Part Four – How to knock a General Election result off the front page
Following on from the previous three week’s posts 1, 2, and 3 about my attempt to find the publicity stunt for charity to end all publicity stunts, here’s part four of five. It’s 1974, a more innocent age, and a group of Plymouth students are attempting to convince the British press that Cornwall is about to rise up and throw off the shackles of English rule. Warning: Do not try this at home.
So, we’d raised the army. We’d mailed the initial press release. We had the pictures of our training excercise (nose blowing scenes deleted). We’d told the press that we’d advised the British government to evacuate all British nationals from Cornwall by 21:00 hrs, Thursday, March 7th as we couldn’t guarantee their safety beyond that date…
But would anyone bite?
The first inkling that maybe someone would came the next day. I received a phone call from the Sunday Bastard reporter who’d twisted my words the previous month.
‘Are you planning anything new for next week’s Rag Week?’ he asked. ‘Anything major?’
I bit my tongue. I could feel a surge of cutting sarcasm approaching critical mass. I could have said, ‘like gambling all the charity money on the favourite in the Grand National.’ But that wouldn’t have qualified as sarcasm as we had actually discussed the matter the previous week at a Rag meeting. Cedric, in a flash of non-train related thought, came up with the idea that we should put the lot on Escargot at 8-1. We laughed. Two weeks later Escargot romped home at 8-1 proving that not only truths can be uttered in jest but cunning plans too.
Anyway, back to the phone call. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Just the stuff I told you about.’ All this said with an air of casual indifference while thoughts of ‘I am not a revolutionary freedom fighter’ were beamed down the phone line.
He phoned the police next. Which brings me to note number five to all prospective revolutionary leaders – first, get the police on your side.
This is something we did from Day One. Cleverly arranging a meeting with the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary to talk about Rag Week – the times, the dates, the route we were proposing for the parade of floats, the … uh insurrection.
Always a sticky moment I find – bringing up one’s plan to ferment revolution, storm castles, seize bridges and commit the odd treason or two in front of the local constabulary. But they took it very well. ‘It’s just a small revolution,’ I added. ‘Only the one country.’
‘And it is for charity.’
Not only did they sanction the revolution – as long as we kept them informed at every step – they agreed to play along – especially with the Press. They’d tell anyone who asked about the FCA that they were fully aware of the situation and an investigation was underway. Something told me they might have had similar experiences with the Sunday Bastard as I’d had.
With hindsight, early March 1974 wasn’t the best time to stage a publicity stunt. August would have been good – it’s much easier to get a story picked up during the silly season when all the newsworthy people are on holiday. But March 3rd, 1974, was only a few days after the closest General Election result for decades. You may remember it – Harold Wilson, Ted Heath, the miners – no party had a majority and no one knew what was going to happen next. The Labour party had the most seats, but Ted Heath refused to resign as Prime Minister and was looking to build a coalition government.
So, you can imagine what the headlines were that day.
You’d be wrong. The Sunday Bastard had only one story on their front page – ‘THE WEST’S SECRET ARMY’ – and a huge picture of four masked freedom fighters charging over a hill. More on pages 2, 3, 5 and seven.
The nationals picked it up as well – on the inside pages but prominent. Everyone loved the ‘torches of freedom’ sentence. But not many printed the photo. In hindsight again – note number six to all revolutionary leaders – we should have sent the tabloids pictures of the FCA’s bare-breasted Amazon brigades. In which case we’d not only have received a front page spread but probably had the tabloids switching their allegiance from the main political parties to those ‘plucky buxom Cornish gals and their just struggle for freedom.’
But that’s nit picking, for The Free Cornish Army had arrived. Stage One – credibility – had been achieved. We were headline news, the major topic of conversation on local radio and ready to implement Stage Two. The Day of Action.
Next Week: Insurrection!
Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. His novel – Resonance (Baen) – can be downloaded for free here. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
International Kittens of Mystery. If you like a laugh and looking at cute kitten pictures this is the book for you. It’s a glance inside the International Kittens of Mystery – the only organisation on the planet with a plan to deal with a giant ball of wool on a collision course with Earth. Forget Bruce Willis and his team of miners. Send for the kitties!