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How do you put a positive gloss on freemasons ? 19/3/01
If there were no Freemasons, we'd
probably want to invent them. What
they're accused of, is by turns, utterly
sinister, and a bit silly. It's no
surprise that they are the undisputed
number one target of conspiracy
theorists the world over. You can
see why you would want to keep
quiet about this! But are they keeping
quiet about the more sinister bits, too?
I promise and swear that I will
always hail, conceal...
It's difficult to keep an organisation
with a head office as big as this
secret. The Masons have avoided
seriously bad publicity for a number
of years now, but they've obviously
just decided they can do better. Why
do you need a PR company, given
that you're secret?
We're not secret. We are private, but
we do want our members to talk more
openly about what they enjoy about
Freemasonry. We think that needs a
professional focus, which is why we
have got a professional PR company
to help with that.
What's the difference between secret
Secret is something you wouldn't know
about, and private is something we will
tell you as much as we want to.
But not very much?
We will tell you most of it. What we
won't tell you much about, is what
happens to an initiate when he comes
in. Otherwise, everything is open.
Is this a part of the building we can
Yes. This is our main hall, what we
call our grand temple. It is regularly
opened to the public, we have conducted
tours here every day, and we have public
performances of opera and concerts,
and so on. We also have our main
Can you tell us who your members are?
Can you tell us all their names?
No. I see no reason at all, why should
give you a list of our members. Remember,
last time that happened was in occupied
France and occupied Germany. We know
what happened to the Masons there.
Freemasonry of legend dates back to the
medieval Knights Templars, or even to
ancient Egypt, but more likely from the
formation of the Grand Lodge of England
in 1717. Its aim, to form a trade association
of master craftsmen. After 1776, their
influence on the American Revolution was
so clear, that their symbol got on the dollar
bill, and is still there today. More recently,
since the mid-'80s, there have been at least
20 investigations into Freemasonry in
local government here, from Cornwall to
Derby. Since then, some MPs have fought
to force compulsory declaration of
membership on public figures. Even Lord
Chancellors have had to explain away
the hidden presence of the funny
handshake brigade in the judicial
LORD MACKAY of CLASHFERN:
Even if every High Court judge was a
Mason, that wouldn't of itself prove that
Masonry did any harm whatever to the
administration of justice.
Masonic corruption was under the
brightest spotlight in 1981, when a
member of the infamous Italian P2
lodge, Roberto Calvi, who acted as
financial adviser to the Vatican, was
found hanged under the allegedly
symbolically-named Blackfriars Bridge
in London. His pockets weighted down
with, yes, masonry. One inquiry rather
implausibly decided he had committed
suicide. Quite a history for any PR
company taking on the Freemason Hall
I think we would like to reverse their
image. They have had an enormous
amount of bad press, and at the end of
the day, they are an organisation which
just do good works, and raise an
enormous amount of money for charity.
We would like people to know about
Those who think the Freemasons are
little more than an establishment
conspiracy with a PR agency aren't
hard to find. Their once simple message
is, if you're so open, you must reveal
your membership list.
I am very concerned about the fact
that, because membership is not
open to all and sundry, and that it's
only a restricted number of people
within our society, that key members
within our society could give favours
to their family and other Masons,
could gain an advantage, that would
otherwise not be open to ordinary
people, and possibly to the detriment
If this is paranoia, it is shared at the
highest levels of political life, and
has led to consistent parliamentary
inquiries over the years. The Masons
have fought a strong rearguard action
against revealing something everyone
already knows, that there are an
awful lot of Freemasons, and lots
of them are very important. The
question is, other than a penchant for
odd uniforms, do they really have
something to hide?
We are joined by Martin Short, who
wrote a book on the Freemasons,
and by Mike Dewar, who is running
that account for them. You like a
Yes I do. It's one I am looking
forward to taking on. I obviously
have looked into this particular
account, and I wouldn't take it on
if I didn't think I could make a
good fist of it.
What is the theme, what is the
slogan or motto?
We are talking about a two-year, 18-
month programme. We are not going
to turn around the image that has
accumulated over many years overnight,
clearly. We are working towards
something in June 2002. We are calling
"Freemasonry in the community" week.
We will start up a new glossy magazine.
We will make the most of news hooks.
We have made the most of the news
hook of our appointment, and got
publicity. It's not a bad start. I want to
turn round a bad press. I acknowledge
they have had one, and I don't think
they deserve it.
Do they deserve it, Martin Short?
I think they do. This has happened
before, in 1985, the Freemasons
appointed a public relations firm.
And since then, they have lost 100,000
members. The problem about public
relations and Freemasonry, is you
can't be a little bit pregnant. You
can't expose your good works without
exposing also some of your rituals,
which of course they have admitted
they are not going to do.
This initiation ritual, Mike Dewar,
and all the various handshakes, will
that be publicised?
No, it won't. I don't see why we're
getting hung up on this. We should
concentrate on the important issues,
the fact they gave £17 million to various
charities last year, the fact that they are
good citizens, the fact that the
organisation is public spirited. We
ought to concentrate on that. It doesn't
matter that they roll up trousers. I don't
know what they do. Evidently, they
roll up a trouser leg. Does it matter
if they put a pink ribbon in their hair?
If you invite publicity, and you are
rolling up a trouser leg, it's hard to
disguise it. Saying "We want publicity
for this, but not this".
I don't think so. You can have selective
publicity. I will focus on what I
believe is important. I am happy to
talk about and answer questions. I
don't know the precise answer about
various rituals. I will emphasise I
don't believe that is important.
You are not a member yourself?
I am not a Mason myself. I don't think
it would be a good idea if I were. I can
What would your slogan be?
I would it's very positive for Mr Dewar
not to be a Freemason. If he were, he
might have his tongue torn out and his
throat cut across, or his heart fed to the
birds, according to these rituals.
It hasn't happened lately?
Not as far as we know.
I'm very happy you are creating this
absurd mythology, giving me a job
to do. Those sort of statements are easily
demolished. I don't reckon people
I think people ought to know that their
husbands or fathers or brothers are
going through a ritual which involves
having a hood put over their neck, a
dagger pointed to their heart, and a
rope around their neck. This might
cause them to re-evaluate their marriage
or their relationships.
I personally don't know. I have read
in various books, not yours, what these
are alleged to be. I don't think it matters.
If they get a kick out of that, does that
There are all sorts of rituals in various
organisations. I was a soldier. Many
military uniforms are pretty funny or
You didn't have a hood put over your
head, did you?
Over other people's heads.
That is not important. Really we ought
to concentrate on the fact, that in my
experience, most Masons are "good"
men, public spirited men, from the
Duke of Kent downwards, have been,
or are Masons. Solemnly telling me
that all these people have sinister intent,
that is absurd.
Quite a lot of famous Freemasons have
gone to prison in the last 25 years.
Every group has its rotten apples.
Entire units of the Metropolitan Police
and the Flying Squad and the drug
squad were Freemasons. They all, in
the end, were sent to prison. When you
are bonded by an oath of mutual defence
and loyalty, you may well find that it is
extremely difficult to squeal on your
Isn't that the most damaging charge,
that people are doing themselves secret
I don't think there's any proof. There
may be rotten apples that do that. It's
Isn't it the culture?
It is not the culture. I am utterly sure.
I have seen the constitution. That is not
part of being a Freemason. It may be,
like in any organisation, whether it be
the Catholic Church, the military, the
Civil Service, whatever, that you tend
to prefer your mates. I don't know, but
it is not the intent of the organisation.