It is never quite clear whether Professor Cosmo Saltana and Dr Owen Tuby truly believe in Social Imagistics as an academic discipline but they certainly have a robust view of public relations as practiced at the University of Brockshire.
Published in 1968, Out Of Town is the first of two J.B. Priestley novels about The Image Men. A chance meeting with wealthy widow Elfreda Drake inspires two down at heel academics to create a new discipline, Social Imagistics, and lay plans for an institute to be connected with an ambitious new University.
Making it up as they go along, Saltana and Tuby develop an impressively pseudo-scientific vocabulary for a field which that lies somewhere between sociology and PR. It is part of the fun that concepts such as Pattern Maintenance, Adaptation, Deliberate Blur, Softened Edge, Sudden Explosion and, most significant, Reverse Image are never quite explained. It is enough for us to know that the founders have realised there is money to be made by helping people shape their public image.
Ambitious Vice-Chancellor "Jayjay" Lapford sees advantages in adding this pioneering new subject to Brockshire's armoury and is quick to involve his PRO, "Busy Liz" Plucknett. Saltana is not impressed with "Miss Liz Who's-It", observing "Brockshire's the first university I've known that had a press agent or whatever she calls herself."
Nonetheless it is agreed that the new Institute should be announced by press release.
"All right, all right I've been a nuisance, cried Miss Plucknett. "I know it, I know it. I often am - it's part of my job as I see it. But this is the difference between getting a little paragraph buried away somewhere and getting a column and probably a photograph." She jumped up and lapped her hands in one of the most revolting little-girl-acts Elfreda had seen for some time. "Suprise, surprise, surprise! Really, truly - and big - big!"
What makes it big is that famous model Primrose East wants to study Social Imagistics (she claims to be in love with Saltana).
"Now I shouldn't have to draw diagrams for you. We have this Drake Foundation and Social Image Institute story - a nice little story no doubt, but with no wide appeal. So Primrose East is going to Brockshire... So what do we do? We tie it up in one lovely package... It's not just one story. I could milk it for months."
Priestley is indulgently savage in his description of Busy Liz: "A shortish, square woman about forty who had a sharply pointed nose, a helmet of black hair, probably dyed a bit, one of those rubbery mouths that can talk forever, fancy crimson spectacles that never did anybody any good, and a pea-soup-coloured suit that was dead wrong for her." The failings of PR are illustrated on first meeting. "As soon as they were introduced she told Elfreda that she was crazy - but crazy - about America - wasn't it the most? She gave the impression that she had spent most of her life over there whereas in fact... she had spent three weeks there on one of those new trips."
As Jayjay's wife Isabel, the power behind the throne, observes: "I've never liked this Busy Lizzery, as you know, but money had to be raised and good public relations could help. But we are going much too far. After all this is a university - not a musical or a film we are promoting."