There is a sentence in today’s Times obituary of Richard Pulford that he, at his peak, could hardly have bettered. It conveys the minimum of information without telling an outright lie, a Whitehall skill mastered only by the upper echelons of the old school.
Richard, as number two at the Arts Council, devised the plan to save the South Bank Centre concert halls after Margaret Thatcher in 1984 abolished their owner, the Greater London Council. He went on to become joint general director (admin) with Nicholas Snowman (arts), a relationship not exactly made in heaven. Here’s how it panned out, according to the Times:
In 1992 it was decided to change the governance of the South Bank with one chief executive, Snowman. This allowed Pulford to pursue interests abroad.
Brilliant, eh? Basically, Snowman won a power struggle and Richard was pushed out. He wanted, anyway, to have more time to nurse a dying partner. Over the next decade, the South Bank slowly degenerated. Richard eventually became head of the Society of London Theatres.
Although he and I sometimes clashed, it was never with rancor. Richard once wrote a letter to my newspaper disputing 35 different points in a column of mine that detailed the South Bank’s shortcomings. Later, he told me this was a classic Whitehall smokescreen operation. The article had hit the Centre bang on the nose and he needed to perform a face-saving operation.
We once arranged to lunch in Kensington, forgetting that it was the exact date and time of England’s World Cup clash with Argentina. I remember walking with him arm-in-arm up the middle of a deserted Kensington Church Street, to a restaurant where we were the only diners. The fun we had that day is not readily repeatable. Richard was 67 when he died. I will miss him, and so will many more.