Monday 9 December 2019

The humourless 'Fixer' with a holier-than-thou attitude

Chris Blackhurst

One of the more entertaining afternoons at the Leveson inquiry into the UK media was when Max Clifford gave evidence.

The PR guru presented himself as being on the side of the angels rather than his celebrity clients. "I'd rather enjoy my sex life than read about other peoples' sex lives," Clifford said, prompting Lord Justice Leveson to remove his glasses and rub his face.

As he begins his jail sentence, Clifford's words have added significance. The publicist told the Leveson inquiry a huge market had grown up in the past 20 years for celebrity stories.

"To me it's always been much to do about little, but it's become a big industry."

But his holier-than-thou treatise was more than undone by other things he told Leveson.

These included how he made up the story that led to 'The Sun' headline "Freddie Starr ate my hamster". (The comedian was going on tour, with Clifford saying: "I was happy to encourage it – I was looking after Freddie's career.")

He also said he had no idea if the tale was true that the then Tory minister David Mellor liked to wear a Chelsea kit while having sex with his client, the actress Antonia de Sancha.

For a brief interlude, the Leveson inquiry took us back to a time when newspapers were in their pomp, fuelled by the riches of ambitious male proprietors, locked in fierce rivalry.

At the centre of all this febrile nuttiness was Maxwell Frank Clifford. One of the most commonly used terms in the madness was the "buy-up" of chequebook journalism.

Clifford came to make it his own and increasingly became the agent who represented the people in a story. He was the buy-up king.

To the inquiring reporter from the less well-off, "quality" end of the market, Clifford would ask: "How can you help me?" He was serious. I was struck by how humourless he could be, especially when it came to boosting the coffers or reputation of Max Clifford Associates. He did not do much small talk, his occasional quips weren't that funny, and he was laconic in his delivery, wanting to cut to the deal.

Now, Clifford is in prison and Max Clifford Associates faces an uncertain future. Already, clients, including Simon Cowell, have reportedly dropped the firm.

In truth, however, the trade in buy-ups he cornered has long since diminished. All newspapers are on harder times; the war for the kiss 'n' tells on a Sunday is less intense; more PRs have entered the field, albeit without the same success or profile; and we've had Leveson.

In this new, cleaner age, it's perhaps fitting that the man who caused Lord Justice Leveson to take off his glasses and rub his eyes at the evidence he was hearing should have collapsed so spectacularly. As Clifford would doubtless have said, if he was pushing the account of his own rise and fall: "You couldn't make it up." (© Independent News Service)

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