I was once exposed to the danger of employing amateur talent. The subject of the television spot in this case was Bonnington’s Irish Moss. Although it was and is a familiar medicine in the treatment of sore throats, coughs and colds it wasn’t blessed with a very generous advertising budget. So, in order to take it to television I elected to cast the Agency staff in a commercial that I had written that required a party crowd. Everyone invited was delighted to be involved. It sounded fun. It turned out to be that and a lot more.
On the night, in order to calm the troops as they waited to go through make-up and wardrobe we provided what I thought was an ample quantity of Bacardi, in those days the tearaway favourite white rum, and Coca Cola. I should perhaps admit to a second agenda in this; I thought it might loosen them up for a more realistic performance.
That realism damned nearly got completely out of hand. More and more, as the talent arrived to be made up, they seemed to grow noisier and a lot more vocal. The party mood had kicked in long before the camera turned. It seemed that I had over-ordered on Bacardi and Coke.
At a time like this, one turns to a trusted offsider for help; and this I did. The trusted offsider would today be called a Personal Assistant but was probably then termed a Secretary. She was hugely efficient and became a very good friend. Until recently I hadn’t seen her again but in the years between she and the man she married built a highly successful interior design business, probably second to none in Australia. Again I claim a tiny role in cracking that glass ceiling.
When I called on this trusted offsider and future tycoon to suggest that we might halt the supply of Bacardi and Coke it became immediately apparent that she had enjoyed a full share herself. She has always had an engaging giggle but on this occasion it was tinged with a hint of hysteria and what she thought hysterical was that we had long ago run out of Coca Cola. With a great deal of the advertised product on hand the crowd had discovered an alternative – a cocktail of Bacardi and Bonnington’s.
The party scene was suitably noisy. We later repaired to the 729 Club because I needed a drink.
We spent a bit of time at the 729 Club. It was by now in the Sydney suburb of St Leonard’s and was named, of course, for Channels Seven and Two and Nine before the arrival of Ten or SBS and long before the likes of Foxtel.
I used to enjoy having lunch there with the head of the industry’s leading Personnel Agency. A large and jovial man he wasn’t easily missed and few missed seeing us together at a table deliberately chosen to be right in the middle of the Club.
And, at least once, it worked.
I had no intention of switching agencies but word spread quickly in a world where poaching of talent was rife. So the sight of a dare-I-say Creative Heavy sharing a deep and meaningful over lunch with the Leading Head Hunter set a rumour into motion – just as we thought it might. By the time I arrived back at the agency (not too late since it wasn’t a Friday) I was called in for a chat that quite soon included the offer of a very substantial raise in salary. Coincidence? I think not. You won’t be surprised that I accepted. I probably should have paid my friend a commission but I did pay for our next lunch.