According to a recent PR Week column the toughest jobs in PR are in
privatised utilities and local government. That was, of course, before
Stephan Shakespeare appeared on our television screens to defend the
lies told by Lord Archer, the now ex-Tory mayoral candidate, in
concocting a false alibi around the 1987 Daily Star libel case he
The jury is still out on whether the German-born, boarding
school-educated Shakespeare made a decent fist of it. Lord Archer told
PR Week: ’As I am no longer to be mayor, London has lost a superb chief
Conor Ryan, press spokesman for Frank Dobson, the man backed by the
Labour leadership to win the party’s London mayor nomination, says
Shakespeare had no choice but to ’brazen it out’.
Charles Lewington, erstwhile Tory communications director, now running
PR consultancy Media Strategy, thinks Shakespeare was dealt a bad hand,
but he played it well. ’In a world where there appears to be little
loyalty, people have great admiration for those who stick with their
friends,’ Lewington says.
The first indication of the close bond between Archer and Shakespeare
comes from the Andy Warhol originals which dominate the lounge of
Shakespeare’s Barbican flat. Archer is a renowned art collector, and
owns the Peter Gwyther Gallery in Mayfair, of which Shakespeare is
director. They first met as Shakespeare stood for the Tories in
Colchester in the 1997 general election. Considered unlikely to win,
Shakespeare asked the populist Archer to come and help. This Archer did,
and Shakespeare came second on a smaller swing to Labour than the
Shakespeare, 42, spent most of his working life in education before
stumbling into public affairs. He taught English after graduating from
Oxford in 1979, eventually becoming headmaster of a Los Angeles
Returning to the UK to start a family, he began work in a Lambeth
comprehensive in 1988. The local education authority was boycotting
early years testing at the time and Shakespeare, outraged at the impact
this would have on the children of a poor London borough, started
writing to the Daily Telegraph to complain. He contributed regularly to
both the Telegraph and the Daily Mail during John Major’s premiership,
slowly losing his academic’s cool and becoming more agitated, until in
the run-up to the 1997 poll, he quit teaching for full-time
Archer and Shakespeare’s second political connection came during Peter
Lilley’s campaign for the Tory leadership after the 1997 rout. Working
together for several weeks, and with Archer already thinking ahead to
the mayoralty race, he made Shakespeare his special adviser. One of
Shakespeare’s first plans was to try and stop Archer unilaterally
briefing the papers when it suited him.
Shakespeare’s media work is highly-rated by ex-colleagues. Nadhim
Zahawi, until two weeks ago operations head for the mayoral bid, says as
well as Shakespeare’s down-to-earth manner, his greatest skill is
’knowing exactly what journalists think is a story’.
Journalists obviously thought Archer admitting to the false alibi and
asking a friend to lie about it in court, was ’a story’. He is reticent
on the PR plan adopted when the News of the World broke the story of
Archer’s lies last month. ’Jeffrey was devastated and in no state to
discuss strategies,’ he says disingenuously.
The plan seemed to involve hiding Archer away and using Shakespeare to
generate public support by projecting shame, contrition and sadness in
equal measure. The alternative, he explains, would have been to line up
a list of the great and good names who privately expressed support to
Archer soon after his fall. ’That would have embarrassed them, and it
would not have been fair to use them like that,’ he says.
It may be Shakespeare is tainted with sleaze-by-association, and it is a
safe bet he will be seen as tarnished for the foreseeable future. But
Anthony Gordon-Lennox, a former television producer who ran William
Hague’s successful Tory leadership campaign before working as a
consultant on Archer’s mayoral attempt, is sure he will eventually
benefit from his recent display. ’He has proved he is loyal, he can
write and has an instinctive grasp of the media. He is the ideal PR
person,’ he says.
Shakespeare is uncertain what the future will bring. He rules out
standing for election again. He rules out a return to teaching, having
apparently grown beyond a simple concern for education policy. He has
pointedly not ruled out more media work, but remains tight-lipped on
offers he may have had or plans he may be hatching. For now, the man is
staying by his master’s side.
1988: Principal of Landmark School, Los Angeles
1997: Tory general election candidate for Colchester
1997: Special adviser to Lord Archer.