Grilled: The Guardian's parliamentary sketch writer John Crace

John Crace on PR, following in the footsteps of Simon Hoggart and how politicians are far more worthy of satire than celebrities.

John Crace: parliamentary sketch writer, The Guardian
John Crace: parliamentary sketch writer, The Guardian

What are your feelings as you come into work?

I still get a thrill every time I walk through the gates of the Palace of Westminster. I never imagined myself in the press gallery of the House of Commons alongside heavyweight – often in both senses – journalists.
 
Why do you do this job?

I always specialised in humour and satire, and there’s no place better for a satirist than the House of Commons. Politicians are worthier of satire than other professions and celebs. They make decisions that affect all of our lives and it’s imp­ortant they be held to account.
 
As a child I wanted to be...

Nothing much. I liked just mooching around with my mates and work seemed like something that got in the way of a good time. I did various jobs before journalism inc­luding fin­ancial adviser. I was so bad I mis-sold myself my own mortgage. Journalism was a perfect cover for my lack of direction.

When is the worst time to pitch to you?

My hours are random, so there is no best time. The time when a PR’s email is most likely to be read is when I am in a lull. Or dawdling. Then I will read almost any email. Even ones from my family.
 
When is the best time to pitch to you?

See above. I also prefer emails that are to the point, and don’t start: "Hi Jim. Hope you are having a great day." I rarely am and my name isn’t Jim.
 
What makes a great story for you?

Almost impossible to say. Except you always know one when you see one. But if any PR has a story about a politician doing something other than opening a supermarket I could be interested.

What is your view of PR professionals?

I don’t really have any set view. They are people with a job to do. The best ones are friendly and understand the interests of the journalist to whom they are trying to pitch. I still don’t know why I am on the email list of a PR for jazz festivals. I’d quite like not to be.
 
Do you have a favourite PR person? Why?

I always loved working with Anna Arthur of Arthur Leone PR. She always had brilliant and original ideas and would put herself out to set up interviews. She was also always diligent in finding me clients of hers to speak to at short notice if I needed comments for a piece.

What one thing gets in the way of you doing your job?

Me. If you give me four days to do a job, I can guarantee that job will take four days. If you tell me I have four hours, then it will take four hours. Without deadlines, I’ve often wondered if I would ever leave the house.
 
Are there any subjects that you find so boring or offensive you just won’t give them coverage?

Having worked as a writer for The Guardian’s G2 feature desk, I have written plenty of articles that either I or the readers have found boring or offensive. Editors are very good at knocking preciousness out of writers.
 
What gives you the biggest job satisfaction?

Surviving another day without ending up in The Guardian’s Corrections and Clarifications column is always the primary goal. The greatest pleasures often come from making something entertaining out of something dull.
 
The greatest pressure on me is…

Following Simon Hoggart, who died earlier this year. Simon had been The Guardian’s sketch writer for more than 20 years. He knew almost everything about the foibles of politicians, was extremely funny and had a huge following. I’m trying not to let him or his fans down.
  
Which outlet do you most admire for its news coverage and why?

This sounds toadying, but The Guardian has been brilliant in exposing the phone-hacking scandal and its coverage of Wikileaks and the NSA. But you find as many articles with which you disagree as agree in the paper. Not many papers have that level of confidence. I’m also a fan of the BBC.
 
What’s in your lunch box?

A tuna and sweetcorn sandwich, a Diet Coke and a Wispa Bar.
 
My greatest career fear is…

Being sacked.

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