Paul Simons: long adland lunches weren’t always a bad thing – despite the odd unintended consequence

I’ve just read a story written by a female journalist about the new Bridget Jones book where she reminisces about life as a scribbler back in the days when Bridget was a singleton. It got me thinking about the status of lunch these days in adland and how it has changed.

It came home to me a few weeks ago when I met up with Chris Clancy, a partner in Zone, the hitech studio operation based on Soho. We met in a restaurant in Wardour Street and I expected a shortish lunch with water as the choice of refreshment. However, when the waitress asked what we would like to drink Chris said “Shall we share a bottle of wine?” How could I refuse the offer?

After lunch it made me think how unusual this experience is today compared with the past.

Unknown-26Our first client at Simons Palmer was an insurance business and the MD, Richard Hill, a first class bloke, enjoyed a good lunch when he was in town for an agency meeting. There are many lunch stories featuring Richard. One was at Elena’s L’Etoile in Charlotte Street (left) which went on a bit with Richard on a large ‘sticky’ around 3.30 in the afternoon, chuffing on his third cigar of the lunch. We left around 4.00, I tottered down the street and fell in to the Ivor Mairants guitar shop in Rathbone Place and bought a £1000 Guild guitar. It was a tough sell when I tried to get in in through the front door of home past Mrs. S.

Another famous lunch at L’Etoile was with Trevor Beattie when we were negotiating the line-up of the merger of TBWA with our place. I suspect Trevor had been on a family size VAT before I arrived; we went on for some time and eventually left when the early evening diners started to arrive. We both walked to the Star & Garter in Poland Street for a meet and greet with the Simons Palmer creative teams. I don’t remember too much about the rest of the evening. Trevor spectacularly walked out of TBWA the following Monday in protest at not being the sole CD. What followed was a perfect storm of bad PR.

A young Jeff Fergus at Leo Burnett was a master at the lunch venue for getting items approved. As a Cadbury client then, Jeff slipped me a production quote for a new commercial after the main course for my approval. I’m sure I gladly agreed at the time.

When we completed the merger with TBWA and moved to a new building in Whitfield Street I suspect the Star & Garter and Vasco & Piero’s Pavilion, both in Poland Street, held a wake due to the lost revenue they had enjoyed for years from our place. The Pavilion (excellent Italian food) is on the intersection of Great Marlborough Street, Poland Street and Noel Street, about a two minute walk from our then building in Noel Street. We regarded it as our canteen, with an account so we just signed for our lunch there.

Unknown-27If there was a tour of the famous lunch venues and watering holes of the past a perfect example that still remains today is Shampers in Kingly Street (left). It has never really changed and the interested visitor can find all kinds of faces, mainly of past glories, still having a long lunch as though the world stopped in 1985. It is, by the way, very good. You can find me from time to time in the alleyway at the back of the establishment sitting at a table chatting about the good old days.

Back then, a fraud was uncovered at Simons Palmer and the culprit was discovered, arrested and sent for trial. I was the main witness for the prosecution. The defence QC had me giving evidence over two days which became a test of backbone and tenacity as he tried to paint a picture of a business fuelled by long lunches, alcohol and general bad behaviour and his client as a poor victim of this profligate environment. He didn’t manage to pull it off as the chap concerned went down for two years.

However it was tricky at times trying to explain what exhibit #247 meant – “A Holsten Pils slap up lunch” – on a petty cash slip. Simon Clemmow had taken the team out after the pitch to say thank you. Fortunately the judge interrupted the interrogation and asked me if this was for staff welfare. I said yes – which was true – and he instructed the QC to move on. Phew.

On the more business side of things I do genuinely believe much could be achieved at times by the lunch culture of the past. Certainly having time and space to talk over issues with clients was a good thing, the absence of smart phones was also conducive to having a flowing conversation rather than the other party constantly checking their messages. The most visible sign of the instant, demanding culture of today driven by technology.

As Bridget Jones was perhaps a mirror of the times then, back in the mid-nineties when Helen Fielding’s fictional character first appeared in a newspaper column, maybe the 2013 version will be a mirror of today – out go the fags, drinking, junk food, and the general feckless singleton of yesteryear?

Editor’s note – Paul and I will offer an old-style lunch at Shampers to the reader who sends in the best lunch story.





One Comment

  1. I worked with a creative director who went out for a very good lunch, which became dinner, which led on to supper. When he finally got home, the house was dark. Somehow he managed to break his key in the door, and being reluctant to face the music, decided not to wake his wife to let him in. Fortunately, his house had a coal cellar, with a shute on the pavement into which the coal was tipped. Once inside, it would be easy to let himself in from the basement, and no-one would be any the wiser. It was only once he was inside, that he realised that the door to the ground floor was locked. He then spent the next four hours running up the mound of coal to get out, only to have it give way and send him sprawling. Finally he got out, his white suit (yes, it was that long ago) totally ruined. He managed to get into the garage, find a pair of pliers and lever the key on the lock. Once inside, he knew he had to dispose of the suit, so he stuffed it in the central heating boiler. He then took a cold shower (a hot one would have started the boiler and woken the wife), and finally, at dawn, clambered into the marital bed. His wife half-woke, asked him where he was going. ‘Early start’, he said and got dressed. A narrow escape. Except a couple of weeks later, she asked where his white suit was. ‘You took it to the cleaners,’ he said. They denied ever having received it. The row escalated, to the point where the wife took the cleaners to the small claims court. And won. There must be a moral to this story, but I don’t imagine it’s a very uplifting one.

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