Political prankster whose stunts haunted Richard Nixon

Born: January 25, 1924;

Died: May 28, 2018

DICK Tuck, who has died aged 94, was a political activist and consultant for the Democrat Party who became famous for his publicity stunts aimed at the Republican Richard Nixon. After a losing an election, Tuck is also credited with first uttering the phrase "The people have spoken - the bastards!"

Tuck was responsible for so many stunts aimed at Nixon that it is hard to pin down in some cases what actually happened. Tuck himself was prone to hyperbole and would sometimes tell stories that he would later deny; disastrous events on the campaign trail were also often ascribed to Tuck when he had nothing to do with them.

His targeting of Nixon started early when he was still a student at the University of California in Santa Barbara in the early 1950s. Nixon was running for Senate and was due to visit the university to make a campaign speech. Tuck was a Democrat but inveigled his way into the Republican's campaign.

Determined to sabotage the event before it even got going, Tuck hired the biggest hall on the campus and did nothing to promote it so that only a handful of people were sitting in an auditorium designed for thousands; he also introduced Nixon with the longest, most rambling speech he could manage so some of the already small audience left. It was a disaster for Nixon and Tuck's mission had been accomplished.

That was only the beginning of Tuck's attempts to get the better of Nixon. During one rally, it was said that Tuck posed as a fire marshal and gave a deliberately low estimate of the crowd. When Nixon debated John F Kennedy in the 1960 presidential race, he also hired an elderly lady to come up to Nixon afterwards and tell him "never mind, you'll do better next time".

Tuck also struck again in 1962 when Nixon was running for governor of California and held a rally in Chinatown in Los Angeles. Most of the signs being held up by the audience read "Welcome Nixon" in Chinese but Tuck also arranged for one of them to read "What about the Hughes loan?” - a reference to a scandal involving Nixon's brother Donald who had taken a $205,000 unsecured loan from Howard Hughes.

Nixon was outraged. “Once the phrase was translated for Nixon,” Tuck remembered, “he rushed over to the crowd, seized the sign and tore it up in front of the TV cameras. The message was simple: Do you want a guy like this running your state or nation?”

The Democratic Party would always officially deny sanctioning Tuck's behaviour, but he did hold official positions with the party. After studying political science at Santa Barbara he joined the Kennedy campaign in 1960 and later worked for Robert F Kennedy's campaign eight years later (he was near Kennedy when he was assassinated in Los Angeles).

Tuck also ran for political office himself, aiming for California's Senate in 1966, but he drew only 10 per cent of the vote in the Democratic Primary. It is then that he said to made his "bastards" reference, which has since been quoted many times by politicians and advisors after a vote that hasn't gone their way.

Tuck, who was married twice, is survived by his son.