Around six years ago I fulfilled one of my main career ambitions and it involved a fine old war hero, Harry Patch.
My ambition was to write the advertising copy for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal Campaign, as I’ve always been fascinated by the Great War and probably even more so, its poets.
Anyhow, I’ve yet to be invited to write for the national campaign, or handle its PR (ahem), but we did once make a national PR campaign out of a local Somerset launch.
To cut a long story short, we (myself, Brian Dolby and Wayne Swiffin) once launched the Somerset Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal Campaign. We were stuck for an angle until we realised that Harry, the last surviving Tommy, lived there. Much PR activity later, and after an emotional service on the windswept front of Western Super Mare, we took Harry onto the beach to get the best shot I have ever art directed and probably ever will. It ended up on the front page of The Sunday Times. Harry captivated the media and the coverage went blanket nationally with a lot of international media too in Commonwealth countries. We probably overtook the official national campaign – but it didn’t matter, as it just meant more money for the servicemen and women past and present and their families.
I love my job, but doing that really meant something to me, as it did to Brian and Wayne who are often, like me, a bit lost in the past when it comes to their interests. Meeting Harry was very special, but so was handling the whole thing in a respectful way – he was the story, he was the ‘stunt’ or the ‘hook’.
Next year will mark the centenary of the start of The Great War. How will we mark it? Will it be with respect for the past and the people who took part? I hope it captures the Great War’s reality, its lesson and its haunting mysticism and doesn’t end up being portrayed in some gimmicky way that makes it more palatable to people now. I hope it makes people feel like I did when we learnt about it in those old Victorian schools – the same ones that were parade grounds in the War and bore the names of its soldiers on the wall.