Pocket profile:

Bearded 54-year-old former journalist turned government press officer who became the Department of Health's chief press officer and later the NHS Executive's head of media relations. Worked for them on and off for 24 years under a string of health secretaries, including Sir Keith Joseph, Barbara Castle, Virginia Bottomley and Stephen Dorrell.

Last heard of:

Slipping quietly away from the Executive last April. His departure coincided with plans to axe one in 10 jobs at the Executive, but he denied at the time that the two were related.

What is he famous for?

Among cynical hacks - to whom he is known affectionately as Smurph - for taking a sales rep's approach to promoting the Executive's initiatives, with a remarkable ability to stick unswervingly to a given line.

What do others say about him?

Unusually competent for a government press officer.

What does he say?

'Health is a difficult department sometimes - it is at the top of the agenda and there are a lot of conflicts and different views and issues expressed. I have always tried to be as direct and helpful as I can, to be the bridge between the department I work for and the journalists I communicate with.'

Career highlights:

Among others, promoting the management reforms of the NHS in the early 1990s, including the internal market and GP fundholding.

Where is he now?

Running a 10-strong unit as head of information at the Highways Agency where he is trying to promote the idea of ending motorists' love affair with their cars.

How does it compare?

'As interesting and challenging because of considerable changes on the transport policy agenda.'