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Francis Ingham: Saying goodbye to PR’s Showman

Many of the great, the good and a couple of perfectly adequate PR people convened at St Bartholomew The Great Church in London yesterday 10th July 2023 to celebrate the life of Francis Ingham, the former director general of the PRCA.

PRmoment founder Ben Smith spoke alongside Alison Clarke, Richard Houghton and Nitin Mantri in a chorus of professional and personal eulogies.

For those of you who were unable to attend, here is Ben’s eulogy to his mate Inghers:

“He was a character, wasn't he? A character you couldn’t ignore.

While thinking about what to say today, I got thinking about the one and only funeral I went to with Francis.

It was an unusual experience. As the service went on, he became increasingly - and visibly - annoyed, I assume with the deceased, about, as Francis saw it, the overly depressing nature of the service.

So Inghers, I will do my best to make this as uplifting as possible.

But we do miss you. I suspect most of us believed we'd be having lunches with you into our old age, and we're gutted that's not going to happen.

I'm conscious some people are not aware of how Francis passed away. The truth is always important, but especially at times like this otherwise, speculation tends to gather momentum.

So without dwelling on any details, for those of you who are not aware, Francis passed away from stage 4 liver failure. This was caused by a long-term addiction to alcohol.

In the last 6 to 12 months of Francis's life, there was some discussion about his erratic behaviour. I would encourage you all to remember the Francis you knew before the last 18 months or so of his life.

In his final few weeks, while in Salisbury Hospital, Francis was diagnosed with severe Korsakoff syndrome, also known as alcoholic dementia. This is a progressive illness and while it is impossible to know when it started, the symptoms of the disease match pretty much all of the behaviour traits that developed over the last 12/18 months of Francis' life.

I share this with you simply because I know Francis would not have wanted his passing or memory to be subject to speculation.

When remembering Francis I remember someone who cared, who wanted to make a difference. And he made a difference.

He had a great sense of fun, mischievous at times.

He took his professional life very seriously - but not too seriously. He knew how to enjoy the game.

At his best, he was a great showman. Sometimes he ventured off to become a pretty good ringmaster but it's as a showman that I will have my favourite memories:

Be it that ridiculous picture of him standing outside the European Court of Justice with some random piece of paper, celebrating his glorious victory over the NLA.

Or that image of him with a shepherd's crook and a flock of sheep crossing the Thames, having either been given, or about to be given, the keys to the City of London.

Very few people, I suspect least of all Francis, knew what that was all about - but it didn’t matter. It was part of the show. A show that he loved but he didn’t take too seriously.

Many of us will remember his excellent Today programme interview on Radio 4, where he gleefully positioned his PR trade body as the standard bearer for all things ethics.

That was him in his prime. Ruling the roost.

Very few of us in this room would be as good or as confident when being grilled under pressure. He was brilliant in that environment. As an interviewee, he was clever, adaptable and quick-footed. He knew his subject and always knew what he wanted out of the interview.

That’s how I will remember him. As perhaps PRs Greatest Showman of the 21st century, so far!

But he was a contradiction. He loved being the centre of attention, but he was also pretty shy.

He was incredibly confident professionally but lacked confidence in so many other elements of his life.

He never knew his father and that lack of a male role model in his childhood seemed to be something he was never able to replace. There was a void, a place where he couldn’t go.

There were some things he simply didn’t know how to do: he was hopeless at networking in a crowd (I used to tease him about that), he had no idea how to cook and he couldn't drive.

There are many things that a lot of us take for granted, that we learn in our childhood, many of those things Francis never knew.

Another contradiction was that for a man who enjoyed a long lunch, he really didn't care much about food. Some would argue that he had a pretty average taste in restaurants, with a couple of notable exceptions, but in a funny way, his restaurant behaviour translated into the rest of his life. He was loyal. If he liked you, he stuck by you.

He'd always help you if he could and that is brought out in the Book of Condolence on the PRCA’s website. If you read the comments, most of them refer to how Francis helped people, very often people who he didn’t really know, or who he’d only recently met.

He was very fair-minded and he made a difference to people.

Francis and I didn't agree on lots of things. We never argued, friends don’t need to agree with each other about everything, it's often more fun if you don't - you just need to enjoy each other's company.

One of our last bits of political jousting - banter really - was about his infamous political predictions.

For those of you not aware, Francis gained a deserved reputation for making accurate political predictions.

He predicted Trump's victory, he predicted Brexit, and he predicted Boris would comfortably beat Corbyn. And it’s fair to say Francis wasn’t shy about his apparently accurate political nous!

But he also tried to tell me that Liz Truss would make an excellent Prime Minister!

Ever the pragmatist, he quickly adapted his support to - in his eyes - the newly excellent Rishi Sunak when the lettuce outlasted Liz!

As we all know, he enjoyed a glass of wine, tragically so. The last time I went out for a meal with him, he wanted to go for lunch but I couldn’t watch him drink anymore so I agreed to have breakfast.

I regret that by the way, a last long lunch would have been nice.

Needless to say, Francis found the only licenced breakfast eatery in Salisbury.

Having ordered the wine with his bacon and eggs, he took one sip and sent it back. “Undrinkable” was his feedback to the waitress before adding: “It should also be served chilled."

He was a character, kind but with a wonderful edge.

Sleep well, my friend.”

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