Tag Archives: walls

Politics by telegram

I didn’t last long as a copywriter. About six months, in fact.

The old man who was head of the team of wordsmiths at the Downton Pulford Compton ad. agency thought my headlines and body copy were a bit long-winded. “Think telegrams”, he advised. That’s all he said. A bit short and sweet. But I kind of got what he meant: keep it simple.

Donald Trump
seems to appreciate the power of keeping it simple. His modern day telegrams – Make America Great Again, Fake News – and the others, communicate simple, telegrammatic, posterised messages that slip easily into the memory bank without raising the slightest alarm or prompting too many questions among his followers.

Who wouldn’t vote against the simple injunction to “Make America Great Again”? Or, in the case of Brexit, to “Take Back Control”? The K.I.S.S. principle is tried and tested.

Back then telegrams were still quite popular, though the UK’s main telegram service ended in 2003 (interestingly, it’s still possible to send one, via telegramsonline).

Telegrammatic communications have been a bit out of fashion for quite a while, perhaps with the exception of that most powerful of advertising media, posters. Posters have a unique ability not to divert attention away from the basic message with snazzy video and dialogue that makes you think “What the hell was that all about?” They distil, focus and cut through. Just like the telegram did. When each word cost money, people were short and sweet to save cash. But the message was concise – and therefore clear. Stop.

Never was a telegram shorter and sweeter, perhaps, than in the case of Oscar Wilde‘s legendary exchange with his publisher, enquiring about the success of his most recent book. He sent “?”, to which the publisher replied “!”

Downtons handled a large proportion of the UK advertising for cinemas – not the ads. that appear on the screen, but the ads. in the local paper that give details of what’s on at the pictures. In addition they publicised film launches – and other stuff, like sales of confectionery and ice cream.

For quite a long time I was given menial tasks – just writing body copy for leaflets. It was the era when cinemas were converting to multi-screen – so quite a significant period in the history of the UK industry. Lots of factual leaflets were needed for door-to-door distribution. No-one in the department wanted to be involved with rubbish like that. The other creatives all guarded their bits of the business like mother elephants.

I thought I’d made a breakthrough when I was given an assignment to write an ad. encouraging people to spend more money at ‘front-of-house’ (FOH, as it’s known); ie in the foyer. I believe it’s still the case that cinemas make a large proportion of their profit from FOH sales. It’s almost as though the movies themselves are the bait to lure unsuspecting customers into the foyer to shop for way-overpriced burgers, sweets, ice lollies and chocolate.

Anyway, in this instance, my task was to write an ad. for Wall’s Ice Cream. Which I did.

(Not sure why, but in the back of my mind as I write this, I hear Trump bellowing “We’re gonna build the wall!”).

Anyway, it turned out that my headline, which to this day I think was quite snappy, went down like a lead balloon. I think the old man though it was a bit too clever.

PUT YOUR LOLLY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS

Pun on the word “lolly”? Didn’t go for it. It soon became clear that my career in Creative was going nowhere; I switched to the Media department.

It was all very political …

 

 

Image credit: By dumbfoundling a flickr user [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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The not-so-funny ha-ha

One of the worrying consequences of Donald Trump’s Great Wall will be its effect on wildlife. A recent piece in Scientific American mentioned that wolves, ocelots and even jaguars have been seen along the existing border walls. “Environmental groups say that migration corridors are crucial for the recovery and survival of wildlife along the border”, declares the article.

The piece also mentions the fact that architects have referred to the wall as a “pharaonic project”. It’s as though Trump, like the Pharaohs and their pyramids, sees it as his right to build a vast structure to memorialise his reign as supreme leader of the USA; indeed, it’s almost as though he feels he now owns the USA.

And it’s only natural to want to protect one’s property, of course. Somehow I doubt whether Mr. Trump is too concerned about the ramifications of his proposed barrier for border wildlife, given his apparent lack of concern about environmental issues generally.

But, funnily enough, when I read the Scientific American article my mind drifted back to a school trip … and a day when I learned that some people need to keep animals out of their territory.

Every summer, two or three coachloads of boys and girls aged around ten would set off from our school to visit various places of historic or cultural interest – museums, wildlife parks, a picturesque place at the seaside. I remember a wonderful afternoon’s rock-pooling in Aberavon, for instance – that kind of thing. Isn’t rock pooling fun, by the way? It’s enjoyed all over the world, as here by some young people in New Zealand.

rockpools

On this particular occasion, we visited a large and quite ancient stately home.

Our guide was very knowledgeable but regrettably her pronounced stutter was the cause of a great deal of giggling by our young party, much to our teacher’s embarrassment and annoyance. There was a very fine collection of p-p-p-paintings, for instance. And I remember that she showed us the underground i-i-i-ice house, which, intriguingly, was where food was kept fresh through the winter.

Owners of stately homes in England and (as in this case) Wales have used a variety of methods to keep out intruders. But not all intruders are of the human variety. The incursion of animals, especially deer and sheep, can be a big problem, apparently, which is why the land closest to the house is often surrounded by a long, grassy, wall-backed trench, like this one in Farnley Park, Leeds.

haha2

Anyway, as time passed the mirth continued to spread like waves across the gathering, growing with every verbal hiatus, as the poor lady’s face became increasingly flushed and our teacher almost apoplectic with rage. We were a cruel bunch!

haha3But things were about to come to a hilarious climax, as we arranged ourselves along the trench that surrounded the house.

“And this”, announced our guide, “is the house’s h-h-h-h-ha-ha-h-h-ha-ha-ha!” – at which point everyone fell about in complete hysterics.

I’m pleased to report that both our long-suffering guide and the teacher shared in the hilarity, in a small incident that has stayed in my memory ever since.

Image credits: rockpools – By Dhartley (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Ha-ha – Steve Partridge [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Ha-ha wall sign – By Dáibhí Ó Bruadair (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Filed under History, Humour, Nature, Stately homes and picnics