It Took A Long Time To Get It ‘Write’
I can clearly remember him saying these words. I was only twenty-four at the time, fresh out of the British Army’s Royal Corp of Signals, and steeped in the pop music culture of the era. And whilst not totally buying into the everyone part of Andy’s statement, there was still enough naïve hope burning inside of me to imagine that I might even yet fulfil my long held ambition of playing cricket or football for England. After all, the only missing ingredient as far as I could see was finding the right coach. Somewhere, there had to be a life-changing guru who was capable of bringing out the deeply hidden, international-standard sporting talent I’d surely been born with.
Where’s a Mystic Guru When You Need One?
Sadly, unlike the Beatles, whose association with a certain Maharishi Yogi the year before is alleged to have inspired several of the songs on the group’s White Album, no magical guru was destined to appear for me at this stage. It transpired that my turn for fleeting fame didn’t eventually come around until 1999, by which time you can’t blame me for having cooled somewhat in my belief of Mr Warhol’s theory. I mean, thirty-one years had passed by. Exactly how long was the queue at the ‘Make Me Famous’ desk in my little neck of the woods for crying out loud?
The truth is, I’d spent nearly three miserable years amongst the ranks of the unemployed during the recession of the early 1990s. With absolutely no educational or professional qualifications to my name and my fiftieth birthday party looming large on the horizon, any future employment of worth (let alone fame and fortune) appeared to be about as likely as wind-up gramophones and 78rpm records making a comeback. In fact, the only thing that kept me going through this dark period was writing a minimum of one thousand words a day on my latest novel. To heck with gurus, maybe it was to be some smart publisher who would eventually come riding to my rescue.
Yea, in my dreams!
The Oldest Schoolboy in Town
But then came a remarkable turnaround. In a last-ditch effort to get somewhere I applied to return to full-time education. And that’s when those early novels I’d written really did pay off. With nothing else to back up my suitability for this scholastic adventure, it was these manuscripts that turned out to be the keys to the college. As my only references, they certainly seemed to impress the right people, and in 1995 I began a two-year Higher National Diploma course in advertising copywriting. If I remember correctly, the average age of my class was just under twenty.
Welcome to the World’s Most Famous Advertising Agency
Right at the start of my college days I was told that: “Major league advertising is a young person’s business George, and however well you may do on this course, no big London agency will ever employ you.” This wasn’t meant as a put-down, just a realistic assessment of my post-graduation possibilities. I didn’t care. I’d started out not daring to hope for anything more than a job at a small provincial agency anyway. Even so, when a two-week work experience placement at the world’s most famous advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, was offered, I grabbed it with both hands. OK, it might not lead to that desperately needed job, but I was going to make darn sure they noticed me. I remember writing nineteen radio ads in one day for a pharmaceutical product. None of these were ever used. But then the impossible happened. After my two-week stay there had been extended to three, out of the blue, I found myself more shook up than Elvis had ever been when the Creative Director offered me a full-time job as a copywriter. That is, if I wanted it.
Were they joking? If I wanted it? You could bet your house, your car, and even your favourite Disney character’s life that I did.
It’s Better Late Than Never, Andy
Six months or so after starting at Saatchi, the British media managed to get a handle on my story. And how, because I’d spent the last of my money on the train fare to London at the start of my work experience, I’d been forced to spend a few nights sleeping rough on the streets of London. Of course, the agency knew nothing about this at the time. To the TV, radio and press people however, this was a Cinderella type story that ran for several weeks.
Following the publication of my first novel, and with a good bit of help from my employers, I even managed a second bite of the fame cherry in 2000. But far more than anything I did myself, the magic of Saatchi’s name was what really created the headlines. I benefited enormously from the association. No wonder I love the fabulous TV series Mad Men.
I’d finally experienced my fifteen minutes of fame – twice over in fact. So Mister Warhol was right all along. Thanks for keeping me going Andy.
* * *
George Stratford’s latest novel, Buried Pasts, has recently been released by GMTA Publishing as both a paperback and electronically. The kindle version of this book has already been downloaded well over seven thousand times in the USA alone. In an official review, the much-respected publication, Publishers Weekly, described the story as: “A page-turner that blends suspense with a cast of characters who genuinely care for each other. It’s an engaging and satisfying novel for fans of adventure stories with a heart.”
Want to dig a little deeper? You can see other reader’s reviews, and get to read the opening three chapters of Buried Pasts for free on Amazon.com. Here is the link to use:
If you enjoyed this article, you may like to know that George has also written a full novel length account of his time spent at Saatchi & Saatchi and in the media spotlight. What’s more, for a limited period, GMTA Publishing is offering a free kindle download of this light-hearted memoir to every reader who purchases a copy of Buried Pasts.
I was born prematurely (feet first, all two and a half pounds of me) in Croydon, South London during early June 1944 – just four days before Hitler’s V1 flying doodlebug bombs began raining down all around our neighbourhood. Years later my mother told me the story of how our house (with us inside) had one almost miraculous escape from these bombs. Maybe there’s a novel somewhere in this for me? It’s a strong possibility.
My father was a Canadian bomber pilot serving with 78 Squadron RAF Bomber Command. He was killed in action on his 28th mission when I was six weeks old. Before I was born, my mother was also very involved in the war effort, serving as a WAAF at the top secret Bletchley Park establishment where the famous German Enigma code was eventually broken.
My first published novel, IN THE LONG RUN, had as its backdrop South Africa’s real life event Comrades Marathon – 55 miles of torture run over massive hills, most years in considerable heat and humidity. This was selling spectacularly well for a first novel until my publishers went bust virtually overnight, so not a single penny of royalties ever found its way into my pocket.
I later re-published the title with Booksurge, now Create Space. The book features a foreword written by BBC broadcaster and former Olympic athlete, Steve Cram. Steve, whose world record time for the mile stood for over eight years, also provided a jacket quote stating, “A gripping tale from start to finish.” That’s Steve with me in the second picture, taken at the launch party of the original version of IN THE LONG RUN in March 2000. This was held at the London HQ of advertising giants Saatchi & Saatchi, where I was working at the time as a copywriter.
How the heck did I ever manage to get myself such a job in Don Draper land at 51 years old when only three years previously I had been a long-term unemployed bum with absolutely no educational qualifications to my name? That’s another story altogether. One that I’ve just finished writing in a bio called AIN’T FINISHED YET. I can indeed identify with many aspects of the fabulous TV series Mad Men, although sadly from a personal point of view, with very little of the gratuitous sex and huge salaries involved.
BURIED PASTS, now available in paperback and electronic format with Great Minds Think Aloud, is a tribute to the father I never knew. It’s no coincidence that the central character Mike Stafford’s surname is so similar, nor that he comes from Brandon, Manitoba, my father’s hometown. Even the fictional RAF 79 Squadron is as close as possible to the real thing. In fact, I visualized Stafford as being my father throughout the writing. I liked to fondly imagine that this is how Dad, had he lived, would have responded to the same difficulties and dangers that Stafford finds himself confronting.