Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Oral fixation

It probably doesn't take a forensic typographer to tell that I never went to art school. Having been sent down from my university for sodomy and atheism I just slouched around at parties telling people that I was a writer. This grew so gratingly pretentious that eventually a friend of mine asked me if I’d at least take some work writing 'copy' for this advertising agency he was working for. In fact, it wasn’t so much an advertising agency, more just two men in a flat. They’d had a problem with the writer that they were using because, despite charging hundreds of pounds a day, he couldn’t spell, or indeed punctuate. He was, I gathered, technically a moron.

I gamely agreed to write this 'copy' as they kept calling it, thinking I might after all need some pin money to tide me over whilst I completed my first novel. And honestly, how hard could it be?

I arrived for work, dressed up in my best jodpurs and was promptly locked in a room with a wild-eyed fellow who, they told me, had recently been made redundant for spitting. He was in his fifties and quite mad, he didn’t appear to notice, or mind, that I was barely 15. I sat down on the floor next to him, gathered up some of his felt tips and we set about 'writing ads'.

My career got off to a auspicious start, because more or less the first ad I ever wrote got made. And not just made, but turned in to a kind of architectural feature. It was for a dental clinic near a certain tube station in London. I reproduce it here for your edification.

As you can see it shows the streets of the local area, in an isometric view, being flossed by a pair of monstrous hands. As though London itself actually existed inside the mouth of some kind of terrifying and yet oral hygiene-conscious Leviathan. A nightmarish vision, that, once seen, can never leave the mind of the viewer. I also wrote a headline, which I’m sure you’ll agree, is a forgotten classic. (The occluded words are 'you' and 'work').

In the light of my every single intervening experience of getting work sold to clients, I find it perversely intriguing that the client chose this ad, and, moreover, chose to run it virtually unchanged from the scamp, in his front window. The one place where a map giving directions to his establishment is totally, totally redundant.

There is a tragic coda to this story.

Shortly after writing this fine piece of advertising I had a terrible row with the man who ran the company and was asked to leave the building. That night I went drinking with the wild-eyed art director, who ended the evening sobbing, swearing at me and telling me he was going to kill himself. I have no idea if he did.

And so began my career as a copywriter.

It’s been basically down hill since then.

It was an experience I'll never forget, largely because the dentist is opposite my gym, so I only have to look at it, oh, three times a week.

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