Archive for the ‘advertising’ Category

War on Whores

War on Whores

Collector’s Weekly is never dull. A few weeks ago it gave us an entertaining article about the art of the fairground shooting arcade target. Who would have thought those dismal little bits of tin, so hard to hit with a carefully unsighted airgun, could be so beautiful when their rusting, bullet-battered shapes are   treated as works of art?

In its latest edition CW serves up another dose of the unexpected, this time wartime posters from both the First and Second World Wars, exhorting servicemen to stay away from loose women.


CW had come across a 2014 book, Protect Yourself, by Ryan Mungia, featuring a collection of VD posters found at places like the US National Archives and the National Library of Medicine.  Mungia had been visiting the National Archives looking for photographs of wartime Honolulu when he chanced on a folder marked “VD posters”.


‘Inside,’ says Mungia, ‘I found a stash of 35mm slides of these posters, most of which ended up in the book. I guess you could say the subject chose me, since I didn’t set out to make a book on venereal disease, but became interested in the topic because of the graphic nature of the posters. The designs were really reminiscent of film noir or B-movie posters from the ’40s, those pulpy-style poster designs, and they also reminded me of the Works Progress Administration artwork, which I love.’


‘On any given day during World War I, there were approximately 18,000 men who were taken ill with VD,” Mungia explains. “So when we started gearing up for the next major war, the U.S. military launched a pretty aggressive propaganda campaign including posters, pamphlets, and films to try to curb those numbers and keep soldiers healthy and able to fight.’


Before the discovery of penicillin and other antibiotics, syphillis and gonorrhoea were serious illnesses that could kill as could some of the treatments prescribed for them. According to Ulrich von Hutten (1488-1523), a German knight who wrote about his trials with syphilis and its treatment with mercury. Patients were shut in a “stew”, a small steam filled chamber, for up to thirty days on end, having first been smeared from head to toe with a mercury-based ointment. Many died, but it was mercury poisoning rather than syphillis that killed them.

stay away

Less extreme but no less dangerous methods of administering mercury to syphillitics was to use the liquid metal stirred into hot chocolate, although one doctor warned that chocolate was too risky. A genius whose ideas today would almost certainly find their way onto crowdfunding websites was the doctor who sold underpants coated on the inside with mercury ointment. These fascinating facts come from a book The Wages of Sin: Sex and Disease, Past and Present by Peter Lewis Allen, which I thoroughly recommend.

Pre-sulfonamide Gonorrhoea treatments were scarcely less hazardous, utilising metallic compounds of arsenic, antimony, bismuth, gold, and mercury. Having become less of a threat since the invention of antiobiotics, resistant strains of Gonorrhoea have now emerged and some doctors warn it is now on the verge of becoming incurable.

wrath of god

But we digress. In its efforts to inform servicemen about sexual health, the US government first used advertisements created by the Works Progress Administration, mentioned by Mungia above. But these were easy to ignore, so they turned to comic book styles and realistic public service announcements.

Axis Agents

According to Mungia, ‘In the beginning, around 1941 or ’42, they hired a lot of artists through the WPA who had produced public-health posters a decade earlier,” says Mungia. “But there were several studies done to determine what kind of poster would be the most effective in delivering this message, and they concluded that people really responded to those which were more realistic and struck an emotional chord.


‘The WPA created beautiful posters that used a lot of bold shapes and colors, but they relied on symbolism. These studies showed that some guys were actually confused by the WPA-style posters. The military’s solution was to go to Madison Avenue and consult some successful ad men, and they had those guys produce VD posters. The style of the posters changed over the course of the war from bold and symbolic to more realistic, almost magazine-style advertisements.’

they are waiting



Although venereal diseases affect both men and women, and in general cannot be caught unless a member of one sex passes it to another, in these posters it is usually woman who is depicted as the seductive temptress (misogyny, of course, comes packaged with   Genesis) and sometimes even depicted as an agent of the enemy powers, a toxic handmaiden to Hitler and Hirohito.

Only one ambiguous image, perhaps not daring speak to its message out loud, seems to hint that men can catch VD from other men.


A lost art: D&AD’s most awarded art director and copywriter Neil Godfrey and Tony Brignull discuss today’s industry

A lost art: D&AD’s most awarded art director and copywriter Neil Godfrey and Tony Brignull discuss today’s industry

First published in The Drum
Written by Angela Haggerty
Based on an  interview by Dave Birss
Photography by Julian Hanford 

They are one of the most respected duos to have ever worked in the advertising business and The Drum managed to catch up with Neil Godfrey and Tony Brignull – D&AD’s most awarded art director and copywriter respectively – to hear their views on how the industry has changed since their peak days.

The pair were prolific in the heyday of Collet Dickenson Pearce (CDP) during the 1970s and 1980s and produced some of the country’s best quality and most effective work. They produced iconic print ads for brands such as Parker Pens and Benson & Hedges, including the B&H pyramid ads.



The duo also created the ‘Has the Sunday roast had its day?’ ad for Birdseye in 1974 and ads for Albany Life, including 1981’s ‘Answer these ten questions and work out the date of your own death’ print. The British Army, Fiat, Dunn & Co, 100 Pipers and Clarks are among other brands in the vast portfolio of D&AD’s most awarded copywriter and art director, who, according to former CDP managing director Sir Frank Lowe, were an “extraordinary” match.

“It’s hard to think of Tony without Neil, they were a most extraordinary duo along with John Salmon, the best of the writers I worked with,” he told D&AD.

“When they used to bring me a campaign I would always say can you leave the copy behind, and I’d read it quietly and it was nearly always one of the best moments of my day because it was just lovely. I think Tony did so many campaigns that were just outstanding.”

AMV BBDO founder David Abbott believes Brignull helped changed the landscape of advertising and put CDP on the map.  “I think he was one of a group of about six or seven people who made CDP famous throughout the world for the quality of their work,” he added.



“He’s an original thinker, he’s intuitive, he makes connections that most people don’t make. He’s honourable, charming and quietly flamboyant; I think that shows up in his work. We all felt we were on a mission to change creativity, to change advertising, and the really good people, like Tony, accepted that challenge and gloried in it.”

CDP was behind some of the most exciting ideas in advertising during the 1970s and 80s and among the creatives it helped produce were Lord Puttnam, Sir Alan Parker, Sir John Hegarty and Charles Saatchi. Even Sir Ridley Scott produced ads for the agency. According to former CDP creative director John Salmon, Godfrey is “unsurpassed” in the quality of his work.


“He was brilliantly creative and intelligent and those qualities are as rare as they ever were,” he told D&AD. “He set a fantastic example for the other art directors and the creative people in general. Virtually everything that he did he gave an original page look to it and he worked very hard to get that. In my view he was unsurpassed in producing outstanding print advertising. That’s why I think he’s the best, he’s the governor.”




CDP’s fortunes eventually dwindled and it was acquired by the Dentsu group after calling time in 2000. Brignull and Godfrey don’t feel the connection with modern day, digitally dominated advertising and much of it doesn’t impress them.

The pair still dabble in the trade – Godfrey worked recently with Indra Sinha for Channel 4 and Brignull works with JKR – but they have both pursued other interests. But D&AD’s most awarded copywriter and art director hail from a different era of advertising, and they have plenty of wisdom to impart about the craft.


When I started out, advertising was something that happened in America as far as I was concerned, and London was just a timid kind of reflection of what was happening there. There were people doing work – a little agency called CDP had just started – but most of the other agencies were large in format and doing the kind of advertising that had been done for the last 20 or 30 years.

When I left the Royal College of Art my first job in advertising was at a place called Dorland, which had a great creative director, but we were finding it very difficult to create and show good ads because the people weren’t around to do them. I moved on to spend a year at CDP and then DDB came along and said they were looking for an art director.

I applied and got the job and I was immediately sent over to New York for a year in 1964/65. I spent almost a decade at DDB before Tony and I met up. Tony appears to be a very gentle, benevolent character, a sort of professor old vicar, but underneath there is this edge. One of the things I liked about him was that there were these two aspects to him and I think it kind of shows in the ads at times.



What I liked about Tony’s writing was the fact that the headlines weren’t written as headlines. They were almost more like pieces of body copy and I think that came out of an essential ability to kind of breathe in the character of the client.

For example, the line for Dunn & Co, which was an old fashioned menswear place – ‘The life of a designer at Dunn & Co is one of continuous self-restraint’ – was a great headline because it encompassed the whole personality of it. Also, ‘A pen that merely writes is no pen at all’, I just loved the lyrical aspect of those lines.

People were, at the time, trying to do very clever, sharp, quick headlines. Those would work in some respects but were far from the personality of the actual company and product itself. The trade has changed since we worked together.

When I first started, photo typesetting came in, which was a huge breakthrough. The fact you could photograph it and you didn’t have to cut it up anymore, it could be done on a machine. But even that was crude by comparison with doing it now on a computer.

I don’t take much to do with the industry anymore. It’s not quite what it used to be. It’s all about the mechanics now. It’s digital and computerised and all about the amazing things that can be done, cars that can fly, things like that. Everything seems to be geared towards that and you can’t see the joins.



I remember when I did the pyramids poster for Benson & Hedges – I always hate to talk about cigarette advertising because I was also against it – the photographer and I shot five or six different elements and then came back to put them together. They were put together by cutting the transparencies and sticking them together, then trying to find a way of retouching the edges out of it. It took several weeks to do it.

It would probably be done in an afternoon now on the computer, easily. It used to be that there was a physical effort involved which there doesn’t seem to be now.


When I was in the creative department at J Walter Thompson, Sam Rothenstein, who I still think is probably the cleverest, most intelligent woman who ever worked in advertising in England, came to me with one of the first CDP ads, it was for Whitbread, and when I looked at it I thought it was stunningly clear, beautiful and simple. I wanted to work with CDP thereafter, but it took me a long while to get there.

I worked with Mather & Crowther first, then Benton & Bowles, and then I applied to CDP and John Salmon took me on. But it wasn’t until I was married and had been working at Vernons as creative director for about 18 months that Neil asked me to join him at Wells Rich Greene.


I think we played to each other’s strengths. I often knew how Neil would work on something so I wrote to his strengths. That was the same for both of us. When Neil did the little drawing on the child’s foot for Clarks for example, I had virtually nothing to do with that, but he knew I could write to that concept, that it would be something that had content to it and all I had to do was write some lines and work through it.

So essentially I loved Neil’s clarity and the beauty of his art direction, and I knew even if I wrote something fairly dim it would look good. I remember a copywriter coming in one day and saying: ‘I saw this piece of copy in the tray and I thought how dull it was but it’s turned out to be a great ad.’ Those were the days of great graphic beauty in press and posters. They were very stimulating, very exciting times.

It wasn’t before the moving image, of course, but it was certainly before the times of computer graphics. For example, Neil would often have to get the photosetting in on the headlines and the body type and it would all be cut out with a scalpel to make it optically correct.

italian footballers


The discipline of working like that often made us look at every piece of work with great scrutiny. But those were the days when you would look through a magazine for the ads to see how beautiful they were. You might get Volkswagen, 100 Pipers, lots of terrific themes. And Avis, when you saw a new Avis ad you read it like a poem.

Within our work we pioneered some of the first full page ads, but all of that began to quickly disappear when you got independent media brokers and the media department was taken out of the agency. The client would then say: ‘I’ve got this amount of money to spend, what mathematically is the best way I can do it?’ instead of thinking about the most appropriate way for the campaign.

As for copywriting, I think we’ve totally lost the craft. Occasionally you will find a very good line in a commercial or a fairly good line as a headline, but very rarely these days. It’s just a lost art. Certainly since David Abbot has stopped you don’t see an ad nowadays, even for clients you used to write for. Volvo, for example, totally gone; RSPCA, in no way engaging.

As Dave Trott used to say, it must reach out and grab you by the lapels and pull you in and I haven’t seen one like that. That is a great shame I think. I don’t think we are doing clients justice if we can’t write for them.


The best of us: Tony Brignull pays a personal tribute to David Abbott

The best of us: Tony Brignull pays a personal tribute to David Abbott


The day after David Abbott died last May, a writer of obituaries asked me for anecdotes about him. I refused, perhaps a little too roughly. The man was only doing his job, he pointed out. But I couldn’t reduce David to sound-bites. I didn’t want to hand him over to what Sylvia Plath called ‘the peanut crunching crowd’. So I’m grateful to The Drum for giving me this opportunity to express fully my appreciation of the man I consider, as so many others do, the best of us.

There are people alive today who have better right to call him friend than I do, those who partnered him and worked with him side by side: Eve, his wife of 50 years, Peter Mead and Adrian Vickers. These people loved him, but it so happens that I knew him longer than almost everyone else.

David Abbott by Julian Hanford

Portrait of David Abbott by Julian Hanford

We first met in 1964 at Mather and Crowther, his first agency and my second (I’d been a trainee at JWT). What a creative department that was: as well as David, there was Leonard Weinreich, Paul Arden, John Webster, Bob Marchant, Tim Smail, Chris McCartney-Filgate. While Fay Weldon, who had yet to write a novel, floated effortlessly above the storms like a clipper embarking on a longer journey, tossing off great lines like bunting.

Even then, David was seen to be cleverer and wittier than the rest of us. I assumed – wrongly – he’d already spent time in America because his writing seemed a generation ahead of ours. At a time when British advertising was fumbling around with jingles and slogans, David had already found a new voice for his clients, clear, conversational, friendly.

The creative revolution, still seminal in us, was in flower in him. His commercials for the Triumph Herald were simple, single-minded and charming: one demonstrated the car’s independent suspension by showing a driver following a girl down the steps outside the Albert Hall. ‘It lets you follow your inclinations,’ he wrote. In press ads he had the Herald turning inside a tennis court, and another out-turning (in-turning?) a London taxi.



Never laddish, never truly a lad at all, he enjoyed privacy and quietness. A part of him would have liked to have been one of the boys, I think. He valued friendship highly and needed it badly, but found it difficult to be pubby and matey. In the later years of his life he organised long lunches for his dearest group of friends at the Hellenic in Thayer Street, which he always paid for in a paterfamilias way, saying he had a fund for this as part of his going away package. I don’t know whether this was true or a fabricated excuse to be generous without being patronising.

He loved banter and witty word play. Frank Muir and John Cleese accepted him as an equal. One dinner party game involved using adverbs in a new but surprisingly inventive way. The winner, his I assumed, was ‘I love camping, he said intently’ though I never learned the question.

He was always lithe, helped by being tall, but I don’t think he ever went to a gym or did sports. He once turned out as a goalkeeper for the DDB soccer team but frankly he didn’t look the part, and was injured in the warm-up so didn’t play. It was the kit, I think. David never looked quite right in anything not hand-made, suit, shoes, sports jacket. In everything he did or wore he was elegant. It had to be the very best or he wouldn’t buy it. He had natural good taste, though where this originated I can’t guess because like me he came from a working class London family a million miles from Savile Row.

There were some things you simply couldn’t imagine David doing. Popping into M&S, grabbing something off the rail and saying ‘this’ll do’, buying a paper-back if a hardback version were available, turning right when he boarded an aircraft, checking into a two star hotel, renting a Mondeo, to name just five things I’ve done this year.

I never saw him drunk or silly or be anything less than dignified. To take drugs would have been unthinkable – and unnecessary. He was always alert and bright. He moved into a natural high by putting himself under pressure. When the agency was pitching for a new account he purposely refrained from starting his creative work until just a few days before the presentation. The deadline forced him into overdrive and he never failed to come up with something original and apt.

I observed him working in a similar fashion on the first BT (Bob Hoskins) scripts. He went at it day and night entirely focussed, each morning coming in with a new bundle.

He was particularly sensitive to human vulnerability – the little ways we express our insecurities, half showing, half hiding our love for one another.


His genius was to find incidents which introduced the product into our emotional lives originally and plausibly. The several ways a son expresses his thanks to his dad when giving him Chivas Regal, for example. The mum who goes on holiday ‘just for a couple of days’, for Yellow Pages. The man who always hands a phone call from a son straight onto the mum.

(Mums and dads feature frequently in David’s work. In a book of my poems I sent him the one he chose as his favourite was where Polonius, the interfering father in Hamlet, kisses his son goodbye, knowing he may not see him again.)

The empathy he shows in his advertising would have made him a fine novelist I believe. His first and, sadly, only book, The Upright Piano Player, tells how a retired businessman finds familiar territory suddenly hostile, a theme worthy of Saul Bellow. I’m sure his subsequent novels would have revealed similar insights into the fragility of life in new and profound ways. But they remain unwritten and we must accept that his great contribution to our culture was the application of his creative mind to advertising.

This was not for David a lesser achievement. ‘There is nothing immoral in selling beans,’ he once said. He was very proud of his work and kept several of his favourite ads framed in his office which was always, like his clothes, immaculate.

It’s generally held that he and I were better at print than TV. I think this is true. But he was so accomplished a copywriter, so supreme, that he mastered the medium at an early age and dominated it throughout his career. When in the 60s he worked at DDB New York for a year with such greats as Bob Levenson and Helmut Krone, it was not so much an education as a confirmation class.

I was once asked if I had anything David lacked. All I could answer was, “Yes, Neil Godfrey.” My partner Neil was the outstanding art director of his generation but David found in Ron Brown someone in the same league, and together they produced work so telling, so finely crafted it will never be surpassed.

He was easy in the medium, fluent, at home as a fish in water.  He pushed press advertising into new areas, bursting out of the accepted boundaries. His campaign for Sainsbury’s is the perfect example. 12 double page spreads a year, each one demonstrating a Sainsbury’s speciality. The client invited David to go into the store and choose the products he wanted to write about. Think of that. The trust, the freedom, the responsibility.



But look at the result. 40 or more great ads over four or five years. Note the style, the cohesion; how each one has ‘Sainsbury’s’ in the headline, how each new ad is a continuation of the last so that the campaign gained an onward transitive momentum. These ads became part of the magazines, part of our lives. It raised the freshness of the brand to a level equal to and possibly beyond Waitrose. I recall seeing the ad he wrote for their hot cross buns with some five hundred words of copy and marvelled at its bravura.

Were the TV commercials which accompanied the print campaign as good? Not quite. They were original in their own way. Dishes using Sainsbury’s ingredients were cooked in delicious close-up. They were intelligent, useful to customers and enhanced the brand. But were they in a sense moving press ads? Perhaps they were, but where’s the harm in that?

For David the product had to be central. He was always uncomfortable when a commercial flew off into film land. I remember in the early days at DDB we won the Lyons individual fruit pies account. Now these pies, though popular with the public, were not the peak of culinary excellence. The pastry left a clinging suety film in the mouth while the fruit filling was more like sugary jam.

David Brown, one of the very few copywriters to be equally good at press and TV, wrote a script with young American GI’s at training camp singing ‘Ma I miss your apple pie’ but David Abbott turned it down. I took it back into him and said, David I think you’re making a mistake, this can be great.’

He replied, ‘I may be wrong but I have to back my judgement. If I’m right seven times out of ten that’s a good average.’ He then wrote a commercial which anticipated his Sainsbury’s films: it showed the pastry being rolled, apples peeled, filling being spooned in, pastry pricked and sugar sprinkled. Whether it was better than the homesick American soldiers we’ll never know, it doesn’t matter. What it shows is how close David always wanted to keep the product central to the action.

Later in his career he also learnt to find that moment when the product intersects with the customer’s emotional life. His J. R. Hartley film is justly famous for its humanity. I also think his Bob Hoskins films for BT celebrate not only the telephone but communication as an essential part of being human.

A critic once called David’s advertising middle-class. No dropped ‘aitches, no missing ‘t’s’, no ladettes on hen parties, no lads in bars. Personally, I think David was right to avoid these cheap insinuations into contemporary life. We British have always been aspirational, and for many the middle-class is where we aspire to be, whether we admit it or not. But let’s not allow this debate to hijack my tribute. The point is, he never patronised the consumer, never used a cliché, never wrote a dull line.


He couldn’t bear vulgarity. He hated the word ‘gobsmacked’ and the brand name FCUK. He spoke publicly against the latter earning himself some brickbats. This incident possibly inspired the hero of his novel, Henry Cage, who as I’ve said, suddenly finds his world become unfamiliar and menacing.

His genius could be infuriating. Once, going on holiday, he asked me to look after The Economist. I got each creative team writing more of those wonderful posters. By the time David returned I had a bundle of 45, but none of them were up to scratch. Within a few days David came up with two new brilliant ones. Had he done them before he went on holiday, during or after? I’ll never know.

He couldn’t resist working privately on the briefs he gave others. Martyn Walsh and I were trying to do a concept where one man gives a bottle of Chivas to his friend and gets an ordinary bottle of scotch in return. For weeks we tried dozens of layouts but each one fell short. Then David came in and said. ‘Hey, how about this?’ He held an ad with a bottle of Chivas in gift paper with the headline, ‘Funny how people forget to remove the price tag’. At such times all you can do is applaud, then go into darkened room and bang your head quietly on your desk.

Nothing I can write here can capture the achievement of his career or the brilliance of his copywriting. You will have to flick through the D&AD annuals to see the evidence. Goodness knows there’s enough there to fill a book. It will remain forever a testimony to his unique talent. My aim in writing this is to give you a flavour of the man.


He was good and kind and generous and courteous and very funny. His principles were not something he kept for a rainy day but tools which informed his behaviour every day. You’ll have heard how during the financial crisis he refused to make a single person redundant, how he declined to advertise cigarettes.

At its worst our business can be gimcrack. David proved it can be decent, have integrity, be of real help to commerce. He showed that a state of friendliness is best between seller and buyer, and that with infinite care it can grow into a state of mutual affection. He always told the truth but made it interesting and vibrant and witty.

When a friend of mine died his widow wanted to buy a car. ‘Get a Volkswagen,’ I said, ‘I’ve seen them made.’  Instead she bought a Volvo (then at AMV) because she said, ‘I’ve read the advertisements.’

At the 50th anniversary of D&AD I was given a white pencil for being the most awarded copywriter and David said some very kind words about me, even though we both knew the voting system did not truly reflect our relative abilities. I wrote to David saying that he was one of three men who stood above everyone else (the other two being John Salmon and John Webster) and that I was happy simply to have my name mentioned in the same breath.

I also wrote some years ago that there are a number of us who consider ourselves the sons of Bill Bernbach, the founder of DDB and leading light in the creative revolution, but that in my opinion only David would pass a paternity test.

In losing David Abbott we’ve lost our standard bearer. He made us feel proud to work in the business, and me proud to know him.

Tony Brignull is a former CDP and DDB creative director and D&AD’s most awarded copywriter of all time.

Whose beautiful launderette?

Whose beautiful launderette?

“Launderette” was a commercial for Levi 501s. Made in 1985 by Bartle Bogle Hegarty it starred Nick Kamen and first ran in the UK. Very clever, very memorable. It made Nick famous, increased Levi’s sales by 800%, won lots of prizes and regularly topped the list of British viewers’ favourite commercials. Watch carefully.



Advertising ideas famously have many parents. It’s hard when projects are discussed collaboratively over and over again to remember exactly where each thought came from. Ideas emerge out of one another; as another adland cliché has it, “An idea doesn’t care who has it”. Clients and agency bosses don’t either, but with so much at stake, people in creative departments are jealously protective of anything that looks remotely like an original notion. They go out of their way to avoid being accused of plagiarism and have long memories for famous work. But sometimes not long enough.

Have another look at the Levi’s “Launderette” commercial, then watch this:


Uncanny. The Hamlet ad was made by Collett Dickenson Pearce in 1968, probably one of Alan Parker’s early  forays into film shot in CDP’s basement. In those early days the Hamlet music – Bach’s “Air on a G-string” performed by Jacques Loussier – played throughout the ad. Only later would its first notes coincide with the moment of disappointment, revealing to the audience that they were watching a Hamlet commercial. A double-joke. I wonder who thought of that refinement?)

The Levis commercial is a straightforward lift  of the Hamlet, right down to the man’s white boxer shorts. It has the women on plastic chairs, the expressions of delighted shock. However in the Hamlet film the sixties girls really are sixties girls, whereas the Levi’s commercial has eighties women playing fifties girls and the film has acquired the inevitable couple of cheeky American kids with a gum-habit and backwards baseball caps.

The Hamlet commercial has all the innocence of its era: Twiggy coat dresses, Biba, Sergeant Pepper, and cigars at four shillings eightpence halfpenny a pack; it must have cost hardly more than that to shoot. The set is a row of washing machines and four chairs, and like many of Alan Parker’s early films it was probably made in CDP’s basement. 

The Levi’s ad transfers the scene to the  New York of cliché. It has an expensive set and screams the production values of the knowing and self-regarding eighties. Of course it also has Nick Kamen, who is sexier than the gent in the bowler and despite the clear borrowing and added kitsch it’s the Levi’s ad that people remember.

I prefer CDP’s original.

Inventing history

Inventing history

In the early eighties I worked as a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather in London. One of my clients was Shell UK, and I often had to boast about how many million pounds Shell had invested in the North Sea, or paid in tax to the exchequer.

Inserting the figures supplied by the client would have meant finding and re-reading the brief, something I could rarely be bothered to do. However, rather than write £XXX, which to me looked untidy, I would insert ad hoc amounts, leaving it to the account director to correct them. Thus I’d claim that Shell had spent £1,952 million on Brent Charlie, or invested £24.46 million planting trees over its gas pipelines, these sums being derived from mathematical constants such as the year of my birth and the agency phone number.


One day a new brief arrived containing a figure that I recognised as the date of the Great Plague of London. I asked the account director where he had got it. He said he had found it in a newspaper article.

‘It’s wrong,’ I said. 

‘No it isn’t.  I double checked. Their source was one of our ads.’

After many years in advertising I switched to writing fiction of another sort, never dreaming that I could ever again be accused of falsifying history.

The other day I came across An Honourable Murder, a thoroughly-researched article about legal aspects of the infamous Nanavati murder trial, which took place in Bombay in 1959. The defendant, a handsome naval officer called Kawas Nanavati, had shot dead his wife’s playboy lover, and more than half the nation thought he had done the right and decent thing.

As the Nanavati case is at the heart of my novel The Death of Mr Love, I read the article with interest.

‘Blitz, the popular weekly tabloid owned by newspaper baron Rusi Karanjia,’ the article’s author Aarti Sethi wrote, ‘ran a parallel trial by media that not just acquitted Nanavati, but indeed celebrated the elegant Commander. . . Blitz sold the case as a classic story of love, betrayal and the restoration of honour. It recounted how the dashing naval officer had met his wife in England [and how she] had been tricked and seduced by the villain Ahuja, whom Blitz described bitingly as “a symbol of those wealthy, corrupt, immoral and basically un-socialist forces which are holding the nation and its integrity to ransom”. [6]

Strong words, and ones I knew well, for I had used them in The Death of Mr Love. With some indignation Sethi continued: ‘Blitz exhibited none of the discretion that is normally reserved for the dead. “Some”, it wrote, “may attribute this sickening event to the heat of the season, but this is a mistake. Persons such as he do not share the lot of the common man. They live in a world of privilege. For their sins, their outrages, their crimes, they and they alone are to blame”. [7]

Now this sneering passage I knew even better, for every word of it was my own. I had composed it as a small fiction set inside a larger one. It had taken me a long time to capture the snotty righteousness of Blitz’s prose and I had been quite proud of it at the time, one of those small achievements that no one but the author of a novel will ever notice or appreciate.


Turning to the article’s footnotes, I discovered that quotations [6] and [7] had as their source The Death of Mr Love, by Indra Sinha.  

So this is how history is written. Unless someone takes the trouble to check the Blitz archives (which reside in a dusty Bombay building near the Excelsior cinema under the custody of a sweet man called Mr Vohra) or unless they read this piece, those two quotes will henceforth be as much part of Blitz’s history as if Karanjia had sweated over them himself – and I still can’t remember which of us wrote the first one.

The Honourable Murder: The Trial of Kawas Maneckshaw Nanavati, by Aarti Sethi
The Death of Mr Love, by Indra Sinha

Years ago I wrote to Graham Greene to ask if he would pass on the secret of a delicious sounding dish mentioned in Our Man in Havana. Back came a charming reply. ‘I am sorry that I don’t remember where I got the recipe for Granny Brown’s Ipswich Roast. I think I must have invented it.’