Gender equality: my role

I once played a small part in putting a tiny crack in that glass ceiling, which will be a surprise to those who might ever have dubbed me a male chauvinist pig. It was the sixties. I was at Hawkins Advertising where I had been given the role, for the first time in my life, of Creative Director; prior to that I might well have been the last of my kind ever to have Copy Chief written on their door. I had a secretary whose name, then, was Beryl.

Facing yet another deadline I stayed back late again one night to work on some campaign or other. I asked Beryl to hang about in order to type whatever I came up with. And, because I thought she might be bored I gave her a brief to look over. It was for Pecks Paste.

The result was that Beryl completed their old campaign line “People prefer Pecks” by adding “Aren’t you glad you’re people?” Eventually illustrated, with a number of cartoons each depicting people running from a hungry animal, the concept soon adorned bus sides everywhere and proved a highly successful campaign.

The cartoons were the work of a wonderful animator, Jacqui Huie, who herself went on to head an Ad Agency. So I’d like you to see just what a contribution I made to the emergence of women in advertising, and balance that fact against anything from here on in that you may consider not particularly politically correct.

Gaining agreement for Beryl’s appointment as a copywriter, in the face of the obvious fact that she was a girl, was made easier by the savings I was able to offer the management by firing two almost useless male incumbents in the role. But that’s when the fun began.

Management, in the form of the owner of the place, was not amused that Beryl no longer arrived in the mornings with the girls of the typistes’ pool, or that she had taken to rather more casual attire, or that the hour allowed for lunch was now often stretched beyond what was proper for one of “the girls”. Girls were for greeting visitors, and typing, and answering telephones. They might eventually age into being that most beloved of all members of the agency: the Tea Lady. But a copywriter, in with all those other people management didn’t understand, in the creative department? That was just too much.

It helped that the girl was good at what she did, but many were the times when I was hauled across the carpet to defend this subversive appointment.

Some time later, now at McCann’s, that same Beryl joined the agency and the creative group that I headed up. One evening, while the group was sitting around reviewing the day, the subject turned to names. Beryl confided that she loathed being Beryl and always had. She preferred Jo. So, next morning we circulated a memo to the effect that Beryl was now Jo. I guess she still would be but I have heard that, sadly, she is no longer with us. She was certainly Jo when later her name went on the door of her own successful agency.

In another time either Beryl or Jo would have made a great Tea Lady. She was nice.

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