THE VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY
An account of a fact-finding trip that I undertook in the eighties.
I will never forget that Thursday evening back in 1982. It was about eight-thirty at night, I was relaxing at home at my flat in Primrose Hill, when the phone rang. It was my boss, David Brown, creative director of Collett, Dickenson, Pearce, the advertising agency.
‘Mike, can you and Paul go to New York? It involves getting on a boat or something, and doing some ads, but you have to go on Saturday.’
I am a copywriter and Paul was the art director I worked with. Together we formed one of CDP’s senior creative teams. I called Paul. Paul discussed the trip with his wife and called me back.
‘I think we should go. It could be the trip of a lifetime’.
The next day, while somebody rushed off to the American Embassy to get visas, we discovered the reason we were going. A month or so before a new client had arrived at the agency, Holland-America. Another senior team, Pete Matthews and Judy Smith, had been given a brief to do some ads for this cruise line, which was new to the British market. These ads were perfectly good, but the client didn’t feel they adequately conveyed the unique experience his ships were offering. He asked if Pete and Judy could take a cruise to sample it for themselves. He believed that would help them to write ads that better reflected the Holland-America cruising experience.
Unfortunately, this was August and Pete and Judy were now both away on holiday. The ads had to run in early autumn to mop up bookings for the client’s Caribbean winter cruising season. Which meant that there was no way the trip could be delayed until Pete and Judy’s return, so Paul and I were being sent instead. Our brief was simple: go on a cruise to Bermuda and write a campaign for the British market while we were on it. But, being creative people, we weren’t allowed out alone. Jenny Clegg, who was account manager on the business, and Debbie Winter, the account planner, accompanied us. We also had a client in tow, not the main man in New York, but an English woman who was heading up the new UK sales office. Thirty years later her name escapes me. Let me call her Andrea for convenience.
Paul and I hurried around for the remainder of Friday getting ready for our departure the following day. This involved a visit to Moss Brothers to hire dinner suits and, for me, a trip to Selfridges to buy a decent suitcase. The following morning we all assembled at Heathrow for what turned out to be an uneventful flight to New York.
Paul and I had never visited the Big Apple before, so the cab ride into town was amazing for us, as the famous skyline loomed into view. The loud music that was blasting from the cab driver’s radio only added to our excitement. After half an hour or so, we were dropped off at the Grand Hyatt hotel on 42nd Street. We spent what seemed like minutes checking in and dumping our bags before all five of us we were on the move again. We were heading for the apartment of Joe Palladino, the managing director of Chiat/Day, the New York agency with which CDP had an informal working relationship. Chiat/Day handled Holland-America in the States, which is how CDP were introduced to the account.
Joe, a suave Italian American with dark, wavy hair and a neat moustache was straight out of central casting for a Mafia movie. He served us Sushi and plied us with Champagne. He’d made a reservation at a hot, new restaurant in SoHo, so after an hour or so, we set off on our travels again. Two incidents remain in my mind about this dinner. One was when I visited the men’s room. A young man was using a urinal with his back to me. He let out a huge fart. He turned to me and said sorry. I said ‘don’t worry, if you can’t fart in here, where can you fart?’
The other incident concerns Andrea, the client. Not being steeped in the play hard, work hard culture of an advertising agency, she started to wane as the drink and jet lag took its toll. The main courses had only just been served but Joe, ever the consummate account man, took Andrea into the street and flagged down a cab to get her back to the hotel. When he returned to the table an over-efficient waiter had cleared away his soft shell crabs before he’d eaten any of them.
Undaunted by his lack of nourishment Joe then suggested we take a tour of the local bars. My recollection of this excursion is hazy, to say the least, especially how it ended. I remember sampling one different cocktail after another. I also recall that Jenny and Debbie left at some point leaving Paul, Joe and me to carry on. I think Paul and I got back to the Grand Hyatt around dawn. I know I woke up a few hours later with one hell of a thirst and a pounding headache.
When Paul and I hooked up later, we decided the thing we both needed was a remedial cold beer, with immediate effect. So we headed for the hotel bar. As it was Sunday, we were told that no beer could be sold before noon. ‘Didn’t you order it last night?’ asked the barman, ‘that’s what everybody does’. Apparently, if we’d ordered it the previous day he could have given us our beers.
Paul and I were reduced to miserably wandering the streets, waiting for midday. Around quarter to twelve we hung around outside a joint called the Brew and Burger. On the dot of twelve, it opened, and we went in, the first customers of the day. I have never, ever drunk a more welcome glass of cold beer in my life, nor scoffed down a greasy hamburger with such relish. And, to give you an idea of what sort of place we were in, the drinks were delivered in plastic containers. Still, it had served its purpose. We caught a cab back to the hotel to meet the others and transfer to our ship, the SS Volendam.
Joe was too busy to join us for this stage of the voyage, but was due to fly to Bermuda and meet us for the return leg. We took another cab to the pier where the ship was berthed. We were just about to enter the security area when I realised that the suitcase I had bought only two days earlier was still in the boot of the cab. I rushed back and stopped the cab just in the nick of time. I retrieved the forgotten bag, which was just as well since amongst other things it contained my passport.
We boarded the ship and were each allotted an outside cabin with sea view. It was a couple of hours until the ship was due to sail, so we sat on deck in the sunshine waiting for the vessel to depart. I remember drinking glass after glass of mineral water trying to make a dent in the voracious thirst I was still suffering from. The ship finally set sail and as we gracefully passed under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge we assembled on deck for a safety briefing and roll call. Wearing a lifejacket from my cabin, I looked back towards the big city in which I had spent just under 24 hours. Nothing prepares you for the majestic sight of New York City from a ship.
I wasn’t with my colleagues for the roll call. There were different muster stations for different parts of the ship and none of my colleagues were mustered at the same station as me. As one of the ship’s officers read aloud our names, we had to register our presence. Having watched John Ford’s cavalry films many times, this provided me with a God-given opportunity to do something I’d always wanted to do. I noticed that many of the passengers answered their names with the word ‘yo!’ So when they got round mine, I shouted out ‘yo!’ at the top of my voice. It felt good, I can tell you.
It takes a couple of days for a ship to sail from New York to Bermuda so we settled down into a comfortable routine. I can’t speak for Jenny, Debbie or Andrea, but Paul and mine went something like this. Rise late, put on t-shirt and shorts, and go up on deck. It was generally around lunchtime when Paul and I met up. We’d then eat lunch for breakfast. The afternoon would be spent sunbathing interspersed with the odd beer, then we’d go back below deck to get ready for dinner.
The dress code (the first time I’d ever encountered this phrase) for the second night’s dinner was black tie. We all made an effort. Paul and I were resplendent in our Moss Bros dinner jackets, Debby and Jenny looked fantastic in their finery. Even Andrea had undergone a Cinderella-type transformation. The trouble was, the dress she had chosen to wear made her look more like Mother Goose.
As we queued up to shake hands with the ship’s captain, we formed an orderly line. A couple of Americans asked why we were queuing. Paul told them no reason, we were English and just liked queuing. Paul didn’t mention anything about meeting the captain.
The previous night we had discovered that the ship had many bars. There was one bar at the top of the ship that didn’t close until the last customer had left. There was a resident pianist called Marty Tocci who played ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkley Square’ every time we pitched up ‘for my English friends’. He got to play this tune quite a bit over the next week or so. The five of us ended up in there every night.
I can’t vouch for this as I didn’t actually see it, but Paul told me that he’d fallen asleep in a deckchair after leaving this bar. He awoke late in the morning, still wearing his dinner suit, surrounded by sunbathers in trunks and bikinis. There was also an ongoing problem when he tried to find me on deck. My prematurely grey hair failed to stand out from the many blue rinsed passengers who surrounded me in deckchairs.
We finally arrived at Hamilton, the capital of Bermuda. We were due to spend a couple of days here, so our routine changed. Paul and I hired a motor scooter each and set off every day together to visit one of the island’s many beaches. We stuffed the panniers of our bikes with layout pads and Pentels, our working equipment, but we didn’t do much in the way of work. Generally, we laid on the beach, swam and ate lunch before returning to the ship. We did notice, though, that the client was starting to become concerned about a lack of work, even if we weren’t. Her enquiries about progress were becoming ever more urgent and frequent. She painted her boss in New York as a bit of a tyrant. ‘Woe betide’ she said on one occasion ‘if we get to that meeting in New York and you haven’t done the work. He doesn’t put up with any bullshit’.
After spending two days in Hamilton, Paul and I fancied going out to dinner, rather than eating on the ship. Joe was arriving that day and we thought it would be nice to take him to a dinner that he could finish before the plate was taken away. Paul and I wandered over to a tourist information kiosk to get some ideas of where to eat. The girl behind the desk obviously underestimated the calibre of customer who stood before her. She suggested a couple of fast food joints to Paul. Paul slowly shook his head. ‘No, I don’t think you understand. My friends and I want to eat at the best, most expensive restaurant on the island’. Suitably corrected, the girl suggested a place on the other side of Bermuda. ‘You’ll need a couple of cabs’, she helpfully added.
Around about seven in the evening we set out on the 45 minute drive to the restaurant, Joe, Paul and me in one cab, the three girls in the other. We arrived at the restaurant, a handsome colonial building surrounded by lush gardens, in good time for our eight o’clock reservation. Being early, we sat in the gardens sipping the house cocktail, a lethal mixture of rum and fruit juice. The meal that followed was remarkable for both the amount of food we ate and the amount of alcohol we drunk. As a consequence I don’t remember much about the journey back to the ship.
That night, when we were all safely tucked up in bed, the ship slipped its moorings and moved to a new location. As usual, Paul and I rose late and met on deck. We leaned on the ship’s rail taking in the view from our new berth. There was a building in the foreground that suddenly struck us as awfully familiar. Then it dawned on us. It was the restaurant we’d been to the previous night. If only we’d waited another day we could have walked to dinner.
The bike hire people had moved our two motor scooters to our new location overnight so Paul and I resumed our routine of ‘going to work’ as we put it. By now, our suntans were growing deeper and deeper, while Andrea’s anxiety was growing greater and greater. She kept looking for a sign, any sign, that we were doing her campaign. As the writer, she watched me like a hawk to catch sight of me doing some writing. But the only times she saw me use a pen was to sign one of the many bar bills that went on my account. Andrea had told us that she didn’t drink alcohol, but what she meant was that the only alcohol she drank was Champagne. This, of course, wasn’t cheap. But Joe told Paul and me to keep plying her with this expensive liquid, if only to calm her fears about our lack of work.
After two more days, the ship set sail on the return leg to New York. The sea had become rougher while we were at anchor. Even so Paul and I spent the afternoons on deck, sipping cocktails or beers. On one occasion Andrea joined us. As usual she asked after her campaign, but Paul immediately changed the subject by pointing out the degree to which the ship was rolling in the rough seas. Andrea’s face immediately turned a shade of yellow as she rushed off to her cabin to be sick.
On the final day of the voyage two things happened. Thanks to our herculean efforts with Champagne, the ship had totally run out of the stuff – well non-vintage, anyway. We were forced to buy vintage Dom Perignon at over a hundred bucks a bottle to keep Andrea happy. Secondly, I retired to my cabin for a well-earned afternoon nap. While I was there, Paul settled my bar bill. The purser told him that mine was the largest bar bill ever in the long history of the Holland-America line.
That evening we pursued our usual routine of eating dinner then embarking on a lengthy tour of the ship’s many bars, ending with Marty Tocci singing ‘A Nightingale sang in Berkley Square’. It had been a long day and the sea was rough. In one of the troughs between waves I stumbled and fell. I hurt my leg so I limped a bit. I went to see the ship’s doctor and was given a lengthy accident report to fill out. One of the questions asked ‘is there any way this accident could be avoided in future?’ ‘Yes, close the bars earlier’ was my answer.
The following morning we docked in New York. If Paul and I weren’t panicking before we were now. In less than 24 hours we were due at a meeting with Andrea’s boss and we had precisely zilch to show him. We locked ourselves in my hotel room (Paul didn’t want to mess his up) and got down to work. Debby, the planner, had given us a good clear brief. Holland-America was offering cruises to the Caribbean for a knockdown price of £599 per person, far less than any rivals, so we knew we had to make a feature of this low price.
We spent a bit of time getting nowhere when Paul suddenly suggested a headline: ‘Mangoes to the Caribbean for £599’. I immediately responded with the line ‘Woman goes too’, which I thought made the pun work harder. Thus, our first ad was born. By now, it was way after midday, so Paul suggested that we go for a beer as a reward for doing our first ad. Only one beer, mind, we we’re allowed to have a second until we’d done our second ad, and so on.
By now we were on a roll. By six o’clock we had six great ads and had drunk six great beers. We had a campaign, featuring low price, ready to show the client, plus a dozen or so other bits and pieces for point of sale and stuff like that. We retired to our rooms to change for dinner.
That afternoon Nigel Clark, the account director on Holland-America, had flown in for the next day’s meeting. Andrea had desperately tried to get hold of him to complain about Paul and me and our apparent lack of progress, but Nigel had put his room phone on do not disturb to get some much-needed rest after his flight. When we met up in the hotel foyer to go out to dinner, Andrea looked pale with worry. She was keen to get Nigel alone and speak to him. Her chance came after dinner when Nigel flagged down a cab to get him back to the hotel. Andrea jumped in beside him. The rest of us walked.
As soon as the cab moved off, Andrea confronted Nigel.
‘I’ve been with Mike and Paul for 10 days and I haven’t seen them do a stroke of work’.
‘Don’t worry, Luvvie’, (Nigel called everyone Luvvie).
‘Don’t worry, Luvvie, I’ve been with Mike and Paul for 10 years and I’ve never seen them do a stroke of work, either’.
The next morning Paul, Nigel and I checked out of the hotel and assembled with the others in the lobby. Andrea was giving Jenny and Nigel dire warnings of what the consequences would be if there was no work to show. Nigel smiled and pointed to the large artwork bag that Paul and I were carrying. Bear in mind, though, that nobody, apart from Paul and me, had seen the work. This was unprecedented in the 22-year history of CDP, where every ad went through a scrupulous approval process before the client was allowed near it.
First, we called in at the New York office of Chiat/Day. Here we showed the work to Jay Chiat and the team from London. Jay, who by now was a world-famous advertising man, seemed unsure about the work, but Jenny, Debbie and Nigel loved it. Eventually, we set out for the Holland-America offices overlooking Penn Station mob-handed. As well as Paul and me, Nigel, Jenny and Andrea, we took Joe Palladino along for good measure, too. Lucky that we did, he had a good relationship with the client and put forward a terrific argument as to why the ads should run as full pages instead of smaller spaces. Now it was time to show those full pages. One by one, Paul and I pulled out the ads that 24 hours earlier didn’t exist. We showed them in the order we’d written them. I kept a close eye on the main man’s face. His expression changed from stern, to a smile; finally he started laughing out loud. He turned to Nigel.
‘They’re funny, but will these ads work, Nigel?’
Nigel assured him they would. Then this:
‘Nigel, you’ve got a brochure to produce, these six ads to get ready, and then there’s the stuff for the travel trade. You’ve only got three weeks to do it. How will you get it all done?’
‘We’re going to work very, very hard’.
If he wasn’t already, after this response from Nigel, the client was won over. He agreed there and then to run all the six ads. Paul and I were off the hook, and so was a now a hugely grateful Andrea. The meeting closed. We shook hands with everyone and went back to Chiat/Day.
Jay was going to take Jenny, Debbie and Andrea to see a Broadway show that evening, but Paul, Nigel and I were flying home. I switched the tickets that Paul and I had from British Airways to Pan Am so we could travel back with Nigel. In the process, I managed to get us bumped up to first class.
The flight back was one of the roughest I’ve been on, before or since. It was so turbulent that they didn’t serve food or drink, nor did they show the movie. It felt as if the plane was flying into a succession of brick walls, one after the other. Thinking about it, it’s probably just as well they didn’t serve drink. After the 10 days we’d just been through, the last thing Paul and I needed was any more alcohol. I don’t think our livers would have survived another drop.
Copyright: Michael Everett 2013