He made more money than the chairman; I was seduced by a professional syren

Do you ever do something as dozy as this?

I do – about twice a week.

I write something utterly brilliant, then forget to save it or send it someone.

I did that yesterday, and it’s waiting to be found on my machine at home.

Sadly, every time I do this, when I finally exhume the missing work of genius, it’s sheer tripe.

Nevertheless, I’m quite sure I did write something good yesterday, but only because I copied something by a much cleverer friend. I’ll show it to you tomorrow

You may recall that in the 11th paragraph of my last entry, I mentioned the astounding talent my younger self showed for snatching disaster from the jaws of success (a talent I have not lost, by the way).

I shall go into that in detail because anyone who’s in business can learn a bit from my mistakes.

I also promised you some sordid titillation. I will keep my promise as we go along, but first, let’s go back to my meeting in 1967 with Martin Topley, 21 and making more money than the chairman of the ad agency he worked for.

It was entirely the chairman’s fault – and here’s why.

It was entirely the chairman’s fault – and here’s why.
Martin asked for a job, but was turned down. So he said, “Give me a desk and phone and pay me on commission”.

The chairman agreed.

Martin made his money by spending his time in the Peter Evans Steak House in Fleet Street, where he made friends with all the hard-drinking newspaper advertising reps.

(Young Martin did like a drink, perhaps as a reaction to his strict Salvation Army upbringing.
“I’m making up for four generations of teetotalism” he told me.)

Anyhow, by getting to know all these reps, he would find out, towards the end of the day who was really desperate to sell space – and snap it up for peanuts. Then he would offer it to mail order clients.

In this manner he made the reps happy, the clients happy and his liver very confused. But since he also wrote pretty good copy he was soon doing very well.

The reason he got in touch with me was that he had a client who had a piano-playing course which had been shown on TV in The Bernard Braden Show.

You may not remember the show, but it was where that woman who looks like a concerned horse got started. Her career has largely been based on copying the Bernard Braden format of investigative reporting. You know the one. Esther Rantzen. I have heard she is mostly concerned with making money – but aren’t we all?

Anyhow, the amazing thing about this course was that it worked. A man who’d never played in his life took the course for 6 weeks, went on the show and played a tune.

But as I mentioned, the owner of the course was spending more than he made. And to be honest, he wasn’t making much anyhow; the course wasn’t all that profitable.

He needed to get away from his creditors – who included the advertising agency, which was refusing to run any more ads.

The challenge was simple. I had £780, you may recall. Was it enough to pay for the man to leave the country, persuade the agency to run some ads and open an office? And of course, we had to make more profit.

Now you already know the answer is going to be “yes”. But how? Keep with me for a few days. I’ll tell you – and one thing we did was smart enough to be worth remembering.

Now, here’s a little about the private side.

Well, you may recall I was living with a retired call girl. (She hated the phrase. “I’m a party girl,” she said. “Definitely NOT a bloody whore”)

She had been a methedrine – speed – addict. That’s a faster, more addictive killer than just about anything, as a lot of people are finding out.

Then she and a friend had been fitted up by the police with some planted heroin. It would have been most unusual for someone on speed to take heroin, but that didn’t stop him going to jail and her getting two years’ probation

I met her when she got a job as my secretary during my first stint in the mail order business. She crossed her long legs, which were equipped with slutty fishnets … and looked at me.

Then a couple of days later she took me to visit a girl friend with a small room and a mirror at the end of the bed to give me a no-obligation free trial.

I stood no chance. Within weeks my marriage collapsed and we were living together in Earls’ Court and doing unseemly things in the porch of the church two doors down. The relationship only lasted for two and a half years, but a few things happened that you might find interesting.

Like, what happens when you combine amphetamines with rum and methedrine – without knowing it. And how my new suede coat was ruined by a carving knife attack.

All will be revealed, but I’m going to stop here and tell you about my forthcoming new feature.

It’s called Folly of the Week, and is inspired by something the great American columnist H.L. Mencken said:

“The older I get, the more I admire and crave competence – just simple competence, in any field from adultery to zoology.”

Tomorrow I’ll show you something highly incompetent I spotted on the Fulham Road on Sunday – and contrast it with something very good. If you’re at all interested in business or communication, you will find it amusing – and perhaps instructive

Talking about competence, have you ever noticed how often the grammar and spell check on Word tells you to change something correct into something illiterate? It did that twice in this piece.

Well done Bill Gates!

About the Author


In 2003, the Chartered Institute of Marketing named Drayton one of 50 living individuals who have shaped today’s marketing.

He has worked in 55 countries with many of the world’s greatest brands. These include American Express, Audi, Bentley, British Airways, Cisco, Columbia Business School, Deutsche Post, Ford, IBM, McKinsey, Mercedes, Microsoft, Nestle, Philips, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, Unilever, Visa and Volkswagen.

Drayton has helped sell everything from Airbus planes to Peppa Pig. His book, Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing, out in 17 languages, has been the UK’s best seller on the subject every year since 1982. He has also run his own businesses in the U.K., Portugal and Malaysia.

He was a main board member of the Ogilvy Group, a founding member of the Superbrands Organisation, one of the first eight Honorary Fellows of the Institute of Direct Marketing and one of the first three people named to the Hall of Fame of the Direct Marketing Association of India. He has also been given Lifetime Achievement Awards by the Caples Organisation in New York and Early To Rise in Florida.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    Definitely love this one. I was laughing all the time. You must have had a lot of fun.


    Swans G Paul

    P.S:I am definitely a big fan of yours.

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