Monday 26 August 2019 12:57 pm

Margaret Thatcher's spin doctor Lord Bell dies aged 77

Lord Tim Bell, Margaret Thatcher’s public relations adviser and founder of the PR firm Bell Pottinger, has died aged 77.

He died on Sunday at home following an illness.

The PR man played a role in the Conservatives’ successful election campaigns in 1979, 1983 and 1987. 

He was responsible for the Conservatives’ “Labour isn’t working” poster campaign in 1978, which showed a long unemployment queue.

Bell was knighted by Thatcher in 1991 and elevated to the peerage by Tony Blair in 1998.

He co-founded the PR firm Bell Pottinger, leading a management buyout in 2012.

In 2016, he quit Bell Pottinger to set up a new advisory firm, Sans Frontieres.

Bell Pottinger collapsed in 2017 following a scandal over its work for the Gupta family in South Africa, where it was accused of deliberately inciting racial hatred.

His clients over the years included the Saudi Arabian government and former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

In a statement, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations said: “Lord Bell was a divisive figure in public relations, one who promoted the profession to business and government, even if the way he did things was not met with universal approval. We are nonetheless saddened by his passing.”

James Baker, a former senior consultant at Bell Pottinger, tweeted: “Sorry to hear the news of the passing of my old boss Lord Bell, a colourful but ultimately controversial figure, he was a true titan however who redefined the PR industry and really was an expert in his craft.”

The editor-in-chief of trade magazine PR Week Danny Rogers tweeted: “In person Bell was ever warm, charming and polite. Despite his political dogmatism he was lively company and a better listener than he got credit for.”

Conor Burns, MP for Bournemouth West and minister of state in the Department for International Trade, tweeted: “Very sorry to hear the news of Tim Bell’s death. He was a communications genius and put his talent to great use – helped by working for a lady with a message worth communicating. Always supportive and kind to young people seeking to get into politics.”

Francis Ingham, director general of professional body PRCA, said: “Of all those who can be said to have made the modern PR and communications industry, Tim Bell stood preeminent, an undisputed giant who proved the power of communication. Nobody can question he was controversial, and indeed he delighted in being so. But nobody can question his greatness either.”