A friend of mine describes the frustrations of not retaining a degree of control over his creative output:
Watching a documentary about the making of The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, I was amused by Al Jardine’s tale of suggesting they record the song ‘Sloop John B’. Brian Wilson wasn’t too keen, but Jardine showed him some chord changes and tried to persuade him it would be great. He then went back to work, and the next he heard was the finished track.
“I was really pissed not to be invited to the recording session, but I guess in the end I was pleased that the idea flew,“ said Jardine, ruefully.
I wish I shared his insouciance. Whenever an idea of mine is approved and selected for production, only to be hi-jacked by others who change it and deliver the finished thing without involving me at all, I die a little. I know these are professional people who are good at their job, and are only interested in getting good work out into the light of day. And I know that I am not as good as I think I am at art direction, let alone knowing anything about today’s technical skills, but so what?
Our current CD is extremely good at people – one of the best I’ve known. He constantly praises and flatters us all, never taking credit for others’ work and delighting in the growth and achievements of the team. But he gets excited about good new work, and zooms off with it, overseeing every detail, all the way. Which includes tweaking the script, changing the jokes, adding new bits, etc.
And the finished result? I haven’t seen the latest one yet – I’m going to withhold this until I do – but I expect it will be excellent, loved by the client, and feathers in caps all round. So what am I fretting about? I guess it’s frustration about losing control and especially about not being kept in the loop as things progress.
I think what’s missing is a stage, or stages, in the production process where I – and others in a similar position – can be kept in the picture. That’s all – no-one has to take any notice of my suggestions or anything, just let me feel part of it. And defend my original idea where necessary.
Of course, if it all turns out like Pet Sounds then I won’t complain too much.
Do you recognise this scenario? I certainly do. The only thing I’d take issue with is my friend’s assertion that the people who change creative work are ‘are only interested in getting good work out into the light of day’. Maybe that’s what’s happening. Or maybe there are other forces at work. As HG Wells said, ‘No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.’ This is especially true in advertising agencies when people spot a good idea. They want to alter it – ever so slightly – so that they can then claim a tiny bit of ownership for themselves. When you have everyone in an agency – not to mention everyone in the client’s office – itching to add their fingerprint to a piece of creative work, the result is very often the proverbial dog’s dinner.
Younger readers, this is Bernard Manning.
It’s 1992. I’m a young, fresh-faced freelance copywriter which, amazingly, I still am. I’d picked up a few little jobs from a London advertising agency whose clients included movie studios like MGM and Universal. When Hollywood films were about to get a video release (VHS back then), they would come up with all the pre-publicity. Press ads, mostly.
I had a lot of fun coming up with adverts that were appropriate to the film being advertised, reasoning that this was a key element of my job. The agency had other ideas, though, by which I mean they preferred having no ideas. So they would generally reject my concepts in favour of a straightforward pack shot of the movie with the headline ‘OUT NOW ON VIDEO’.
But today my job is a bit different. I am to direct the comedian Bernard Manning in the recording of two 20-second radio scripts I’d written. They were to publicise the release of his own video, charmingly entitled ‘Banging With Manning’. It was billed as a ‘hilarious’ spoof of the sex education videos that were popular at the time. Still are, for all I know.
Manning. He was much bigger back in the day
The recording is to take place in a Manchester recording studio. The agency’s account lady and I travel by train and arrive just as Manning pulls up in an enormous Cadillac bearing the number plate 1 LAF. Really? One laugh? I’d heard his comedy routines were a bit hit and miss, but if I was him I wouldn’t shout about it. But no. We’re supposed to read it as ‘I Laugh’. Well, as long as one of us does, Bernie.
The driver gets out and opens the passenger door. Manning, not the lithest comedian on the circuit, grips various parts of the car to slowly leverage himself out of his seat. He waddles across the car park and introductions are made.
“See the boxing last night?” He’s addressing me, correctly assuming that the posh young account lady wouldn’t care one iota about boxing. Neither do I, but I say I missed it while making a face that I hope conveys the idea that this was an unavoidable oversight on my part and that normally me and boxing are joined at the hip.
He sets off towards the studio entrance, with me and the account bod adjusting our walking pace accordingly. We’ll be there soon, I think. Manning is still on about the boxing. “I don’t mind black blokes punching shit out of each other,” he reveals, “but I don’t like it when they beat white fellas.”
I don’t have a face ready for a remark like this, much less a suitable vocal response. The account lady and I look at each other. This is going to be interesting.
And it is, only not in the way I’d been expecting. No sooner does he settle down in the recording studio, still angry about a white boxer being beaten by a black one, than my colleague gets a call from the agency back in London. Apparently, the body that oversees the suitability of broadcast advertising has belatedly taken objection to an element of the script. “Which script?” I ask.
“Both of them,” she says.
“What it is about them they don’t like?”
She hesitates. “The word banging.” But ‘Banging With Manning’ is the name of the product! This is going to be a challenge.
I glance at Bernard in the booth. Although I can’t hear anything, he seems to be asking the recording engineer questions about the equipment. What’s there to explain? Like all such rooms, there’s only a microphone and a pair of headphones. Surely he’s familiar with at least one of those.
“You’re going to have to rewrite the scripts,” says the account manager, “and quickly.”
I look for a place to, er, bash something out while the situation is explained to Manning. He’s not happy. He’s decided that blame for the episode should be laid at London’s door. “Fucking London,” he yells at everyone. “Fucking London idiots,” he adds, getting more specific.
Writing radio scripts isn’t easy. To be honest, I don’t find any writing easy. Those who come up with headlines like OUT NOW ON VIDEO probably do, but I don’t. And although I’m not what you might call precious, I do find a desk and a chair and a bit of peace and quiet help the creative process. Not writing in a corridor with a pad balanced on my lap, about a product I’m not allowed to mention while an enraged shouty comedian stomps about and an anxious account manager keeps reminding me of the time.
It gets worse. Once we’re in a position to get something down on tape, it becomes clear that Bernard is as unfamiliar with reading aloud as he is with basic recording equipment. He stumbles over every line, strays from the script, adds … pointless pauses and PUTS the emphasis on all THE wrong words. The agency didn’t bring an actual radio producer, someone skilled in the diplomatic art of getting the best work out of talent, and all the engineer does after each abysmal take is to ask hopefully “was that OK?” So it’s down to me to explain to an increasingly impatient Bernard that he needs to read a bit faster, or a bit clearer, or with less yelling and no gaps, and please can you wait until the microphone’s turned off before saying ‘fucking London wankers’.
Luckily, the studio – situated in a largely residential area just outside Manchester, as I recall – doesn’t have any other jobs lined up so we’re allowed to overrun. A couple of hours later we’ve got frayed nerves, a desperate need for strong drink but two commercials that even the most puritanical member of the radio clearance committee won’t have a problem with.
Recently I was clearing the loft and came across a whole bunch of my old radio ads on C30 cassettes, including the two with Manning. I ordered a bit of kit called the Tonor cassette tape to MP3 convertor, and stuck the least crap ones on my website. Grit your teeth and have a listen. 5th and 6th ones down.
The local boozer is having a refurb! This is good news. Like many pubs, the Royal Oak has been hit by falling trade and has also suffered a number of ‘incidents’ prompting visits from the local plod. Permanent closure and conversion into flats could have been the alternative, so any kind of determination to keep it open is a good sign.
Speaking of signs, there’s one on the wall announcing that the Royal Oak was an Evening Standard Pub of the Year back in the late ’70s. That probably meant you got an assortment of affable pipe-smoking gents who used the word ‘marvellous’ a lot.
‘Affable’ too, probably.
I hope the refurbishment plans allow for the retention of that dying institution, the separate public and saloon bars. Mind you, the distinction between the two was getting a bit blurred at the Royal Oak. The former used to show football on Sky and could get noisy, especially when Chelsea were playing. The saloon bar used to be somewhere you could escape football on Sky. Then the management adopted the retirement home model of reckoning that people needed to have TV on at all times, wherever they were. So they put up TVs in the saloon bar, and tuned them all to show football on Sky.
The pub served a range of traditional hearty pub fayre. You know the sort of thing. Burgers, steaks, pies and so on. All pretty good value and, thanks to weapons-grade microwaves, delivered to your table virtually before you’d finished placing your order.
But whatever else is changing, it looks like the food side of things will stay the same:
GASTRO PUB, NOT US!
Dubious grammar aside, I was struck by what these four words say about how the ‘gastro pub’ is perceived. Well, badly, obviously. Perhaps with a deep sense of distrust and suspicion. ‘We’ll be having none of your fancy London ways around here’ is the subtext. Or maybe it’s a veiled reference to the refurb carried out some years ago at another nearby pub, The Railway.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about drinking in pubs, it is to avoid any whose name contains the words ‘railway’, ‘station’ or ‘travellers’. Sure enough, The Railway was a seriously dodgy venue. After one disturbance too many, they shut the place down and reopened it months later with a new name, new decor, new prices and a new menu:
Does this shout ‘gastro pub’ to you? It doesn’t to me. But maybe the drinkers at the Royal Oak got terrified that their pub would reopen selling, not burgers, but black cod fillet in a Japanese tamari and manuka honey reduction, served with locally harvested micro greens.
Fair enough, but why so virulent in the denial? Why mention it at all? Is gastro food, whatever that might be, really such a terrible, terrible thing that you have to highlight the fact that customers needn’t entertain the slenderest fear of encountering any?
It’s like trying to reassure customers with signs saying things like:
SALMONELLA & BOTULISM? NOT HERE!
FILTHY CARPETS & STINKING BOGS? I DON’T THINK SO!
RISK OF UNPROVOKED GLASSING? NOT REALLY OUR STYLE!
To me, the sign is stating in a passive-aggressive way that the pub will under no circumstances serve the kind of food many people enjoy. They may as well have a sign reading:
CHEERFUL AMBIENCE? NOT US!
LOG FIRE IN WINTER? GET OUT OF HERE!
GOOD RANGE OF ALES? WHAT PLANET ARE YOU ON?!
I’ll give it a try when it reopens, though. Of course I will. It’s the local.
UPDATE 1: I visited The Royal Oak shortly after it reopened. Verdict: They’ve kept the good stuff (antique mirrors, unusual tiny wooden doorway through which one has to stoop to get from the public to the saloon bar, good range of beers, general layout,) and got rid of some the bad stuff (old fashioned furniture, heavily stained swirly carpet). All the TVs are still there, and they’re all showing football. There were plenty of unoccupied tables and chairs. But dim lighting made it impossible to read the paper, which has always been one of life’s pleasures, and a pair of children were allowed to run around and yell at the tops of their voices. THAT I could just about have coped with, but the constantly barking dog in the adjacent bar proved too much. Plus, the owner attempted to stop his dog barking by shouting at it. So I drained my pint and left.
UPDATE 2: Maybe I was unlucky, so I give the pub another try. This time I takeBounder (my cocker spaniel) and a backlit iPad. The place is just as empty as before. But the barman takes one look at Bounder and says that dogs are no longer allowed, except in the public bar. From there I can hear the barking dog above the sound of two teams battling it out on Sky 3 Plus Football Euro Extra, so I leave and strike the Royal Oak off of my list of locals. Shame.
In the early 1980s a job move took me to new accommodation in a flat in Hornsey, north London. By the end of the second week it was time to wash some clothes. Trouble was, there was no washing machine in the flat. Come to think of it, there wasn’t much of anything in this flat. No TV or radio. No stereo. A tiny two-ring hob in a poky kitchenette. There wasn’t much in the way of conversation, either. The only other occupant – the flat’s owner – was a humourless, vegetarian teetotaller. My small room contained an ancient wooden-framed single bed that made such an alarming series of creaks and groans every time I shifted position that the noise would wake me up. I ended up sleeping on the floor.
Two weeks later I’d be out of there, moving to a much more lively flat on the edge of Clapham Common. Sex, drugs, booze and noisy parties all awaited.
But right now I needed my clothes washed. So I stuffed them all into a heavy duty plastic sack and hauled it to Turnpike Lane, the local high street, where I quickly found a launderette.
I opened the door to an uncharacteristically empty shop. In my experience of using these places when living in other flats around London, your typical launderette would be full up on a Saturday. There’d be people chatting, smoking, reading magazines and lifting great baskets of steaming laundry from one machine to another. Everyone would know what to do and the order in which to do it. Crucially, they’d also have the right change for the different types of coin-operated machinery.
I never had the right change. Nor could I face the prospect of dumbly sitting there while the machines slowly did their stuff. I could conceivably zip off to the pub to while away the time, but harboured the fear that I’d come back to find I had missed the end of the washing machine cycle, and an irate customer had angrily dumped all my clothes in a tangled heap.
So I always opted for a service wash, where the attendant – typically a harried, no-nonsense, chain-smoking woman of indeterminate age, dressed in a floral garment made from some electrically-charged synthetic fibre – would for a nominal fee do all the heavy lifting for you. Hopefully without spending too long judging the general state of your smalls.
There was just such an attendant there in the Turnpike Lane launderette. I approach her with my sack of dirty clothes.
“Hi! Do you do service washes here?” She looks at me while she considers the question. You should know the answer to this instinctively, I think.
“Yes, love,” she says eventually. “Yes we do. You want that little lot washed, do you?” She nods at the sack.
“Yes please, that would be great.” I hand the sack over. “How long will it take, do you reckon?” She gives the sack a once-over. “Couple of hours?”
“Great,” I say. She starts to turn away, then stops.
“What, are you going to wait for it?” Well, no. That would defeat the whole time-saving purpose of a service wash. It would also be a bit odd, sitting there watching while someone you didn’t know washed your clothes.
“No no, I was waiting for a ticket. You know.” Back when people used launderettes, you needed a ticket for a service wash. Otherwise anyone could walk in and claim your washing as their own. Or there could be a bag mix-up and you’d get home to find you’d picked up the clothes of a petite 25-year-old PA. So they’d give you a ticket, normally one of those cheaply-printed tear-off raffle ticket affairs.
“Oh right. A ticket.” She puts the sack down and heads off into her little office at the back. I hear what sounds like heavy wooden furniture being scraped across the floor. I turn to have a look around. No one else has come into the shop. Curiously, none of the machines seems to be in action. All I can hear is the steady drone of the traffic outside. Eventually the attendant emerges from the office. But she doesn’t have a ticket. Instead, she’s dragging an enormous pair of old-fashioned wooden step ladders. She plonks it in front of me, extends the legs outwards, rocks the assembly back and forth to ensure it’s stable and begins slowly climbing up.
I follow her progress. When she gets to about the third step, she reaches up and pushes at a ceiling tile. It moves a little. She gets both hands to it and slides it fully out of the way. Then she climbs up on the next step, and the next, until she’s in a position to climb off the top of the ladders and into a black space above the ceiling. She disappears from view.
I stare at the darkly forbidding aperture. The seconds tick by. Anyone glancing in through the window would see a 20-something man standing motionless in front of a pair of tall stepladders in an otherwise deserted launderette. My mouth starts to feel a little dry. The sounds of more objects being moved around reaches me from above. There’s a muffled thump. At least something’s happening up there, I think.
Eventually a leg appears, its foot searching tentacle-like for the uppermost step of the ladder. It makes contact. The attendant slowly descends a few steps, stops to replace the little trapdoor in the ceiling, then makes it all the way back to terra firma. Plumes of dust fly from her crackling nylon housecoat type thing as she brushes herself down. She reaches into a pocket and hands me the ticket.
It’s the customary raffle ticket. I look at the number. It reads ‘1’.
Lately I’ve been commuting to a station in Islington called Essex Road. The trains that pass through it don’t go anywhere near Essex. They run from Moorgate in central London to places like Letchworth and Stevenage. It’s called Essex Road Station because it’s situated near Essex Road.
Essex Road doesn’t lead you anywhere closer to Essex, either. The whole Essex thing is a bit of red herring.
So that’s one thing you already know about Essex Road Station.
The other is that it is the only deep-level underground station in London that doesn’t see any Underground trains. The trains that stop here are all operated by First Capital Connect, part of the above-ground rail network. (Confusingly, Essex Road used to be part of the Underground, then in 1975 it suddenly went all high and mighty and switched to being overground.)
Anyway, it’s also one of those stations that’s served by lifts rather than escalators. Summon a lift and it effortlessly transports you down to platform level. Except that it doesn’t. It takes you beyond platform level. For reasons I cannot fathom, when you exit the lift you then have to take about 20 steps back up to where the trains are.
Flashback to 1904:
“OK boss, we’ve reached the platforms, can we stop digging now?”
“No, keep going! Another twenty feet should do it.”
“But this is perfect, boss! We’re exactly in line with the trains.”
“I told you to keep digging, dammit!”
Under the heading ‘Disabled Access’, one website says of Essex Road Station: ‘Partial’. I suppose this means disabled people can ‘partially’ board a train or ‘very nearly’ leave the station.
I mentioned this to the man who didn’t beat me up.
We’d both been at street level awaiting one of the lifts. He with his tracksuit, his golden, jangly adornments and the various piercings about his person; me with the bag that I was suddenly aware contained my whole livelihood. He had the darting eye movements and the rapid, jittery body motions of someone who’s totally wired on something other than café cortado. The lift doors opened and we both walked in. After a moment the doors closed.
“Umeddmimmasmaffkintren,” he said. I pulled off my headphones.
“You made me miss my fucking train.” Oh, great. I was in a lift with someone using the past tense to describe something that couldn’t have happened even in the future.
“How did I manage that, then?”
“You held me up. Getting in the lift.”
This was bollocks, of course. “Going somewhere good, are you?” Change the subject. Get him talking about him.
“Yeah,” he said, without elaborating. Then: “I could have beaten you up. But it’s all right, I’m not going to do that.” The lift completed its descent and the doors opened. There was no one else about. He glanced at me as if he was about to reconsider.
“Weird about the stairs, isn’t it?” I said.
“Eh?” I talked about the madness of the lifts taking you to a point way below platform level. He said he’d never noticed that before.
It has since occurred to me that imparting London trivia might be an effective way of disarming would-be attackers.
“Wait! We’re in the only ‘road’ in the City! Everything else is a lane, street, way or square!”
“Don’t hit me! See the Monument over there? Do you know more people have died falling from it than in the Great Fire it was built to commemorate?”
“Guys! Guys! We’re in the only Tube station that doesn’t contain any letters from the word ‘mackerel!”
Think I might be on to something?
2014 is the year I turn 60. No, I can’t believe it either. I wanted to know who and what I share my anniversary with, so here are twenty or so examples of others celebrating their 60th birthday this year.
Unilever first launched this famous shampoo in the UK. Now it’s the biggest name in haircare and is sold everywhere. A 1960’s ad campaign for Sunsilk featured a jingle composed by John Barry that was subsequently released as a pop single. Don’t look it up, it’s awful.
Univers is described as a neo-grotesque sans-serif typeface and was designed by a Swiss guy called Adrian Frutiger. Frutiger also came up with, er, Frutiger. Alas, Univers isn’t on the WordPress menu so you’ll have to settle for whatever this is. Palatino?
THE GEODESIC DOME
A strong yet lightweight structure consisting of a lattice of interlocking icosahedrons, patented (but not invented) in 1954 by American hippy hero R Buckminster Fuller. The best examples in the UK can be seen at Cornwall’s Eden Project.
Not the movie, the actual thing. One breezy day in 1954, a couple of Texan dudes noticed that the wind was always blowing swing doors open. So they set about inventing the world’s first automatic electric sliding doors. Today it is estimated that there are lots of sliding doors everywhere.
THE MOGEN CLAMP
A tool used in circumcision procedures and invented by Brooklyn rabbi Harry Bronstein. Bronstein’s invention had an inherent design flaw in that the very act of applying the clamp made it impossible for the circumciser to see what he was doing. So Rabbi Bronstein is probably known as ‘that goddamn bastard’ by the various men who lost more than was religiously necessary.
Also enjoying its 60th birthday is the photovoltaic or solar panel. Back in 1954 you needed a whole square yard of solar panel to power a single domestic light bulb. Today it’s more like 0.836 square metres.
The original transistor radio was called the Regency TR-1 and entered the US market costing £29.45, or about £250 in today’s money. Surviving examples are much sought after by collectors but rarely by music fans. I mean, look at it.
Discovered in 1954 but actually born much, much earlier, 1717 Arlon is a small asteroid with its own tiny moon. It’s visible to the naked eye, but only if you’re viewing it from a spaceship that’s cautiously threading its way through the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
* Asteroid shown may not be 1717 Arlon
1954 was a big year for all things nuclear. America launched the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus, while Russia built the first ICBM, opened the first nuclear power station and exploded its first hydrogen bomb. Thanks, 1954!
NON-STICK FRYING PANS
Widely and wrongly believed to be an offshoot of NASA’s space program, the trusty non-stick pan was actually invented in France by one Marc Gregoire. However, it is true that US scientists one day saw Marc’s frying pan and thought to themselves ‘wait a minute – space travel!’
Scientology was founded in 1954. With their belief that everyone on Earth is descended from the souls of murdered aliens, they make practitioners of the Wiccan pagan religion, also founded in 1954, seem positively rational. Tom Cruise is a famous Scientologist, while Alan Whicker was a Wiccan*.
THE BLACK BOX
The guy who can probably claim most credit for the invention of the modern flight recorder is an Australian called David Warren. There are two things we know about the black box. One, they aren’t black and two, we’ll probably never find the one from flight MH370.
The annual Dublin event (read ‘pub crawl’) celebrating the life of Irish writer James Joyce. The day is named after Leopold Bloom, the main character in Joyce’s book Ulysses. Have you ever read Ulysses? Neither have I.
When I was growing up in the 60s, these iconic items of confectionery carried messages like ‘Groovy’ and ‘Swing it’. There’s currently a competition to dream up aphorisms for their 60th anniversary, so expect to see lots of OMGs, WTFs and ROFLMAOs. DYSWIDT?
There were some good ones, like On The Waterfront and Rear Window, as well an abomination called The Silver Chalice, starring Paul Newman in his first role. When the film ran on TV in 1966, Newman took out ads in the trade press begging people not to watch it. His plea inevitably backfired.
MUSIC OF 1954
Mantovani, Dean Martin and Max Bygraves were the year’s big hitters. Bill Haley briefly lit up the charts with Shake, Rattle & Roll, but it wasn’t until 1955 that rock ‘n’ roll really took a hold. The number one when I was born was ‘Cara Mia’ by David Whitfield. I considered adding it to my party’s playlist. Then I listened to it.
Who doesn’t love the iconic Routemaster? Apart from people in wheelchairs, I mean? Some 2,876 Routemasters were built between ’54 and ’68, with 1,280 still in existence. They’re still operated on the ‘heritage’ routes 9 and 15 – plus there’s a phantom Routemaster that occasionally ‘appears’ in W10.
MONSTERS OF ‘54
Specifically, Godzilla and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, both of whom made their first appearance that year. Godzilla dealt with the prospect of humanity unleashing something beyond its control, i.e. atomic weapons. The Creature from the Black Lagoon was just a monster movie, although a 2014 remake is slated to be about the pollution of the Amazon.
Artificial nails had been around for centuries, but the type used today came about by accident when US dentist Fred Slack broke a nail and used the tools of his trade to make a false one. The rest, as nobody says, is history.
THE ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSH
The first one was called the Broxodent and it was invented by a Swiss dentist named Dr Phillipe-Guy Woog. Dr Phillipe-Guy Woog never met Dr Robert E Moog, or who knows what we’d have been subjected to whilst brushing our teeth.
Subaru is part of the Fuji Manufacturing Corporation. Not a lot of people know that. Subaru is the Japanese name for the Pleiades star cluster. Not a lot of people know that, either. And in the US, Subarus are popular amongst lesbians. Who the hell knew that?
Simpsons creator and massive Zappa fan Matt Groening was born in 1954, along with John Travolta, Neil Tennant, Denzil Washington, Elvis Costello, Ang Lee, James Cameron, Ray Liotta, Annie Lennox, Angela Merkel, Arthur Smith and Jermaine Jackson.
Arthur Smith provided the comedy for my 40th birthday party. He was brilliant.
Ad agencies (but only if you’re reading this after 2015, when Ogilvy & Mather upped sticks and moved back to London)
Apple store. The Wharf’s a prime location, you’d have thought. But if an office worker around here wants to look at the alternative to a PC, he has to go to Waitrose (see ‘John Lewis’)
A parking ticket on this car. Ever
Big Issue vendors
Buskers who aren’t officially auditioned and licensed and whose repertoire doesn’t include songs by Coldplay
Charity shops, chuggers, children who aren’t on a school trip
Circus posters pushed through the letterboxes of abandoned shops (qv)
Civil engineering projects undertaken by any company whose name isn’t ‘Canary Wharf Contractors’.
Civil disobedience. At the time of Occupy London, Canary Wharf Management got jittery that something similar may occur on their patch. It was never likely, but the authorities took the precaution of cable-tying ‘Restrictions of Assembly’ rules to lamp-posts on all the approaches to Canary Wharf. The half-inch-thick document lists all the dos and don’ts – mainly don’ts – that visitors to Canary Wharf are subject to. I’d like to read it one day, but one of the don’ts is almost certainly ‘Don’t remove this document’. #catch22
Dawdling people. Everyone’s in a hurry, all of the time. Not New York hurry, but a lot faster than New Malden hurry
Etiquette, specifically as it pertains to holding doors open for other people. However, see ‘Unseemly free-for-all’
Extra Mints. I love these little fellers, despite a lifelong and completely inexplicable dislike of everything Wrigley. But no one here sells them. Update: Boots do.
Feminists. I’ve no proof that they don’t exist in Canary Wharf, merely find the prospect unlikely
Flags. Can’t think of a single office that sports a gaily fluttering flag, nor a single reason why one should do so
Google Street View cars. They’re not allowed in. For security reasons. I can’t say more
Graffiti, greengrocers, greasy spoons
Happy and contented maintenance staff. I once saw a jacket hanging from the arm of this statue in West India Avenue. Its owner, a gardener, was toiling nearby. The scene looked quite amusing, so I asked the gardener if he minded me taking a photo.
He did. He told me that maintenance staff employed at the Wharf could be ‘let go’ for the most trivial reasons, and if someone from Canary Wharf Management were to see my photo on Instagram or wherever, he would most likely be tracked down and given his P45.
Ice cream vans
John Lewis. There’s a Waitrose that looks like a John Lewis and sells John Lewis-type merchandise, but it’s called Waitrose. Nobody knows why
‘Just passing through’. No one does this. Canary Wharf isn’t on the way to anywhere
Knocking shops. Not that I’ve seen, anyway. Not that I’ve been looking. Or know what one looks like. If they look like office receptions I may have to revisit this entry
Long grass. Like long hair, it’s redolent of anarchy and will not be tolerated. There are little parks and gardens in Canary Wharf but they are enthusiastically maintained, with all the plants laid out in regimented rows and patterns
Marks & Spencer. OK, there is one that does a roaring trade in food. But one where you can buy some socks? Forget it
Men in suits. Joking!
Old people. Older than me people, definitely
Patience at pelican crossings. This particular phenomenon isn’t restricted to Canary Wharf but its effect is more pronounced here due to the lack of heavy traffic. What happens is that a pedestrian will hit the pelican crossing button before looking to see if any traffic’s coming or not. It’s generally not, so he’ll stride straight out into a deserted road. Then, when a car finally does show up, the lights will suddenly turn red for no reason. This makes me angry as a driver and a pedestrian. Even if I were a pelican I’d be furious
Pigeons. Today I was wondering why you didn’t see that many pigeons in Canary Wharf when I came face to face with one of the reasons. Lemmy is a Harris Hawk who, his handler explained, is employed to persuade pigeons and gulls that they would lead more fruitful lives in other London boroughs. ‘But there aren’t many pigeons around here!’ I said. ‘I know,’ replied Lemmy’s boss. ‘He’s good, isn’t he?’
Police. Proper police. The ones at Canary Wharf may look like your regular plod, but in fact they’re a private force. You see them every hundred metres or so, standing around or walking along with varying degrees of purposefulness. They look well tooled up but they’re mostly packing torches, walkie-talkies and energy bars. Truth is, there’s not much for them to do around here and in any case they have very limited powers. Most of the crime at Canary Wharf occurs behind glass doors*, and it’s unlikely these uniformed plastics have the authority to barge in and say ‘Right, you’re all nicked!’ ‘What’s the charge, copper?’ ‘We’ll think of something, sunshine. How about complicity in acts of financial malpractice likely to engender global recession? And that’s just for starters!’
Poundland, Primark, public libraries, pubs with dartboards
Quitters. There’s no place in Canary Wharf for people who aren’t in it to win it. You snooze, you lose. It’s our way or the dual carriageway
Ram-raiders. The office blocks around the wharf are protected by tank-proof obstructions, often disguised as flower boxes. With its all-pervasive air of paranoia, Canary Wharf is the Porton Down of the business world. Mind you, the IRA did plant a massive bomb here back in 1996, so the fear isn’t completely unfounded
Scruffy people. If you do happen to see a girl in ripped jeans, they’ll have been skilfully hand-ripped by a professional jean ripper
Skateboarders, although you do see the occasional spirit-crushing sight of a middle-aged office worker on a scooter
Tattoo parlours. Are you kidding?
‘To Let’ signs on empty offices. Sends out the wrong signal
Tripods, Photographers with. Hat tip to Rob Borgars for this observation. Basically, using a tripod is discouraged in the Wharf. The reasons? You could be a terrorist (no, I can’t see the connection either). You might cause someone to trip, resulting in legal action. Or you might be someone aiming to take a photograph for commercial gain. Tripod = professional, you see.
Urban foxes. I’ve never seen a squirrel here, either
Unseemly free-for-all to get on the Tube at the end of the day. Instead, Canary Wharfers (as nobody calls them) queue in an orderly fashion. It’s a sight to behold
WH Smith. Oddly, there isn’t a single branch of Britain’s favourite newsagent. Something called ‘News on the Wharf’ takes care of all the fags ‘n’ mags stuff
Xylophones. No one I’ve spoken to has ever seen one in Canary Wharf. Nor have there been any sightings of marimbas, glockenspiels, vibraphones or thongophones. Things might be different if there was a music shop here
Yobbos. Yodellers. Yellow-crowned night herons. I’m struggling with Y
Zombies. None of the office grunts or ‘retail sales advisers’ are flesh-eating zombies. I’m pretty certain about this.
Anything I’ve missed? Do let me know. Also if the local M&S has started selling socks yet. (Update: they always have.)
We are deep into the 1980s and advertising agency de jour Collett Dickenson Pearce (CDP) has just presented its solution to the latest brief from its client, Parker Pens. Like previous executions in a long-running campaign, the ad takes the form a 48-sheet poster.
This ad features a pen that, unusually in an era of shiny silver and gold pens, is finished in matt black.
The poster ticks all the right boxes. Just seven words, lots of standout, nice pack shot, and a headline that completely wrong-foots the reader. You’re expecting it to say ‘clever’ or ‘smart’ or ‘gorgeous’; anything but ‘dull’. By confounding our expectations, the ad encourages you to look at the image, reread the headline, complete the equation ‘dull = not shiny’, then study the caption and make a mental note to try the pen out next time you’re in Smiths. Job done.
The client loved the ad and ran it. It picked up a few awards and probably shifted loads of pens.
The following is what could have happened had the Parker client been one of those people who likes to ‘improve’ ads.
And what could have happened had the agency been one of those that doesn’t stick to its guns…
“I like it,” says the client, ‘but I’ve seen research stating that people don’t like negatives in ads. Can we turn the headline round and make it a bit more positive?”
“Sure”, says the account director. “I’ll get the creatives straight onto it.”
“Much better,” says the client. “Very strong. But I’ve been discussing the ad with my team and some very good points were raised.
“The advert doesn’t make any mention of price. The pen you’ve chosen is quite expensive, so I was wondering if the ad could reflect the fact that Parker make a range of pens. You know, to suit every budget. We don’t want people to think we only make pricey pens!
“Also, and this is probably my mistake, I neglected to mention the matching presentation case the Parker 25 set actually comes in. And the guys in Brand went ape about the lack of a logo! Can you add the logo, and our Royal Warrant?
“Oh, and we’re in October now. People will be thinking about Christmas. Could you just add a nudge in that direction? Thanks”
“No problem,” says the account director.
“Brilliant! You guys rock. And that’s so true, about Christmas and Parker. Well done.
“You know, I was wondering if we could perhaps capitalise on that whole Christmas giving thing? I only ask because Parker offers an engraving service. That would be such a neat idea at this time of year. Plus I went on this advertising course where they kept going on about how the ‘offer is king’. So let’s just push this engraving idea, shall we?
“Otherwise it’s fine. Although we could perhaps big up Parker a bit. They don’t throw out these royal warrants willy-nilly, you know. We shouldn’t undersell ourselves.”
“Of course not,” says the account man. “I’ll see what the studio boys can rustle up.”
“Perfect. Looks like you’ve got everything in there.”
*reads for several minutes*
“Good. Very good. Although…”
“Well, I showed the previous ad to Mrs Client, and she pointed out that it didn’t really shout ‘Christmas’ enough. Could you just make this one a tad more seasonal, do you think? Then we’re just about there, I reckon.
“Oh, and following on from that ‘the offer is always king’ thing I was telling you about, I had a bit of a brainwave about how we could drive sales by offering another of our products at the same time. It’s all about driving sales at the end of the day, isn’t it?”
“Ha ha ha, of course it is. I’ll ask the studio…”
“And the pens look a bit all over the place. It’s not immediately apparent who they’re aimed at. Could you group them according to whether they’re male or female pens?”
“A fantastic suggestion! I’m on the case.”
“We’re getting there. We’re certainly getting there.”
“That’s great news. I’ll…”
“Although, looking at it, there is rather a lot to take in, isn’t there?”
“For a poster. Aren’t they supposed to have a maximum of eight words or something? That’s what you told me, I distinctly remember. You’re ignoring your own advice!”
“Don’t worry. I have a solution. Instead of a poster, make it a press ad. That way you can get in a few more sales points. And a list of dealers. I know! Duh! Let’s make it a direct response ad and sell pens off the page! You know, I think we’re going to end up with something really quite different.”
“Yes, I think you might be right.”
“Brilliant! Anyway, must dash. I’ve heard a rumour that our share price is slipping…”
About this article
I found this piece in a very old edition of Creative Review. Although when I found it, it was called ‘the latest edition of Creative Review’.
I kept the magazine because I thought the piece was a funny and telling demonstration of many truths. How ideas are precious things, how the desire to ‘improve’ an idea is part of many people’s make-up, and how a willingness to please (or appease) a client can result in poorer and less effective work.
I lent the magazine to a creative director who thought it would be good for a talk he was delivering on the subject, and that was the last I saw of it. However, he had kept the visual elements of the piece, and these he kindly emailed to me. Unfortunately I don’t remember the author of the text that originally accompanied the visuals – I think it might have been the ex-CD of CDP, John O’Donnell. I hope my words have maintained the spirit and, hopefully, some of the wit of the original.
Text © Kevin Mills 2013
From (allegedly) kiddie-fiddling cardinals to (so they say) overly-lascivious Lib Dem leaders, allegations of inappropriate behaviour are everywhere these days.
Leaving aside whether the use of that word ‘inappropriate’ is appropriate in these cases (is it really being too judgmental to take the view that abusing children is ‘wrong’ rather than merely ‘inappropriate’?), the allegations are generally followed by a denial of any wrongdoing.
However, a common-or-garden denial is somehow seen as insufficient. So the accused party will instead say he refutes the charges, presumably because it sounds like a more robust kind of denial. Sometimes they’re reported to be ‘contesting’ the accusations, or alternatively they might ‘dispute that version of events’. A ‘rebuttal’ of child-sex allegations is heard less often, perhaps because the word sits rather awkwardly with that particular offence. As does ‘sits rather awkwardly’. But shush.
The question is, if you’re a copywriter who’s been accused of something untoward, just what type of denial should you hit back with? Here’s your handy at-a-glance, cut-out-and-keep guide:
“You’ve been in the pub!”
A straightforward denial should be enough to counter this outrageous slur, provided you don’t allow your accuser to get close enough to smell your breath, or mangle your words to the extent that your very denial becomes an outrageous slur.
“Your copy is off brief!”
This is one you can refute, because to refute something is generally held to mean disproving it through evidence. So you simply hold the creative brief up in triumph and say “See? You specifically asked for the copy to focus on the kill-rate of the MP7 Sub-Machine Gun, and for the tone to be light and whimsical!”
“You’ve lifted this copy!”
You can either deny or dispute this accusation, although disputing it suggests it contains at least a kernel of truth that warrants argument and debate. Better to deny it outright, at least until your accuser comes back with the proof. Then you’re on your own.
“Your copy didn’t generate a response”
You can rebut this criticism simply by providing a sheaf of the responses your ad did get, taking care not to mention that 90% of them were complaints about tone, veracity or plagiarism (see above). Rebut, then, is similar to refute, although back in the 90s New Labour was famous for its effective ‘rapid rebuttal unit’ (strapline: ‘Yeah but, no but, REBUT!’) rather than a ‘rapid refutation unit’. That would have been silly.
“You totally lost it with the client when he rejected all your perfectly reasonable ideas, telling him he had the imagination of a small stick before pouring coffee over his head.”
Up to you. If it didn’t happen, deny it. If you can produce a happy, smiling client, refute it. If it was tea not coffee, dispute ‘that particular version of events’. But if the accusation is that it was your art director who carried out the assault rather than you, you should take legal advice and contest it.