In 1959, Harold Macmillan, then Prime Minister of Great Britain, told the nation 'You’ve never had it so good' and, as far as I am concerned, he wasn’t far from wrong.
I had sent my CV and book of cartoons to several advertising agencies hoping to find a job as a copywriter, been interviewed by three and had decided on the one that had the most exciting clients, was closest to the flat and offered me the best salary.
The David Macaulay Advertising Agency occupied two floors of an art deco building overlooking Marble Arch. On the walls of the thickly carpeted reception area, hung framed advertisements for Smirnoff Vodka, Teacher’s Whisky, Pirelli Tyres and El Al Airways.The place oozed comfort, silence and luxury.
'Mr Macaulay is expecting you', the receptionist said and led the way down a short corridor to his office.
David Macaulay himself, a forceful character quite a few years older than myself, was sitting behind a massive desk in a room that reminded me of the American President’s oval office.The windows behind him looked onto the Marble Arch, there was a small cocktail bar in one corner, magazines, photographs and promotional material everywhere. Very different indeed from the old Dickensian food firm I was used to.
'I’m looking for a copywriter with flare who can also sketch out ideas for the art department and be able to sell a campaign to prospective clients. You seem to fit the bill', he said. He had my book and CV in front of him.
I did not contradict him. A date when I would start was agreed.
My first day at the agency was a revelation. I had not realized how old fashioned, limited in vision and penny pinching the ‘family’ firm had been.
I was given my own office, the services of a secretary, an IBM typewriter, a drawing board and all the artist’s materials I might need. Coffee, tea, Coca Cola or iced water were available from a dispensing machine and best of all there were no rigid office hours for the creative team. It was accepted that imaginative people were temperamental and needed space.
I was taken for a tour of the premises by the receptionist and introduced to the people in media, in production, the artists in the studio, the two other copywriters who were a little distant, and several stressed account executives in shirt sleeves who were too busy on the phone to do more than wave a greeting.
When I returned to my office I found an internal memo on my desk.
To : All Departments. From : David Macaulay.
Drew Launay, cartoonist and television scriptwriter is a face you will be seeing around the 2nd floor from now
on as a copy consultant.
In that capacity it will be his job to help writer / accountant people to improve the standard of their work.
It was the first I knew that I was supposed to be an expert in a field I had never worked in before and it explained the slightly chilly attitude of the copywriters.
For the first few days I did little. No one asked me to re-write their copy nor seemed aware that I existed, so I dipped into a book or two on advertising techniques and thought about writing a novel.
On my fourth day, now sporting a bow tie and looking every inch the ad man, I attended my first 'brain storming' meeting in the conference room.
I joined the copywriters, the artists, three accounts executives in the deep armchairs arranged in a semi circle facing David Macaulay who stood by a blackboard. The atmosphere was similar to a briefing by RAF bomber command before an assault on Germany as seen in so many war films.
'We have a new account,' he started, 'a big one which needs urgent truly original input. Sunley Homes have been building houses in the Thames Valley for years but no one has heard of them. They want us to come up with a staggering campaign that will adjust this dire situation.'
Their most recent ad material was passed around. I noted that the houses were on two floors with three or four bedrooms and all other mod coms. Nothing very inspiring.
'Could a free bus tour from central London be organized for people to view the houses - calling it The Sunley Bus Tour' one copywriter piped up.
David wrote - Sunley Bus Tour - on the board.
'How about getting a film star couple to move into a house and using them as the basis of the campaign?’ someone else put forward..
David wrote - Film stars as house owners - on the board.
There was silence for quite a while and I felt I had to contribute. I was the agency’s copy consultant after all.
'We could get Sunley to build a house on a raft and float it up and down the river as an exhibition piece,' I proposed.
There were sniggers, titters and groans at the idiocy of the idea.
'Brilliant !' David Macaulay said, silencing them all. 'We get a house built on a barge and sail it down to Tower Bridge. This is the kind of new thinking I’m looking for.' He wrote - Floating House - on the blackboard, underlined it three times and crossed out the other suggestions.
I gained instant respect and, though it took a year longer than planned to set everything up, the Sunley house was eventually launched and sailed under Tower Bridge with a band, flags and balloons, not unlike the recent Jubilee pageant..
Three months and two campaigns later, one for a new girdle which I called Girl Friday and a doubtful cake mix, neither of which sold, David called me to his office.
'We have another new account right up your street ,' he said, 'The London Rubber Company'.
I’d never heard of them. 'What do they produce ?' I asked.
'The Durex condoms,' and he handed me a box of twenty four.
When I got home that evening I told Eve about this new assignment and gave her the box.
'Too late,' she said, 'I saw the gynaecologist again today. All has gone really well. With better luck this time you should be a Daddy about the first week in March.'