Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Upstairs on the buses

A mailboy at J Walter Thompson in the mid-1960s, the biggest and poshest of advertising agents at that time, I was told about the occasion the chairman walked out of our Berkeley Square offices with a client. No taxis in sight.

“Perhaps we should walk up to Oxford Street and catch a bus,” said the Great Man. And they did. “Let’s go upstairs,” he suggested.

“Will that cost more?” enquired Nervous Client.

This was an era long before our current obsession with Consumer Insight.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Artists as Talkers

I didn’t make time to listen to any of Grayson Perry’s Reith Lectures on BBC Radio 4 this year – but they were well regarded by many as being witty and wise. And I’ve seen enough of him to know that he is both those things, aside from being an interesting artist.

In general, artists are not known as good talkers. Many seem almost totally inarticulate about both their lives and their work.

The great exception, of course, was James McNeill Whistler. “I wish I’d said that,” said Oscar Wilde admiringly to him at a salon in Paris after the artist had been holding forth.

“You will, Oscar, you will,” responded Whistler.

Above: Whistler by William Merritt Chase, 1885

Sunday, 22 December 2013

In search of Mrs Shakespeare

It's said with rather boring regularity that little is known about Shakespeare the man. It is this that has fed the Shakespeare-didn’t-write-Shakespeare movement. And yet, in reality there’s so much that has been turned up on him, much of it ill-fitting our Romantic view of The Artist.

That’s aside from all those quartos and folios of his work.

Recently I’ve been grappling with a biography of his wife, Ann Hathaway, by Germaine Greer. At one level, it’s an extraordinary achievement – to write 350 pages, tightly packed with relevant information, on a woman about whom next to nothing is known (aside from his leaving her the second best bed).

On the other hand, I’m not at all sure that I will stay the course. One can only take a certain number of might-have-beens, could-haves, we-can-only-imagines, possiblies and supposes.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

A Sort of Christmas Card: Mr Pepys’s Christmas Day

Diary, 25 December 1662

Up pretty early, leaving my wife not well in bed. And with my boy walked, it being a most brave cold and dry frosty morning, and had a pleasant walk to Whitehall… By and by down to the Chapell again, where Bishop Morley* preached upon the Song of the Angels – “Glory to God on high, on earth peace, and good will towards men.” Methought he made but a poor sermon, but long and reprehending the mistaken jollity of the Court for the true joy that shall and ought to be on these days… He did much press us to joy in these publick days of joy, and to hospitality. But one that stood by whispered in my ear that the Bishop do not spend one groat to the poor himself. The sermon done a good anthem followed by vialls, and the King** came down to receive the sacrament… I walked home again with great pleasure, and there dined by my wife’s bed-side with great content, having a mess of brave plum-porridge and a roasted pullet for dinner, and I sent for a mince-pie abroad, my wife not being well to make any herself yet. After dinner sat talking a good while with her, her [pain] being become less, and then to see Sir W Penn*** a little, and so to my office, practising arithmetique alone with great content, till 11 at night; and so to supper and to bed.

Wishing you a very happy Christmas.

*Bishop of Winchester, then in 1663 also Dean of the Chapel Royal
**Charles II
***Admiral William Penn, a close friend of Pepys. Father of the founder of Pennsylvania

Monday, 16 December 2013

Mandela and the move to violence

In all the adulatory coverage following the death of Nelson Mandela, I’ve yet to see the view expressed that the switch of the ANC from non-violent opposition to armed insurrection, following the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, might well have served to stiffen the resolve of the white supremacist regime in defence of apartheid, caused many more deaths and extended the period of time before change came about.

Just as the bombing campaign against Germany, aimed at bringing an end to hostilities, served only to prolong the Second World War…

Mandela and his colleagues must have been fully aware of Gandhi’s strategy.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Folking awful

For a while I sang in folk clubs. It was the pseudo-folk revival of the mid-1960s.

“What did you think of it?” I asked one club manager – a world-class cynic at the best of times perhaps a trifle too eagerly.

“Folking awful,” he responded.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Vitality the vision

Some years ago, I helped Unilever to develop a new “corporate mission”. In the end it all came down to one word – VITALITY.

Clarity about vitality as a way of being could create real new momentum for the multinational giant as the focus of all R&D and marketing efforts; on whom to promote and whom to recruit (and whom not); on which brands to acquire and which to sell.
I was so excited by the word and its obvious relevance and potential that I lobbied as many members of senior management as I knew and in due course it was adopted.

A little later I was disappointed to learn that it had not been taken up by the HR people in the company in any meaningful way. And the company went on owning the profitable but not very obviously vital Pot Noodle brand.

Now I see on the internet that the strategy has been reduced to a standard formula. This is it (above). Useful, no doubt, but unlikely to unleash much in the way of vitality. 

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Conquering Cleo

Ahead of the premiรจre of Antony and Cleopatra at Stratford, Rupert Christiansen in the Daily Telegraph pointed out that he had “never seen this play fulfilled on stage or witnessed two actors adequate to its leading roles.”

I know what he means. The last time I risked it was a couple of decades ago a dreary production with a schoolmarmish Cleo at the Birmingham Rep.

Well, the new production at the Swan, a joint effort of two American companies (the Public in New York and GableStage in Miami) together with the RSC, scores a creditable one out of two.

The Mark Antony, the well-established British actor Jonathan Cake, really looks as though he has wandered in from a remake of Carry On Cleo.

But the Cleopatra, Joaquina Kalukango, virtually fresh from the Juilliard School in New York, is absolutely magnificent. What a pity she didn’t bring her own leading man.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Finding a niche in the eating out market

Our lovely village on the borders of Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire, King’s Sutton, offers so much... Three pubs, three shops, two churches, a fine village hall, a multitude of clubs and activities, including regular live music. But no good restaurant food. Until quite recently, that is.

When we first came to live in the village some twenty years ago, the White Horse pub was an ancient, dingy drinkers’ den, not really to be entered unless one was an insider. Then someone saw its potential and converted it into an attractive but rather basic gastro-pub. The aged drinkers abandoned ship.

Somehow or other that change never worked commercially. Managements came and went, each one tweaking the offer, but none able to make the property make a dollar.

Recently arrived a new young couple, Julie Groves and Hendrik Dutson – she the landlady and he the chef – and the food they are producing (and the welcome) is of a quite different order from what has gone before.

Sophie and I have now sampled both lunch and dinner there – with great pleasure. So we hope that, this time around, the White Horse, Julie and Hendrik are here to stay.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Copyright in the real world

Although there has been virtually no coverage of the event, I’m assured that in July the UK government ratified an EU directive which, from November just past, increased the period of time when sound recordings are subject to copyright from 50 years to 70.

This is a case of expanding the barn after the horses have all bolted. Completely absurd.

What’s needed is a complete rethink of intellectual property law in the real world we live in now.