Friday, 24 August 2012


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.'

Friday, 17 August 2012


How a husband reacts to the news that his wife is pregnant depends, it seems to me, on their personal circumstances. When Eve told me she was expecting, I was not at all sure that I was ready for fatherhood. I had read the literary mandarin Cyril Connoly’s book Enemies of Promise in which he stated that one undoubted enemy of a writer was the pram in the hall. A baby, therefore, was more than likely to stop me taking the risk of going freelance as Eve would obviously have to stop modelling at some stage. So a career in advertising was again the probable solution. I leafed through relevant magazines, sent a CV and my book of cartoons to a number of agencies and, in time, was offered a job as a copywriter which I knew it would be foolish to refuse.
 The big hurdle was telling Eddy of my intention. I chose a Saturday morning in Pangbourne when he was fishing at the bottom of the garden.

 He did not react kindly.
 Did I realize how hard it had been for him to train me for the position I now held ? How difficult it had been for him to convince the Board that I should be made a director? Had I no sense of loyalty? Of gratitude?  I put an end to the flow.

 'Eve is expecting a baby, she wiill have to stop working and I can earn a great deal more in advertising than the firm can afford.' I said.
 He stopped reeling in the little silver spoon at the end of his line, I watched it sink in the shallow water.
 'I suppose it will bear my name?'  he said testily.
 I had not thought about it before, but any child of mine would not be his grandchild. The man was obsessed. It was a bitter comment which gave me a reason to turn on my heels and walk away.
 The atmosphere at lunch time proved so deadly that Eve and I went back to London that afternoon. My mother was again the one to take the brunt of the situation, but she had at last hardened her attitude to the whole sad business and managed to cope.

 Eve was very slim, wasp waisted, not anorexic, but thin enough for the gynaecologist to warn her that because, in her case, the pregnancy might not become very evident, she should resist the temptation to go on modelling for too long.
 She told Digby Morton she would have to leave, he had not quite finished designing a dress for Queen Soraya of Persia, creating and fitting it on Eve, so begged her to stay until after the royal presentation.
 On the day of the show all went well. She walked up and down the rostrum as elegantly as ever, a surprise party to bid her goodbye was thrown by the other models afterwards. The champagne flowed, a good time was had by all, but that night Eve woke up in great pain. Something was going very wrong with the baby.
 I called the doctor, she was rushed to hospital, nothing could be done and she miscarried. 

 I paced the floor of the clinical corridor outside an emergency room and, when she was wheeled out, pale and distraught, she could only repeat again and again through unbearable tears 'It was a little was a little boy.'

 They sedated her. I was told to go home and, numbed, I walked the empty night streets of London realizing that I had not, over the past months, been too concerned about what she had been going through. Suddenly this expected child had been prematurely born and died, a tiny unfinished human being which I had felt kicking magically inside her and which I had never imagined could be lost.
 Eve remained in hospital for the next few days which were spent by both of us being very British, with stiff upper lips, pretending that the tragedy was not a tragedy and that we would get over it without difficulty.
 Major Bill, who avoided unpleasantness at all costs, did not visit her, but  Doris hardly left her side. My mother came once but found it difficult to handle the situation as she sensed that Eve did not want any display of emotion and Eddy, unexpectedly, rang me, offering help, financial or otherwise if we needed it and apologised for the unfair remark he had made when fishing at the bottom of the garden. His genuine sympathy and effort to overcome his own feelings helped towards a reconciliation but did not deter me from giving in my notice to the Board a while later.
 It was agreed that I would not leave the firm for three months and after, would remain as a director of the company and be available as a consultant should my help be needed in the future.
 By the end of April (1959) Eve recovered completely and we went alone to Spain for a holiday before I launched myself in  my new madcap career.    

Eve modeling for queen Soraya of Persia 1958

Monday, 13 August 2012

THE AIMLESS ( Part 2 )

                    The play is set in the ruins of a house that has been
                     burned to the ground. As the curtain rises three young
                     men are sifting through the smoking ashes.

In September 1958 Eve and I drove up to Edinburgh for the dress rehearsals of The Aimless.
John Duncan and his troupe had taken over the Royal Arch Hall in Queen Street three days before and the set was already up. It was basic, the remains of a charred wall and a broken window against a blue sky, branches of a tree, rubble centre stage which would give off smoke if the fire officer gave his permission, a marble statue of Adonis stage left.
 I watched a run through and wasn’t too impressed by the acting. But everyone knew their lines.
 The dress rehearsal was the usual chaos. The lights didn’t work, the sound effects were not on cue, the branches of the tree got in the way of someone’s entrance, but the advance bookings were good.
 Nerves, butterflies, stage fright, sickness, everyone concerned suffered them on the night. The curtain went up. They got through it. Genuine applause. Three curtain calls. I had no idea what to think.
 I sat with Eve in the auditorium numbed. The shock entrance of the father, believed dead at the end of the first act, had worked well, the gay boy got a few laughs when they were not intended but coped, and tension had risen uncomfortably when he kissed the statue a little too sensually - a change from the original script to satisfy the censor. But no one had booed nor thrown rotten eggs and the audience had left in silent thought and whispered discussion.
We went back stage to congratulate the company in the crowded dressing room. Doubt as to their own success occupied each actor as they wiped off the greasepaint, then there was sudden silence.
 I turned. In the doorway stood an effete, immaculately dressed man holding a cigarette between third and fourth finger of his right hand.
 'I think you all d-did sp-splendidly,' he stuttered, for he suffered from this setback.
 It was Kenneth Tynan.
 'And you must be the writer,' he said to me. 'Having the boy kiss a statue was a b-brilliant way of expressing his homosexuality without pointing out that such a thing exists. I was curious to see how you’d get round the problem. Well done. And he was gone.
 The first review by A.V.Coton, drama critic of the Daily Telegraph, came out mid week.
                                                   THE WIDOWER AND HIS SONS
                                                   Family analysis in fascinating plot.
                  Combing through the tangles of the Edinburgh ‘fringe’ one can find worthy plays dully
                  acted and also dull plays excitingly  presented. The Aimless by André Launay is presented
                  for only a few performances by a mixed group of talents at the Royal Arch Hall. It is a
                  competent well designed play on a permanently interesting theme - the responsibility of fathers
                  towards their children and of children for their father’s actions. Its involved but  plausible plot
                  concerns the stresses between a widower and his three sons whose lives reach a particular climax
                  when their hom is burned down and the three sons have to decide what their lives are about and
                  how much they owe to their father This is an irritating but nevertheless fascinating play whose
                  strong skeleton carries little attractive flesh. Its atmosphere Chekhovian, its language and situations
                  entirely of the 1950s.

    This was followed by a mixture of good and bad notices with some unexpected and some obvious headlines:

                  NEW PLAY IN THE NIHILIST TRADITION.  ( Glasgow Herald )                       
                  SPARKLES AND SHOCKS IN NEW PLAY. ( Daily express )
                  IT'S MERELY AIMLESS. (Daily Mail )
                  THIS PLAY IS TOO OBSCURE. (Edinburgh Evening News )
                  ANGRY YOUNG MEN BLAME FATHER  (The Scotsman )
                  NEW ANGRY YOUNG MAN SPOUTS VENOM ( News Chronicle )

 On Sunday, the last day, Kenneth Tynan’s anxiously awaited critique in the Observer had to be searched for in his long three column piece on the Edinburgh Festival.

           André Launay’s THE AIMLESS, though feverishly ill acted, has a beguiling theme : the rational hatred                     

           of three sons for their hypocritical father. Each of them, through being truthful, learns that truth destroys: 
           We all inhabit prisons from which we cannot escape without injuring somebody else. A defensible idea,
           but one that needs subtler writing to defend it.

My first thoughts were whether these notices would be good enough to lead to a more professional production, my second thoughts were of how Eddy would react to the Telegraph review. It was the paper he read regularly on the train every morning.
 John Duncan and his cast returned to Newcastle with mixed feelings about what had been achieved, Eve and I returned to London where I received congratulations on the phone from my mother and Pierre, complete indifference from Bill and Doris, and a wall of silence from Eddy who never once mentioned the play let alone asked to read it.
 Over the following months I sent The Aimless to a number of producers all of whom rejected it, some kindly, asking to see anything else I might write in the future, but I quickly realized that I was out of step with the plays that were filling the theatres.
 The label ‘Angry Young Man’ had been applied in the early 50s by the media to describe working class playwrights who were disillusioned by traditional English society. Though I had been similarly tagged, I was not a working class young man angry with middle class society. I was a middle class young man angry with my middle class surrogate father and with my interfering upper middle class in-laws. I had also weaned myself on Noel Coward, Terrence Rattigan, Jean Anouilh with a bit of Tennessee Williams thrown in, not John Osborne, Arnold Wesker or Harold Pinter.
 I did not exactly give up, but I decided to put writing for the theatre on the back burner for a while.
 Then Eve informed me that she was pregnant.

  John Duncan was eventually to become head of light entertainment at Yorkshire Television and Nicholas Ferguson, who played the young boy, became a successful television director on Coronation Street, East Enders and many other productions. 


Monday, 6 August 2012

THE AIMLESS. (Part 1 )

If life at times is magnificent or disastrous I do not believe that it is due to good or bad luck but rather the management or mismanagement of opportunities. However, shortly after my new friend and mentor, Jimmy Eilbeck  advised me to go into advertising and I was puzzling over how I could extricate myself from the family firm without causing a cataclysmic upheaval, I received what can only be called a "lucky" phone call. It was from a senior manager at Waitrose, the supermarket people, who was head hunting capable young men with knowledge of the luxury food trade. I went secretly for an interview, was offered a trial period of employment in their buying department for three times more than I was earning, and gleefully informed Eddy who, though incensed, realized that I might be seriously tempted to take up the proposal.
 A conference of V.Benoist.Ltd shareholders was convened. My worth to the company discussed. I was bi-lingual, knew my foodstuffs, knew the trade, was popular with customers, so was offered an adequate increase in salary and a directorship with a few shares thrown in. 
 If I had been at all entrepreneurial I would have been over the moon about the appointment, but the fact that I was now a company director meant remarkably little to me except that I now had to attend board meetings which I found extremely tedious. Eddy sat at the head of the table as Chairman and Managing Director, while other directors did their best to look interested in what the accountant had to say about profits and losses though probably day dreaming about their forthcoming week-end golf.
 I then made an astonishing discovery.
 Eddy was not the major shareholder he had led me to believe. If, for instance, a take over was approved by others, we Launays could be booted out at the drop of a bowler hat. All he had put me through to keep the business in the family was based on a fantasy of his wishful thinking. The firm had never been a family concern.
 It was my turn to be incensed.
 I had mismanaged an opportunity and could not reasonably leave for at least a year, but I now had an office of my own,  and a typewriter, so I vented my discontent by writing a very angry play - The Aimless - about a widowed father and his three sons who live in a state of deadlock in an old country house till one of them burns the place down.
 At the time, Kenneth Tynan of the Observer, considered by the majority of people in the theatre business to be one of the fiercest dramatic critics of the twentieth century, organized a play competition to encourage new work, so I sent in my opus not at all confident that it would even be read.
 A month or so later I received a letter from Mr Tynan himself congratulating me on being one of the finalists in the competition out of two thousand entries. My play had come third, a cheque was enclosed, he was sure I would have no problems getting a production. I was stupefied.
 Within a week  I received another letter, this time from a Mr John Duncan of Newcastle who had read of the award and got my address from the Observer. He was taking a company of semi professional actors to the 1958 Edinburgh Festival to perform a play on the Fringe and was looking for something new. Could I send him a copy of The Aimless ?
 I did this immediately and got a long answer by return which astounded me.
 Mr Duncan wanted to produce the play, would not be able to offer me much more than a chance to see it  in performance and went on to analyse it with stimulating perception. He had detected some of the more abstract ideas I had had trouble insinuating in the dialogue and his suggestions on how certain scenes could be staged, the way the actors should express the lines, were impressive.  He was clearly an astute theatrical director.
 He wanted to meet me before the next `term’  began, which suggested he was a professor at a drama school. I imagined him to be an elderly academic gentleman from whom I would learn a great deal and wrote back that I was available at any time he chose. 
 In his next letter, with more incisive analysis of the play, he named a date. Would it be convenient to meet outside the Collegiate Theatre in Bloomsbury ? The venue fitted my idea of the type of character he would turn out to be.
 On the appointed day at the appointed hour I drove round Bloomsbury Square in my open car, parked outside the Collegiate Theatre and waited. The only person in sight was a long haired youth in an old threadbare overcoat, nervously pacing up and down the pavement massaging his neck as though he had mumps.
 This uncouth youth, eighteen years old if a day, suddenly stopped to stare at the car, looked at me quizzically and in a Geordie accent that would have made Eve’s father suffer an apoplexy, addressed me.
 'Are you  Aundrey Loonay?'    
  Professor Duncan, I decided, had obviously been delayed inside the Collegiate Theatre and had sent one of his students to tell me.
  'Yes, I am,' I replied.
  'I’m John Dooncan,' he said and stretched a long arm across the passenger seat to shake my hand.
  I was so taken aback that it obviously showed..
  'Were you expecting someone older?' he asked, grinning 'Most people do. But then you don’t look mooch like what you write,  I thought you’d be a bit more untidy, like me.'
  We went to a pub and sat down in a corner.
  'We’ve got a problem,' he started straight away.' I don’t think the Lord Chamberlain will allow the queer lad to kiss the farmer’s boy.'
 We were in 1957. The Sexual Offence Act decriminalising homosexual acts was not to be passed for ten years, and the Theatre Act, abolishing censorship on stage was not to come into effect till a year after that.
 'I’ve got just the right actor for the little poofter,' he went on, 'and I’ll play the older brother myself so we only need to find the Dad and the middle son.'
  He would rehearse in Newcastle. He had an architect student friend who would design and build the set, a printer friend would take care of the programmes. He had already booked the venue in Edinburgh, all he wanted from me was an alternative to the homosexual content without losing the quirky element of the plot.
 My mind drifted. I wasn’t sure that putting the play in his hands for a whole year was a good idea. I could wait for a more professional offer, but then none might be made. Apart from his letters, which suggested he knew what he was doing, I didn’t know anything about him.’
 'What do you do in Newcastle?' I asked.
 'Teach geography and history to eleven year olds, and drama. I’ve produced lots of plays before with amateurs and semi pros, if that’s what you’re worrying about. And I’m twenty six. And I rang Kenneth Tynan who said a Fringe production of the play would be ideal to gauge an audience’s reaction.'   
 On the strength of that, I committed myself there and then and worried for a year whether I had managed this opportunity correctly.

Kenneth Tynan, dramatic critic