AS THE publicists grind upon their image-machines, bombarding us with mediocrity dressed up for stardom, you begin to fear for that critical faculty by which people used to judge for themselves.

Why do I even mention names like Chris Evans and Anthea Turner? I have yet to discover what they can actually do - and if I see another picture of either I'll be sorely tempted to scream.

Yet, by contrast, we manage seriously to by-pass and ignore real worth in our midst. And we Scots are as adept at this as any.

Why, for example, are you unlikely ever to have heard of Robert Clark, a Paisley boy who went to London and made a major impact on the British film industry, masterminding movies like The Dambusters and Ice Cold in Alex?

Even when he died in 1984 there was not a single line of obituary in the Times or any other newspaper. In London last week his son Colin confirmed to me that the only mention he had ever seen of his father was once, in his hometown paper, the Paisley Daily Express. Not that he was complaining. The Clarks are not like that.

But along with the rest of my profession, I must share the blame for allowing a man of that calibre to slip through the net. What an interesting story he would have had to tell.

I first came across his name a few years ago when researching the life of Alistair MacLean. As mentioned last week, I discovered he had bought the film rights of MacLean's HMS Ulysses for #30,000 - it was a lot of money in the 1950s - though he never actually made the film.

But it is only now that I have come to grips with the reality of Robert Clark. Born in Clavering Street, Paisley, in 1904, the last of 13 children in a working-class family, he left school at 14, became indentured to the Glasgow solicitor's office of John Maxwell and went on to take his MA, LLB at Glasgow University.

Maxwell had been quick to spot the potential of this new movie industry and his firm (it is now Maxwell, Waddell of Hope Street) negotiated the early cinema deals in Glasgow and took a stake in several picture houses, starting with the Prince's in Springburn, while Maxwell actually went into the business of making films in Scotland.

But it was when he moved to London, established himself at Elstree Studios, and founded British International Pictures - he engaged a young Alfred Hitchcock to make his first talkie, Blackmail - that he sent for young Clark to come down from Glasgow to be his assistant.

Thus in 1929 the Paisley lad entered the glamour world of Britain's Hollywood, as Elstree came to be known, going on to take his barrister's qualification at the same time.

He came home to marry his Paisley sweetheart, Mary Lang (a relative of Gordon Lang, associated with St Mirren Football Club) before putting together pre-war films like Blossom Time, which led to his friendship with Richard Tauber.

John Maxwell (there's another man I had scarcely heard of!) died prematurely in 1940 and, with Elstree requisitioned during the war, it was 1947 before Robert Clark entered the heyday of his career.

But his timing for the golden age of British films was perfect. Succeeding Maxwell as the driving force of Associated British Pictures, as it was now called, he masterminded popular films like The Hasty Heart, featuring a certain Ronald Reagan, Woman in a Dressing Gown, Ivor Novello's The Dancing Years, and as I mentioned previously, the war thriller Ice Cold In Alex, for which Robert Clark brought together his fellow Scots J Lee Thompson to direct and Tom Morrison to write the screenplay.

A former Glasgow Herald reporter, Tom Morrison was one of that talented family from High Burnside who all gained distinction as writers. I once had occasion to raise the names of his much-neglected sisters, Nancy Brysson Morrison, who wrote The Gowk Storm, and Peggy (pen-name March Cost) who gained fame as a novelist in America.

The creation which pleased Clark most of all, however, was The Dambusters, with Michael Redgrave as Barnes Wallis, the man who gave us the bouncing bomb to destroy the German dams during the war.

So Robert Clark became a highly important man in the film world, accustomed to dining with Marlene Dietrich or putting people like Audrey Hepburn under contract - and thinking nothing about paying #30,000 for the rights of a novel which has yet to be filmed.

In 1935 he founded the Scottish group of Caledonian Associated Cinemas, along with Alexander King of Glasgow and Robert Wotherspoon of Inverness, and was still chairman at his death in 1984.

The real source of his wealth, however, lay in an entirely separate career in property, based in London, but that's yet another untold story of success!

If Scotland failed to countenance a distinguished son, his alma mater did catch up with him in the end. Just before his death he received an LLD from Glasgow - and his family have a picture of Mr Clark, at the end of his time, together with a man just starting out - Bill Forsyth of Gregory's Girl fame, who was also honoured that day.

What a contrast! What a story! We all seem to have missed it. And Robert Clark died without trace.