1997 could be the year Brian Basham finally shrugs off the tag of
’former British Airways PR consultant’.
Four years after being accused by Virgin chairman Richard Branson of
masterminding a smear campaign against his company on BA’s behalf - and
being unceremoniously dumped by BA itself - Basham’s struggle to clear
his name has finally paid off. Last month he won his libel action
against author Martyn Gregory and publisher Little, Brown and Company
over the book Dirty Tricks. The irony is that Basham had co-operated
with the book - an example, suggests one press contact, of his
Basham says he saw the book as a chance to tell the truth about his role
in the commercial war between the two airlines. Instead he found himself
portrayed as a liar.
For those who saw the action as a means to get senior British Airways
and Virgin management into the witness box, the case was a
disappointment - although Basham always claimed this was incidental. If
nothing else, it proves that the man once dubbed the ’street fighter’ is
still a force to be reckoned with. ’I never stop,’ he says, matter of
Even now, Basham won’t let go. He has his sights set on Gregory’s QC
Ronald Thwaites, whom he accuses of abusing court privilege with his
If there is a touch of the obsessive about Basham it is the mark,
perhaps, of a self-made man. The son of a south London butcher, he left
school at 16 and served an apprenticeship as an electrician before
breaking into journalism at the Daily Mail. From there he moved on to
the Daily Telegraph and finally the Times. There was also a brief period
as a broker’s analyst investigating the links between the City and
He moved into PR with John Addey Associates in 1972 and left four years
later to found Broad Street Associates. His first employee was John
Coyle; together they built Broad Street into a pounds 15 million public
company with a reputation for high-profile and aggressive PR, together
with an equally high-octane lifestyle.
Basham’s trade mark was detailed investigations of his opponents’
strengths and weaknesses - ’getting back to the brick-work’ he calls it.
Coyle praises him as: ’a great lateral thinker and a brilliant
advocate’. But outside the business community, the style - Saville Row
suits, two car phones and a permanent table at the Savoy - sometimes
grated with the press.
And the (self-perpetuated) myth of the tough, aggressive PR man made him
an obvious fall-guy for BA.
Never, by Coyle’s admission ’the best managed company’, Broad Street ran
into trouble in 1989, although by then Basham had sold most of his stake
to BDDP. He took some of the business and formed Warwick Corporate.
A socialist, and vocal republican, Basham has always seen himself as an
outsider, although, ironically, he is most proud of his work to
reinstate the two-minute silence for the Royal British Legion. Currently
he is working with club owner James Palumbo on a campaign to encourage
young people to use their vote. Another hobby horse is the regulation of
financial PR people.
The 1997 Basham is silver-haired and every inch the corporate PR man:
articulate, well connected and eminently plausible - no hint of the
wild-man of the 1980s who, according to one colleague, once chewed a
champagne glass. He chooses his words carefully but sidetracks endlessly
with tales of characters such as Robert Maxwell - a former client - whom
he met when he doorstepped him for the Telegraph.
Having spent the last three years on the Dirty Tricks case, building his
care home business Primrose Care and working on the two-minute silence,
Basham is now turning his attention back to PR.
There is a new service aimed at smaller quoted companies. There will
also be a similar refocusing of Warwick Corporate with a merger which
Basham says will near double the agency in size. The message is clear -
Basham is back.
1976 Starts Broad Street Associates
1991 Starts Warwick Corporate
1994 Issues writ over Dirty Tricks
1996 Wins libel case