…and other stories of Mad Men who’ve served in the military.
Be warned, for purposes of veracity, this blog contains foul language.
In the mid-sixties, when I started working in advertising, almost every male member of staff had been in the army, navy or air force. Either they’d been called up for National Service or they’d served during the Second World War. My first creative boss, Ron Brown, is a case in point. He’d spent most of his National Service in the Intelligence Corps and had trained as a Morse code operator.
Ron spent much of his service in Cyprus, intercepting Morse code messages sent to Russia by Soviet spies. He was one of three operators posted in different parts of Europe who used triangulation to locate the Russian agents.
I shared an office with Ron throughout 1969 and he often told me about his days in the army, usually while he was drawing up one of his faultless Magic Marker roughs. One of the many facts I gleaned from him is that every operator of Morse code can be recognised from every other. Ron said it was like handwriting, always individual and distinctive; although Morse operators used the same variations of dots and dashes, each operator did so in a unique way.
Ron, of course, went on to work at Doyle Dane Bernbach, eventually joining David Abbott at Abbott, Mead, Vickers as his creative partner. I, for my part, ended up at Collett, Dickenson and Pearce, which seemed chock-a-block with people who’d been in the services. For a start, CDP’s founder, John Pearce, was an ex-lieutenant colonel, and not without distinction.
During the Second World War he’d been seconded to a top-secret unit that dreamed up wheezes to help defeat the Nazis. One of his more eccentric ideas was the exploding cowpat. Colonel Pearce suggested that thousands of these explosive bovine faeces should be placed in parts of the countryside where there was a danger of Nazi paratroops landing. What a terrific idea, you might think, until you realise that human nature dictates that anyone, even evil Nazi paratroopers, would studiously avoid treading in cow shit. Reluctantly, the initiative was abandoned.
CDP’s first creative director, Colin Millward, had also served his country, in his case, by joining the Royal Air Force – and thank goodness he had. One of CDP’s greatest advertising campaigns, Hamlet, has Colin’s time in the air force to thank for choosing ‘Air on a G String’ as the soundtrack to the commercials.
Just after the war, Colin was posted to India where he spent six months flying bombers and living in a hut. The previous occupant had left behind a gramophone, but only one record. On one side of this disc was Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ – so guess what the flip side was? That’s right, Bach’s ‘Air on a G String’. When Tim Warriner and Roy Carruthers wrote the first Hamlet commercials, Colin remembered his long nights listening to ‘Air on a G String’ and told Tim and Roy to use it. John Ritchie (ex-Major, Seaforth Highlanders) was dispatched to Paris and ordered to camp outside Jacques Loussier’s flat until he had got Loussier to agree to record a 30 second version of the music. The ex-Seaforth Highlander was victorious and returned to London with a tape of the famous tune.
Then, of course, there was Nigel Clark, former Captain of Horse, 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars. Unusually for a toff, Nigel played soccer for his regiment’s team, the only officer to do so. The rest of the team was drawn from non-commissioned officers and other ranks. Nigel used to joke that he received more tackles from his own side than he ever did from his opponents.
The list of CDP ex-army officers and their stories goes on: Larry Robertson (ex-Guards), with an accent so plummy that even Nigel Clark had trouble understanding it; David Eastmure, who, allegedly, has the dubious distinction of having ordered the first shot to be fired in anger during the most recent Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’; and another veteran of Ulster, Ian Reid, the CDP television producer. Ian, like many of these ex-army officers, is a natural raconteur, with plenty to racont about. This story, told to Paul Smith and me during a break on a film shoot, is a good example. It goes something like this.
Ian and his men were sent out to halt a Republican march, which threatened to enter a Loyalist area. Ian took up position in the centre of a road as the march approached. He positioned his men either side of him, line abreast. As the marchers grew closer Ian reached for his megaphone.
‘In the name of the Queen, I order you to stop’.
The march kept coming towards him. Once more he placed megaphone to mouth.
‘Again, in the name of the Queen, I order you to stop’.
Relentlessly, the march continued its progress. Ian used his megaphone a third time.
‘I said, in the name of the Queen, I order you to stop’.
The march was now only 100 yards away and showed no intention of coming to a halt. Ian turned to his platoon.
‘Okay, men, deploy the barbed wire’.
Like the well-oiled machine they were, Ian’s command seamlessly reeled out a roll of barbed wire, until it totally blocked the road, denying the march any further progress.
There was just one problem.
Ian’s men were behind the barbed wire, and Ian was in front of it.
As the marchers drew face to face with Ian, their leader acknowledged that something was radically wrong. He turned to a couple of his fellow marchers.
‘Help the nice officer over to his side of the barbed wire’.
At which point a couple of burly Ulstermen lifted Ian over the barbed wire to reunite him with his troops.
Now that the status quo had been restored, the marchers’ leader gave a satisfied nod. The marchers began shouting abuse at Ian and his men, chanted Nationalist slogans and made threatening gestures. Ian once again took up his megaphone.
‘In the name of the Queen, I order you to disperse’.
Eventually, the Nationalists grew bored and drifted off home, while Ian, God bless him, lived to use his megaphone another day.
Talking of living to do something another day – in the case of second lieutenant John Wood it was to become a researcher and planner, first at CDP, then at other agencies. Paul Smith and I spent many a boozy afternoon with Woody when we worked with him at Allen, Brady and Marsh. This is one of his many army stories, as ever delivered through a thick fog of cigarette smoke and punctuated by gulps of beer.
As a wet behind the ears newly commissioned officer, Woody was posted to Cyprus during the EOKA uprising. Luckily for him, he was given an experienced regular soldier, Sergeant Daniels, as his second in command. One night, a group of EOKA insurgents were sighted in a small village. Woody was ordered to take his men in a couple of Land Rovers and flush out the insurgents. When the Land Rovers reached the outskirts of the village, Woody ordered a halt and outlined his plan.
‘Okay, four men will circle round the village and set up a field of fire at the far end. Another four will set up a field of fire here. Meanwhile, Sergeant Daniels, myself, and the rest of the platoon will form a skirmish line, pass through the village and flush out the insurgents.’
Pleased with his crisp delivery of orders and commanding presence, Woody set about checking the magazine of his revolver. Sergeant Daniels cleared his throat.
‘Might I have a word, sir?’
‘Yes, of course, Sergeant Daniels, what is it?’
‘I wouldn’t do that if I was you, sir’.
‘No? Why ever not?
‘Because we’re going to get ourselves fucking killed.’
‘What do you think we should do instead, sergeant?’
‘What I think, sir, is this. It’s dark, we should stay here, brew up a cup of tea, and wait for daylight. By then, the insurgents will have fucked off, and we’ll still be alive. We can move through the village quite safely, without anyone getting shot.
‘But what about my orders, sergeant, flush out the insurgents?’
‘We’ll report ‘no contact’, sir. You can’t flush ‘em out if they’re not there, can you, sir.’
After hearing this story you have to wonder how many officers owe their lives to the experience and common sense of regular soldiers like Sergeant Daniels. Certainly, young second lieutenants appear to have been the bane of many an NCO’s life. None more so than Nick Shackleton, a charming copywriter alongside whom I worked at Lowe.
Nick is the great grandson of Sir Ernest Shackleton, the Polar explorer, but as this story attests, he seems to have inherited none of his famous forbear’s qualities of leadership. The language is so foul in this story – but so necessary – that I have resorted to asterisks.
Early in his days of National Service, Nick was put in charge of a platoon of seasoned troops and sent out on moorland exercises. Within minutes of setting off, a thick mist descended, and Nick became separated from his command. He trudged on, hoping to re-establish contact, but to no avail.
Eventually, the mist cleared enough to allow Nick to find his way back to barracks, but not his missing troops. Almost the first person he encountered was the regimental sergeant major. Nick thought it judicious to report his lost patrol.
‘Hello, sergeant major, I am afraid I have some rather bad news.’
‘Really, sir, and what might that be?’
‘I’ve lost my platoon somewhere on the moors and I haven’t seen them since.’
‘I see, sir.’
There was a pause while the sergeant major considered the situation.
‘Now, sir, you being an officer, you probably know more about Queen’s Regulations than I do.”
‘Yes, I think I probably do, sergeant major.’
‘So, according to Queen’s Regulations, I’d probably be court-martialed if I called you a c***, sir, wouldn’t I?’
Yes, I believe you probably would, sergeant major’.
‘I see. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, sir. But there’s nothing in Queen’s Regulations that says I’ll be court-martialed if I think you’re a c***, sir, is there?’
‘No, I don’t believe there is, sergeant major’.
‘Well, in that case, I think you’re a c***, sir’.
Nick’s platoon had sensed that Nick was a pushover and deliberately contrived to become separated under cover of the mist.
Of course, this parade of ex-military Mad Men wouldn’t be complete without one person I have so far signally failed to mention in dispatches. Yes, we salute you, CDP doorman and legend, Sergeant Frank Hambleton of the Corps of Commissionaires.
As many of ex-employees of CDP will remember, Sergeant Hambleton often claimed to have written ‘Make Hovis your daily bread’, which is more usually credited to Alan Parker. He also had a keen sense of rank. He would rush to hold open the agency door for John Pearce, John Ritchie and Nigel Clark, who had all been army officers. But always allow the door to swing shut in the face of John Salmon, who had only attained the lowly rank of leading aircraftsman in the Royal Air Force. The exception to this rule was, of course, Frank Lowe, who, though he was managing director, had never been in the services at all. Sergeant Hambleton always held open the door for him.
Which is one of many reasons that I will be eternally grateful that National Service was abolished long before I was old enough to be eligible. Almost certainly I would have been consigned to ‘other ranks’. No chance of Frank Hambleton holding open the agency door for me – and every possibility of some idiot officer getting me killed. I believe it was Samuel Johnson who said ‘Every man feels meanly about himself for not being a soldier’. Not me, Doctor Johnson, not me. Like many of my generation, I am only too aware of how lucky I am never to have been called to the colours.
Copyright: Michael Everett, 2014