Today’s blog is for all the pedants whose enjoyment of historical drama is marred when ‘poetic’ licence is taken too far: in particular, the injection of incongruous elements intended to add appropriate atmosphere or realism.
Such errors by production teams may result from plain ignorance or the failure to check details – but either way they tend to undermine the credibility of the overall representation.
These notes are prompted by the BBC’s three-part mini-series, adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. In episode two (aired last night) there is a scene in the local church, where the congregation is nearing the end of a well-known hymn.
The hymn is Sir Henry Baker’s The King of Love My Shepherd Is, based on Psalm 23, and sung to its original tune Dominus Regit Me, by John Dykes. The two clergymen’s collaboration was first heard in 1868.
The problem is that Jamaica Inn is set in 1821 – the year of Baker’s birth and two years before Dykes’s.
It took me just a few minutes on the internet to confirm my suspicions that the storyline and music were incorrectly paired. Why, then, cannot TV drama producers do likewise? It’s hardly likely to erode the budget significantly.
Does all this really matter? Probably not – unless one has the sort of mind that is quick to recognise errors of detail, which leads to a diminution of enjoyment.
So how does the Jamaica Inn ‘hymn fail’ relate to public relations? I see it as a reminder of the importance of detail in PR writing.
Communicators have to remember that if an error is spotted even by just one reader, it’s one too many. The tendency is for the reader to interpret a single error as evidence of more in store – and a mindset like that is a sure way of undoing a PR client’s reputation.
The professional PR approach is to ensure all the facts are correct and then to translate them into appealing – and accurate – copy. As a writer, one has to understand that errors do occur: so fastidious checking is required – both before copy is sent for client approval and again before it is published.
In the noisy, competitive world of modern business communication, an error-based ‘PR fail’ is unthinkable.
David Goddin was born in the UK and educated in South Africa. He began his career on daily newspapers and trade journals, before moving into public relations consulting. He produced award-winning writing and became an Accredited PR Practitioner, the highest qualification of the Public Relations Institute of South Africa. Since his return to the UK 16 years ago he has also contributed to a number of highly successful PR and marketing communications campaigns for major national and multinational clients. He is currently also President of the Haslemere & District Chamber of Trade & Commerce.