George Parker: Winston Fletcher, gnarly clients and me

The recent post on MAA, concerning this year’s Winston Fletcher Fiction Prize inspired me to write a heartfelt appreciation of one of the genuinely nice people I have ever met in this increasingly unredeemable and rancid biz.

In 1972, after having returned from my first invasion of Madison Avenue in the sixties, I was introduced to Winston by Brian Palmer. (As most of you were not even born then, let me remind you that Brian was a founding member of one of London’s great and original agencies, Kingsley Manton & Palmer.) Brian had the perspicuity-insight-stupidity-whatever, when I was a very junior “snot-nosed” art director at Y&R, London, back in the sixties, to convince me to become a writer, ‘cos they had more say in what went on in those days than art directors and certainly earned more money. Plus, he suggested I should fuck off back to America ‘cos I had more chance of convincing the “colonials” I was a writer rather than a rather untalented AD. What a guy.

However moving on, Winston (below) was indeed a lovely man with a ceaseless collection of hilarious stories. Although, I never in fact worked with him, I did spend many enjoyable hours in his company at various pubs. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until I Googled him on the “Tubes” as I was writing this tribute, that I discovered we almost shared the same birthday. Winston was born on July 15th, 1937. Whereas, I was born on July 17th, 356 BC, along with Alexander the Great. How fucking coincidental is that? Anyway, enough of my flummery…
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If you really want to appreciate Winston’s wit, erudition and his wonderful, take no prisoners attitude, you should try and get hold of his 1973 book… The Ad Makers. Which, unfortunately, like many of his many books, is now out of print. In fact, I probably have the only copy of The Ad Makers left in the entire universe, which I would not part with for love nor money. OK, OK, forget the love bit, I will part with it for money, hopefully dumpster loads, ‘cos I am an AdHo.

(Sorry George – there are a few here.)

But, consider this; it will be worth every penny of your worthless grandchildren’s inheritance. This is a book that is full of mind bendingly great stuff, such as… “The Case of the Eskimo Client.” Perhaps the funniest explanation of a client/agency relationship ever. Or, the wonderfully crude client who shouted at Winston… “Call that an advert? I could do better with my knob and a pot of paint.” The same client who insisted that ads be presented to him upside down, as this was how people read ads in other people’s papers whilst riding the tube. A perfect illustration of how totally fucked up the ad biz has always been since the days of Pompeii (See The Ubiquitous Persuaders for a mind-bending explanation of this ancient advertising fact.)

Come to think of it, I did have a client who stabbed ads he didn’t like with his letter opener, which was a Nazi SS dagger. Ah yes, the good old days. Just where the hell are those gnarly clients when you truly need them? No doubt, as we sit here, the Poisoned Dwarf is assembling “Team Gnarly Client.”

Whilst, I am sure Winston is sitting in the bar of that “Big Agency in the Sky” enjoying the Scotch he was so fond of, and thinking… The business is even more fucked up now than when I checked out. Not to worry… Hang tight Winston… I’ll be joining you as soon as that picture of me in the attic self-destructs.

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About George Parker

George Parker has spent 40 years on Madison Avenue. He’s won Lions, CLIOs, EFFIES, and the David Ogilvy Award. His blog is adscam.typepad.com, which is required reading for those looking for a gnarly view of the world’s second oldest profession.” His latest book, Confessions of a Mad Man, makes the TV show Mad Men look like Sesame Street.
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