PROFILE: Clive Turner, Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association; Quitting in a puff of smoke

The tobacco industry PR magician retiring after years in the line of fire

The tobacco industry PR magician retiring after years in the line of


Clive Turner can do magic. In his SW1 office, he draws playing cards

from thin air, reads bemused journalists’ minds, and makes everyday

kitchen foil burn in the palm of your hand.

This colourful side of Turner can sit oddly with his role as UK frontman

for the tobacco industry. But Turner, who is soon to retire as the

Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association executive director, industry affairs,

sees no contradiction between the two.

‘I have used magic in business life to show there is a difference

between perception and fact,’ he says. ‘People perceive tricks are

genuine, the reality of course is they are not.’

Turner, 64, has been in the tobacco industry since 1962 when he became

deputy PR manager for WD & HO Wills. Other than an 11- year stint as

Texaco public affairs chief, he has been with tobacco ever since. As

well as fronting the UK industry he also carried the torch abroad,

setting up international PR divisions for tobacco company Carreras

Overseas and working as MD of the Hong Kong-based Asian Tobacco Council.

His professional role frequently puts him in the stocks of public

opprobrium. Leaning back on his office couch he relates one brush with a

chat show adversary: ‘He was foaming at the mouth, calling me a

murderer, a scumbag and a slug who should be stepped on. I said: ‘If I

was you, I’d go and have a cigarette and lie down.’ The audience fell

about laughing. He was incandescent with rage.’

Such good humour, which, he stresses should never fall to flippancy, is

just one part of his armoury. Where appropriate, he switches to

reasoned, and informative, mode quick to emphasise the benefits tobacco

production brings to third world countries and the taxation riches it

heaps on governments. His composure stems partly from his Forces

training and from a determination to keep on top of his subject. His

bookshelves are crammed with 60 files of cuttings on tobacco-related

social and political issues, all scrupulously updated. As Ben Welsh, who

worked as TMA public affairs manager before joining Anglian Water, says:

‘In media relations you have to be better briefed than your opponent. In

the tobacco industry you cannot win on emotional issues but you can on

the factual side. Clive is the consummate media spokesman.’

Turner is as scrupulous with his media image as he is with research.

Despite a stage career that has included seasons at Pontins and Magic

Circle ladies nights, Turner is still ruthlessly critical of his own

performance. He listens to all his radio interviews and watches videos

of all TV appearances, despite the fact that on occasions, like last

week’s No Smoking Day, he does up to 20 spots a day. Despite his

sanguine response to criticism, Turner admits ‘you would be made of

stone if you did not get upset’. But one feels that although he doesn’t

relish the on- air attacks or receiving excrement through the post, he

does enjoy the rigours of the debate. One of his recruits at Texaco

David Robinson, who now holds his old job there, says Turner would not

have been happy in ‘soft PR’. He says: ‘I am sure he likes the cut and

thrust of working in an unpopular industry, finding the complexities of

the argument and the difficulties of putting his view across, very


Turner seems set for a busy retirement. His plans include spending more

time with his family; continuing as contributing editor to Tobacco

Reporter magazine; media training; photography and, of course, devoting

more time to his magic.


1962 Deputy PR manager WD & HO Wills

1968 Public affairs manager Carreras Overseas

1971 International director Macdonald Tobacco

1974 General manager, public affairs Texaco

1985 Deputy chief executive, Tobacco Advisory Council, later Tobacco

Manufacturers’ Association

1990 Managing director Asian Tobacco Council

1993 Executive director, industry affairs Tobacco Advisory Council

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