Remembering Peter Bateman
Last week I attended the funeral of probably my favourite boss.
I owe a great deal to Peter and, as I start to write this blog, I feel myself being even more careful than usual about my choice of words. He was a brilliant wordsmith and a superb headline writer.
When I went for the interview I didn’t know, of course, the breadth and talent of the man before me. I didn’t know about his difficult beginnings and his struggles with illness. I only learned about these at his thanksgiving service – and why he had such an unusual name Peter Leonard Goodchild Bateman.
When I had my first interview with Peter, I was still new to PR. I trained as a journalist and then worked at the Royal Mail’s Press Office in Brighton. Actually, this was for another lovely man - Paul Harrington. He taught me the ropes and gave me a brilliant grounding in media relations. I still consider myself to be pretty creative when it comes to PR and that’s down to the freedom he gave me to come up with ideas for campaigns like ‘post early for Christmas’, and some of the special stamps.
I think when someone dies it makes you reflect on them and what they meant to you, as well as your own humanity and your journey since and before you knew them. I had sadly and somewhat lazily not been in touch with Peter. I did often wonder about him when I drove through East Grinstead, which is not far from his home. It’s not an excuse, but it is hard to keep in touch with everyone.
Back to Peter and that interview – in those days you couldn’t just Google someone to find out all about them, so I didn’t know how lucky I was to be working with this man. You must remember, LinkedIn was still years away!
I got the job after a second interview – this time with his boss, Graham Foote. The role didn’t come with much more money, but I did get a bright red Ford Mondeo, the title ‘PR Manager’, the chance to edit the staff magazine, and a free, two-course hot lunch every day in the staff canteen.
Peter loved the phrase ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ and that was certainly on my mind when he volunteered me to make a speech at the Rentokil HQ Christmas lunch in front of everyone, including the big boss Clive Thompson.
I was soon setting off around the UK interviewing staff and Rentokil customers about anything from an Egyptian mummy in Manchester - it needed fumigating - to an historic church suffering from dry rot. I even saw the Millennium Dome being constructed as Rentokil Initial owned a crane company at the time.
So, I owe a lot to Peter. He wasn’t the type of PR person (myself included) who likes to remain behind the scenes, putting clients forward. He loved to talk and banter with journalists. I remember he was often on the radio – never a hint of nervousness and he always found a way to bring humour into the story, even into the nastiest of subjects. In fact, he took part in more than 300 interviews and was a guest on the Clive James show. I remember him talking about ‘bio-slime and baffle jelly’ in water tanks and to this day I won’t drink water from a hotel tap. I’ve seen enough photos of water tanks and some of the things you can find in them - dead pigeons! He also coined the phrase ‘flying rats’ for pigeons because of the diseases they carry.
He earned many accolades during his career including a Sword of Excellence from the IPR (now CIPR) and a fellowship. He was also the Chair of the British Pest Control Association. To read the BPCA’s tribute, click here.
A father of four and a grandfather to nine (I think), he was a busy man but still found time to contribute to a host of organisations outside work such as his local church.
I still work in pest control today – one of my main clients is a fantastic pest control company called Cleankill, whose directors all used to work for Rentokil. We happened to bump into each other about 10 years ago and I’ve been helping them ever since. I still have great fun doing PR in pest control. Of course, it has changed a lot since I started but the principles remain the same. All this, because I went to an interview with Peter Bateman.
Rest in Peace Peter – I wonder whether you knew that 2020 is the Year of the Rat – the subject of so many of your stories.
Peter passed away on New Year’s Day 2020.