once sat through Luchino Visconti’s movie The Damned in the totally full late lamented Hampstead Classic cinema. It was the dullest film I have ever seen in my life and, trust me, I have sat through some dull films. Killer Bitch may have had – errm – “mixed reviews” but one thing it certainly ain’t is dull.

The Damned runs 155 minutes: that’s two hours and a very long 35 minutes. It was so dull that, after about four minutes, I actually started to time how long it would be before someone in the movie went into an exterior scene. But I sat through the whole godawful 155 minutes. My problem was I was in the middle of the front row in the balcony and, being British, I didn’t want to cause chaos and draw attention to myself by leaving and getting people to stand up all the way along the row.

It was also a revelation to see how anyone could make a film with mass murder, rape, orgies, Nazis, nudity and every excess you can possibly imagine into such a bum-numbingly dull movie.

Alright, The Damned is the second dullest movie I have ever seen. I actually DID walk out of Football as Never Before (Fußball wie noch nie) after about 40 minutes of tedium. There are limits which even I have.

But, in general, after a certain time has passed, people will sit through something really bad until the bitter end. And ‘bad’ can be good in a masochistic way.

When a really truly bad bad bad comedian is on stage, it draws other comedians who huddle together at the back of the room to watch the car crash of a performance happening in front of their eyes.

In 1980, Peter O’Toole appeared in a stage production of Macbeth at the Old Vic in London which was said to be so awful that people queued there and around the country to see it. I tried to buy a ticket at the time. You couldn’t get one anywhere. It was a box office smash.

As someone who has been involved in live audience shows for TV and for stage – and who spent 20+ years making TV promotions – I was fascinated at the IKEA ad recording to see how inept the production could get and if there were any way they could manage to pull the thing together.

I wanted to see the whole ghastly thing through to the end in case there was any glorious climax where the production team pulled something unexpected out of an invisible hat or the audience turned on the production team, tore them limb from limb and ate their entrails with tomato ketchup (not that there was any tomato ketchup).

After wasting a certain amount of time, you have to calculate if spending more time may result in a lower waste-per-minute average. How that is calculated will probably be studied by some university academic on a £1 million grant. If you hear of that happening, please tell me as I’d like to share a bit of that dosh and make my IKEA ad time worthwhile.

1 Comment

Filed under Ad industry, Comedy, Movies, PR, Television

A funny thing happened to IKEA’s image at yesterday’s shambolic public relations disaster

If you don’t like long moans about incompetent ad agencies, PR people and IKEA, progress no further, gentle reader.

The words “piss-up”, “brewery”, “a”, “organise”, “couldn’t” and “in” spring to mind.

I am not going to name the top-notch comedy warm-up man and four excellent featured stand-ups who were employed to make IKEA’s next TV commercial yesterday, because it would be counter-productive to link their names to this shambolic PR disaster for the normally stylish and efficient Swedish company.

I got invited to be in the audience because a friend and I both have IKEA “Family Cards” despite having no family (look – it gives discounts and I am a Scot brought up among Jews).

The promise was a “live stand-up comedy TV production… The fun starts at 1.30pm… There’ll be plenty of refreshments and breaks provided, plus entertainment while you’re waiting for the filming of our TV ad to start.” It would last from 1.30pm to 6.00pm.

Bear in mind, dear reader, the phrase “plenty of refreshments and breaks provided”. We will return to this. It is up there high in the ranks of hype along with that jolly interview in which Colonel Gaddafi said that all his people loved him, anyone who didn’t love him was on hallucinogenic drugs jointly provided by the Americans & Osama bin Laden and no-one had demonstrated against him anywhere in Libya.

The IKEA fiasco started badly. There was supposed to be an audience of 250 or 300 (the publicity seemed uncertain which).

Instead, at 1.30pm, waiting in the icy cold outside the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, was a queue of under 30. There was no-one from the production team to be spotted anywhere. Eventually, someone left the freezing queue outside the Riverside Studios and, with trouble, found a couple of people inside the building. They told her they had no idea when it would start but the crew were “about to go to” lunch.

At 1.45pm, freezing, after someone else had asked, the audience was taken inside the building to stand for another 20 minutes in a line by the open-plan restaurant, watching the cast and crew eating their hot lunch. About 15 minutes into this 20-minute wait, an Australian came along asking everyone to sign ‘release forms’ (no explanation of what they were – yes, I do know).

Then, at 2.05pm, it was into the studio to… yes… wait another 25 minutes while the crew finished their lunch and drinks and, by 2.45, things had been got-together enough to start… ish.

We should have known there would be a problem when the warm-up music for this family-centred comedy ad included the punk anthem “No Future” and the Australian with no microphone inaudibly explained what was going to happen to the bemused audience while loud music continued to play, drowning his words out.

At this point, I just sat back and wrote everything down, secure in the comfort that the ad agency ‘organising’ this destruction of IKEA’s public image to its loyal Family Card members was so incompetent and so unused to staging live shows to a live audience that comedy gold could only follow – entertaining for me, though annoying for the until-then IKEA-loving but now freezing and starving audience. Yup, only around 30 of them, but word of mouth is a powerful thing.

Sure enough, having employed four good comics whose daily professional job is to create situations in which audiences laugh uproariously, the show started with the four hapless comics standing in the background on the IKEA comedy set like enforced lemons while the French floor manager stood in front of them and told the audience to “laugh” unmotivated while cameras shot reactions. Sitting there, cold – both in showbiz terms and in temperature – the audience was instructed to give belly-laughs, laugh louder etc etc. Someone sitting near me said: “Maybe they think we all went to drama school.”

The ad agency had employed an experienced and excellent warm-up man (a comedian whose London circuit work and hour-long Edinburgh Fringe shows I have seen – he’s top notch). He was not, of course, used in this surreal show-starting scenario of asking the audience to laugh at nothing. The French floor manager just stood there and told people to laugh.

Lack of direction was what characterised the entire afternoon.

During the long hours ahead the warm-up man succeeded in the near-impossible task of keeping the audience responsive and the four on-set comedians did sterling work in getting audience laughs from a misconceived sexist cliché of an idea with some occasionally godawful lines.

The ramshackle concept was to mix straight-to-audience stand-up with the TV series Friends in an IKEA-built set under a large neon sign saying MAKE STORAGE NOT WAR. The misconceived and yawningly old-fashioned premise was to look at Which sex is messier at home – the guys or the girls? The gags, I think, were partly supplied by the four comedians but also, with fatal consequences, obviously also partly written by some faceless ad agency copywriter who thought he knew what jokes are. Well, OK, maybe not faceless. I’m guessing it was the young guy skulking around in the Ayatollah-like beard.

The comics tried their best with some occasionally deadly lines. The famous laughing automaton on Blackpool Pleasure Beach would have had difficulty laughing but the audience were pros. Or, at least, they did their best to pretend they had been to drama school.

The ad agency seem to have assumed they could get steady laughs over four hours from an audience for the same series of jokes repeated perhaps (I’m guessing) seven times over that four hours. The audience tried their best but it’s hard, at best, to laugh convincingly at a joke when its repeated twice or three times. The ad agency should have put together an audience from members of the Alzheimer’s Society.

Though the one thing even an Alzheimer’s audience would not have forgotten was the key phrase in the e-mails they got: “plenty of refreshments and breaks provided”.

See? I told you to remember this.

It is a key phrase because some of the audience members I talked to had left home at 11.30am to get to Riverside Studios in Hammersmith at 1.30pm, then wait until 2.45pm (with no refreshments) until the show started.

During the recording, which ended at 6.00pm, there was one break in which the audience discovered the phrase “plenty of refreshments” involved around ten apples and ten pears plus Twinings Tea, Nescafe Coffee and an unknown brand of milk. What would have happened if the expected 250-300 punters had turned up I don’t know. Perhaps the ad agency used its fee from IKEA to have Jesus on standby with loaves and fishes.

My reason for mentioning Twinings and Nescafe by name is that these are not products on sale in IKEA, so they were presumably bought by the advertising agency. The irony is that IKEA sells and provides very cheap good food and drink and would presumably have given free food and drink to the ad agency to give to their IKEA “Family Card” members.

To be honest, there wasn’t just one break, there were two. On the second one, the break in which the audience was told to go eat, drink and wee in the toilets was interrupted after three minutes (I timed it) and the audience urgently called back to their seats (abandoning half-drunk cups and apples with one bite taken out of them) “to line up cameras”. They were then not needed for 17 minutes during which time, for a brief period, all four comics were visibly eating and drinking on set in front of the seated, unfed and unwatered audience. (Not the comics’ fault; they didn’t know the audience wasn’t being given food, but the production crew should have seen and twigged what was happening.)

The whole somnambulistic shambles came to an end just before 6.00pm with increasing audience grumbling around me about not being given any of the promised food. One person said to me, “At least a ham sandwich would have been something. They are all getting paid and had food. We get paid nothing, we have to perform and we get starved for four hours.”

Despite an out-of-control production, the comics and the warm up man succeeded in the amazing, near impossible task of keeping the audience on-side and responsive for four hours. With good editing, there was more than enough material shot yesterday to create maybe five good 20-second commercials. I will be interested to see the uproarious final comic ads with the roaring audience reactions (‘sweetened’ in the sound edit suite) and happy audience faces.

The agency behind yesterday’s farrago was Mother Advertising.

They were certainly being thought of as a bunch of mothers by the IKEA Family Card-carrying audience members I was sitting among.

Except, of course, that’s not true. I thought that myself.

Ordinary punters did not think the shambles was mis-organised by an ad agency and presumably had not, as I had, checked on the release form they signed at the beginning of the afternoon to see who the ‘producers’ were. They saw it as an afternoon organised by IKEA.

So, yesterday afternoon, IKEA’s reputation was tarnished to around 30 of its most loyal customers and, as I say, word of mouth is a powerful thing.

___________________

There are later blogs by me on this subject, including this one about the audience. You might also want to follow me on Twitter  – @thejohnfleming – or Facebook.

___________________

9 Comments

Filed under Ad industry, PR, Television

Oy! Oy! – Anti-Semitism, a murderous Israeli cross-border raid and a Jewish joke from the Prime Minister

This week, I was talking to Israeli-born, London-based freelance journalist Daphna Baram, who wrote a fascinating book Disenchantment: The Guardian and Israel about that British newspaper’s relations with and perception of Israel. (The 2004 hardback is currently on sale at amazon.co.uk for an eye-popping £94.98p)

The only prejudice I know I have is that I am unthinkingly pro-Jewish, largely because I went to a grammar school with a very high percentage of Jewish pupils. That prejudice in favour of Jews used to transfer equally to Israel.

Hey! – remember why Israel occupies the West Bank, the Golan Heights etc – it’s because, in 1967, the countries surrounding it were foolish enough to threaten to attack Israel (not for the first time) in an attempt to wipe it off the face of the map… They lost their gamble… and, in six days – spookily the same amount of time in which the Jewish God allegedly created the Universe – Israel created more defensible borders. Like him, they rested on the seventh day.

Egypt, Jordan and Syria miscalculated so badly that Israel’s defensive attack originally pushed the Egyptian Army back to the Suez Canal and threatened Cairo, while Jordan’s West Bank territories were over-run and Syria lost the Golan Heights. But, when I hear the words “Golan Heights”, I don’t think “wantonly occupied by Israel”, my memory is of the Syrian Army pouring heavy artillery shells down onto the farmland of northern Israel from the heights before the Six Day War started.

My automatic pro-Israeli thinking, of course, has lessened. Bulldozing the houses of terrorists’ families and taking ten eyes for an eye if you are attacked smacks of the Nazis in their occupied territories in the 1940s and makes me think Have the Israeli government never read their own history books? It was counter-productive for the Germans. It is counterproductive for the Israelis. When they bulldoze a house, does the name Lidice never spring into their minds?

They only have to look at a map. The town of Lidice is still there on modern day maps.

I am always a simplistic thinker.

If you constantly fire rockets into Israel, then Israel is going to react, possibly – and not unreasonably – by sending troops into the country from which it is being attacked. If the IRA had been repeatedly/constantly shelling Liverpool from positions just outside Dublin, the British government would have done more than send a few SAS men into the Republic of Ireland to assassinate people (as they did without the provocation of suffering rocket-attacks from foreign soil).

But I mentioned to Daphna Baram that I thought Israel’s image in the UK had mainly gone downhill since my erstwhile youth largely because of accents.

When I was a kid, the Israelis were automatically the good guys because they sounded like us and wore Western clothes, whereas the Palestinians/Arabs sounded like foreigners and wore costumes straight out of Lawrence of Arabia.

In my erstwhile youth, Prime Minister Golda Meir had an American accent and looked like a grandmother from Baltimore. Israel’s long-time Foreign Minister Abba Eban spoke like he had been educated at a rather stuffy English public school and dressed like the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Yasser Arafat, on the other hand, looked and sounded like a rather dodgy bloke up an alleyway in Casablanca or some similar black & white movie, selling dirty postcards to tourists.

I mean… Golda Meir – she was a Jew, the Israeli Prime Minister – and she titled her autobiography My Life… you have to admire her for having a sense of humour. Yasser Arafat did not look like he sat at home and watched Monty Python’s Flying Circus on TV. Golda Meir might have watched The Benny Hill Show.

It was around the time of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his successor Yitzhak Shamir that things started to go downhill for Israel in PR terms. This was, I think, mainly because Begin and Shamir both had a guttural accent when speaking English though – yes, OK – there was also the minor matter of them both being former anti-British terrorists.

Begin had been leader of Irgun and Shamir was a former member of both Irgun and The Stern Gang.

But that has never been an insurmountable problem for the British – from Jomo Kenyatta in Kenya to Michael Collins, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in Ireland, we have always accepted terrorists as the political leaders of ‘our’ former countries.

The trouble with Menahem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir was that they sounded as foreign and alien as their Palestinian rivals – and their suits were not as smart as Abba Eban’s had been.

Daphna did not really agree with me about accents changing Britain’s attitude to Israel, but she did tell me a story about Abba Eban.

In the late 1950s, when Abba Eban was Israel’s representative at the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion ordered an especially murderous raid across the border.

Abba Eban stood up at the UN General Assembly and made a particularly brilliant speech defending the raid. He than phoned David Ben-Gurion to express his utter outrage at what he considered had been an appalling and reprehensible attack.

Ben-Gurion listened to Abba Eban, then said:

“Well, I was having second thoughts about the raid myself but, after I heard your outstanding speech, I  was convinced that I did the right thing”.

A story more Oy! Oy! than Oy Vey! perhaps.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Politics, PR, Racism, Religion