An appreciation by Michael Diamond

HARRY Diamond, once described in this newspaper as the “acerbic former Herald reporter who became public relations chief at Glasgow City Council during the tumultuous 70s and 80s” has died in Glasgow, aged 93.

The son of Russian Jewish immigrants who fled to Scotland at the turn of last century, Diamond, who was born on December 15, 1926, grew up in the 1930s Gorbals, which he would describe in his autobiography, Can You Get my Name in the Papers?, as a place where “ignorance, stupidity, malice, violence, illiteracy and unbelievable cruelty were rife.”

From “a half-educated, timid Jewish boy from the slums” he rose to become Head of Public Relations of the City of Glasgow. During his tenure, he spearheaded the Glasgow’s Miles Better campaign, pushed the opening of the Burrell Collection to all corners of the globe, publicised the Glasgow Garden Festival, and led the successful publicity charge that changed Glasgow’s image from a grey industrial city on the Clyde to European City of Culture in 1990.

The vast international campaign to publicize the opening of the Burrell went down in the annals of British public relations, and today its two-volume case history can be found in the University of Glasgow Library.

His personal favourite achievement was the exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Kelvingrove in 1998; he single-handedly initiated, negotiated, and, with the museum’s help implemented the entire event that brought record numbers of visitors to the galleries. His campaigns brought him plaudits from around the world, and the onslaught of news media resulted in Glasgow’s international profile rising to unheard-of levels.

Barely schooled, he had entered journalism, becoming, in 1944, at the age of 17, the youngest reporter in the history of the Glasgow Herald. He was drafted the following year and, at 22, after serving in the British Army in Egypt, returned to his old job.

Due to short-staffing at the Herald, he was soon promoted to Crime Reporter to fill in for a journalist who never made it back from the war. He proved to be a relentless investigator and quickly established himself as a talented newsroom contributor. Despite his lack of formal education, he had a natural skill for the written word.

During his long career he also worked for the Scottish Daily Express, Scottish Daily Mail and Woman’s Own, and wrote for radio and television before going into PR with the gas industry in 1962. He joined the Glasgow local authority in 1973.

For many years he worked voluntarily for a large number of communal and charitable organisations, including Glasgow Jewish Representative Council and the Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice. He was a member of the Executive Committee of Erskine Hospital for Disabled Ex-servicemen and Women for more than 25 years and was chairman of its Publicity Committee.

An indefatigable publicist with a sharp and cutting wit, Diamond never missed a good story, especially if it let him express his keen sense of the ridiculous. On one freezing winter's day in the 1960s, while he was a struggling journalist with a young family, his ancient Humber Hawk ground to a standstill. Angry and frustrated, he slammed the door and stopped a passing brickie. “Want a car?” he asked. The bewildered brickie looked at him astonished as Diamond dumped the keys in his hand and walked away.

A couple of years later, 100 huge posters advertising White Horse Scotch Whisky appeared throughout Scotland. They read: “Harry Diamond, 20 Thorncliffe Gardens, Glasgow, gave his car to a passer-by when it broke down. He finds his White Horse a lot more reliable”.

In 1985 Diamond was said by Local Government News to be "probably better known around the world than any other public relations man in Scotland because a great deal of what he writes about Glasgow is published and broadcast in Europe, America, Canada and Australia". In 1994 he was named by PR WEEK as ‘one of the Public Relations industry’s most influential practitioners of the past decade’.

My father was a surprisingly different person in private. He was entirely fearless and his colleagues often found him demanding and abrasive - but he was quite different in his personal life. When my mother, Jacqueline, died at a young age in 1987 it took him quite a while to pull himself together. His younger sister, Sheila had died, aged 45, a few years earlier and he struggled greatly with the dual loss. His caring character can be summed up by his response in later years when family members would ask how he was. His reply was always the same. “If you’re all right, I’m all right.”

He was strong-willed and driven, but at heart, he cared as much about his family as he did about everything else. My brother Harvie says one of his strongest childhood memories is the constant clickety-clack on the keys of Harry’s manual typewriter as he hammered out the stories that would appear in the next day’s papers.

Although we’re currently living in very troubled times, I think my dad would get a kick out of the innovation his passing has introduced to our ancient religion. It is Jewish custom to mourn, to sit shiva, at the next-of-kin’s house. Because we cannot congregate at the moment, our rabbi suggested we hold the first “video shiva” in the history of Judaism. This would be just up Harry’s street; always looking to do things differently.

Other than his sons, Harry Diamond is survived by daughter-in-law, Rejane, and grandchildren, Tiffany, Gideon, Yuval, and Ophir.