Category Archives: Ad industry

Beijing – An arrest in Tiananmen Square and an offer of exciting sex

The arrested men are led away by police in Tiananmen Square

(A version of this piece was also published by the Huffington Post)

I am still in Beijing.

During the night, I was talking to a girl at the top of a suburban street, telling her about the various Schneiders. There was Roy Schneider in Jaws; there was Romy Schneider sharing butter with Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris; and there is Dave Schneider, who I always think of as the bloke in the back window of the Eurostar train as it hurtles along in the climax of the first Mission Impossible movie.

The girl was very impressed and a friend of hers also came along to find out more about the various Schneiders.

Then I woke up.

It was a dream.

I later realised the two girls were wrong to be impressed. The Jaws film star was Roy Scheider not Roy Schneider. And it was Maria not Romy Schneider with the butter.

It was just a dream.

And this morning, as if still in a dream, it felt like I was home in London when a taxi driver took me on a 12-minute round trip in the opposite direction to where we were going, to increase his meter fare. It is what all cabbies must do the world over to foreigners in their city.

Eventually, we got to Tiananmen Square, where all access is guarded by soldiers/police at kiosks with X-ray machines. This is no big deal, really, as all Beijing’s metro stations have X-ray security machines too.

I say all access to Tiananmen Square is guarded by the efficient Chinese security system.

Except one.

I wandered unstopped and unchecked (carrying a bag) through the old Zhengyangmen (Qianmen) Gate behind Mao’s Mausoleum and wandered into the Square unstopped.

At the far end of the square, nearly opposite the Tiananmen Gate itself, men and women in red and yellow jackets offered to take photos of passers-by.

As I left the throng, four young men maybe in their late teens unfolded a large rectangular banner – red, with white Chinese letters. They smiled as I passed by. About 12-15 seconds later, there was the sharp bark of a voice.

One of the red and yellow jacketed ‘photographers’ – a particularly burly man – was shouting and, as I watched still walking away, he strode and tried to tear the banner from the four youths’ hands and scrunge it up, still yelling towards a police van about 50 feet away.

The banner had been up and visible for maybe 12 seconds. Almost no-one had seen it; perhaps only me. And I did not know what the Chinese writing said.

Four policemen strode across from their white van and marched the four young men away.

The four young men went quietly; they did not have to be held; they obviously knew it would happen like, I guess, maybe some lemmings know their jump off the cliff will not end well. But they still feel compelled towards the self-destructive act.

They strolled with the police towards the white van. The red and yellow jacketed man went back to being a photographer, accosting tourists to have their photo taken with Chairman Mao’s giant portrait on the Tiananmen Gate in the background.

To Westerners like me, this seems an example of the repressiveness of the Chinese regime. But to the Chinese themselves – obsessed with maintaining order and stability and horrified by the possibility of ‘chaos’, I suspect it could seem like benevolent paternalism.

The men and women standing and sitting around and watching what ordinary people do are, I suspect, not seen as oppressive Big Brothers but as protective brothers and sisters.

There are men (mostly men) sitting at the bottom of, it seems, all the escalators in the metro, just ‘watching’ in case an unfortunate accident happens.

Life has got much, much better for most people.

When I was here in 1984, I realised I was slightly (not much) taller than most people in the street. I got looks. But people did not notice my height, skin colour and different clothing if I walked at the same, slower pace that they did.

In 1984, the Beijingers walked slower than people did in London. Now, in 2012, they do not. Maybe I have slowed down (always a possibility) but I think they do walk faster. And they have taken advertising to their hearts.

It is everywhere. Including on the moving rubber handrails of the escalators in the metro.

And I was very impressed by a very inventive way of advertising on the walls inside the metro tunnels as the trains speed between stations.

As the train carriage speeds by through the dark tunnels, on the black walls are a series of pictures which appear to be one static image as seen from the fast-moving train. I guess it must be like a flick book. Your eyes see a lot of the same picture repeated and your brain sees one static picture. Occasionally the image changes. I have never seen anything like it, although someone later told me there is one of these ads in the Heathrow Express tunnel into London Airport.

Meanwhile, watching TV back in my 13th floor Beijing hotel, I continue to be amazed that BBC World’s TV reporter  is still allowed to remain inside North Korea. He contrasts what he is being shown by North Korean officials with the real North Korea glimpsed by the BBC cameraman through train and coach windows. Simply the phrases he uses in his reports – “Few outside would recognise this as prosperous” and “totalitarian control” would surely merit the North Koreans throwing him out?

Tomorrow, I fly to North Korea.

I left my iPhone and iPad back in London, knowing they would be confiscated at the border.

Ten days ahead of me with no news of the outside world.

What might happen?

When I was in Laos in 1989, I missed the fall of the Berlin Wall. The first I knew of it was coming back through Bangkok Airport and seeing a week-old issue of the Sunday Times with pictures on the front page of the Wall coming down.

But perhaps I have more personal worries.

This afternoon, eating a sweet, a slice from the back of one of my teeth – perhaps a quarter inch high – came out. It seems to be part of the real tooth, not a filling. A sticky sweet was the culprit.

Tonight, I went to the Novotel to e-mail my eternally-un-named friend and ask her to book me a dental appointment when I get back home.

As I walked up to the Novotel, three prostitutes offered to have sex with me. Well, presumably each of three prostitutes, not all three together. The youngest was wearing a white coat; the others were stylishly-dressed in black, merging into the darkness and with sadder eyes. The youngest was bubbly and effervescent: “Sex,” she said to me. “Exciting sex.”

When I came out of the hotel, after sending my e-mail, there were only two of the ladies of the night standing in the same place. The white-coated young girl was still there, giggling and smiling. “Sex?” she asked. “Exciting sex?”

I went to the metro, wondering what happened to the four young men in Tiananmen Square and what will happen to Bo Xilai and his wife. Will I miss a major news story while I am in North Korea?

1 Comment

Filed under Ad industry, China, North Korea, Politics, Sex

There are some nasty people in comedy …Is Lewis Schaffer one of them?

For a short period last night, I thought I was going to write a vitriolic blog today, but then I remembered some advice I gave to a comedian several years ago.

Last night, I was invited to an event organised by a comedy company. I arrived. I could not get in. I had the invitation in my hand. It was bad PR. Especially as I bear the company no good will. They have a surprisingly good reputation considering the guy who runs it is a vicious, amoral little shit.

I thought. That will make a good blog. I will slag ‘em off. I will tell tales.

But then I decided not to. And not for legal reasons. No. I decided not to because I remembered my advice to the comedian.

A few years ago, this comedian wanted, very justifiably, to bitch online about another (in my opinion clinically psychopathic) comedian.

My advice was: “Don’t name the other person. If you name the other person in print, it just gives them publicity. Even if you slag off the person with a very good story, people will remember the name attached to the story longer and stronger than the actual shittiness of the story you are telling them. If you name the person in print, you would just be raising their profile.

“It’s like most TV commercials. They cost zillions and they’re very visual but, basically, all they are really trying to do is impress the product’s name on punters’ brains so that when people go into a shop and see four brands, one of the brands’ names will feel more familiar to the punters than the other three.

“They could put the name of the company up there on screen in black letters on a white background for 30 seconds without music and it would have much the same effect for less money.

“All publicity is good publicity unless it involves a sex crime.”

There are some nasty people and companies in comedy, but there is no point naming them in print because it would simply increase the people’s profile and the companies’ macho standing.

At one Edinburgh Fringe, I paid at the box office of a venue to buy a full-price ticket for a highly-regarded comedian’s show. Instead of giving me a ticket in return for my money, the guy at the box office picked up a half-price newspaper voucher for the show, tore it in half, kept one half and gave me the other half. He had a pile of these half-price vouchers. My assumption was and is that, when giving the comedian a percentage of the box office returns, the venue was skimming off money claiming that a lot of tickets were being bought at half price when, in fact, the full price had been paid.

On another occasion, someone was opening up a new comedy club in a city (not London) and, for some reason, asked the advice of the owner of a competitor club. The competitor had had a vicious long-running feud with a particular comedian. “You don’t want to book XXXX XXXX,” he told the new club owner. XXXX XXXX’s an alcoholic. Unfunny. Unreliable. An alcoholic.” The guy knew that, in fact, the award-winning, highly reliable comedian was a non-drinker. But it was a double whammy. Bad advice to the other club. Damaged the comedian.

If you name the baddies in print, though, it simply publicises them.

The point is that, last night, instead of attending the event I had been asked and invited to attend, I went off in a huff (or it might have been a minute and a huff) to see American comedian Lewis Schaffer‘s rolling Free Until Famous show which, I knew, started at the same time and was only a three-minute walk away.

Look, “a minute and a huff” was funny when Groucho Marx said it.

Maybe it has dated badly.

Anyway, last night’s show was bizarre even by Lewis Schaffer’s high standards of oddity.

In the full-house audience, for one thing, were two Italian students studying comedy in Britain. Quite what they learned from a night of titters with Lewis Schaffer, I don’t know. But, after the show finished, he stayed behind with them and seven others for a special re-telling of his “award-winning Holocaust joke”.

It took 20 minutes.

The translations did not speed things up.

But it was the funniest part of the evening.

Afterwards, in his traditional after-show Soho ice cream parlour, I told Lewis Schaffer (always include both names when referring to him) about my non-vitriolic upcoming blog.

“There is no point quoting names,” I said to him. “All publicity is good publicity, right?”

“That’s what I told the captain of the Costa Concordia after it hit the rocks,” he replied.

“Mmmm…” I said.

“Look,” he said. “Never say bad things about anything or anyone. It comes back to bite you. You think you’re beating up a nobody but he’s got a million friends and one day you’re gonna need the guy. The key thing is that, if you trash one person, everybody thinks you will trash them too. They think, Well, he’s going to say bad things about me too.

“I’ve made enemies in this country,” he continued, warming to the self-criticism, as he always does. “I’ve only been here 11 years and already people hate me. I’m not even being paranoid. I don’t think people like me.

“Every day, I have a fight with someone. Every day, there’s somebody I’m really, really angry with and I wanna go on Twitter and every five minutes say something bad about the guy. But, as soon as I write my first Tweet, I realise it makes me seem like a twat.”

“Ah!” I interrupted him. “What did you say that venue owner in Edinburgh called you?”

“She called me a dreadful, dreadful man,” he replied, perhaps slightly irritated at having his flow of self-criticism interrupted.

“Why did she say that?” I asked.

“Because she’s a friend of my ex-wife and refused to listen to my side of the story about how horrible my ex-wife was… If my ex-wife was horrible at all… She’s probably no more horrible than any woman and…”

“Ah!” I interrupted him again, “On stage tonight, you joked that you’re trying to get away from racism in your show. You want to put in more misogyny.”

“Because there’s a bigger market for it.” Lewis Schaffer explained, exasperated, “Maybe I’m the horrible one. Maybe that’s the problem… But women stick together like a Romanian village. They fight with each other to the death until someone from a neighbouring town comes in. Then they just join together to… I dunno, they’re just horrible people – women. They’re loyal. I respect them for that. They’ll stick up for each other.

“My problem,” Lewis Schaffer mused, “is I’m not nice enough to be nice and I’m not nasty enough to be nasty.”

“Nice sentence,” I said. “What does it mean?”

“It means I’m… It means… For someone who people think of as a strong personality, I’m like white bread.”

“Mmmm…” I said.

“I don’t know what it means. What d’you think it means?” Lewis Schaffer asked me.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “You’ll figure it out eventually.”

“You’re not going to get anything out of this for your blog,” Lewis Schaffer told me.

“I dunno,” I said.

“I know,” Lewis Schaffer said.

2 Comments

Filed under Ad industry, Comedy, Marketing, PR, Psychology

The comedy girl who is planning what to do when the world ends in 2012

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

Throughout my life, whenever I have met people at parties and suchlike, they have always eventually asked that terribly British question: “What do you do?”

I am buggered if I have ever been able to give a sensible answer.

Most of my money has come from producing/directing/writing on-screen TV promos. But no-one knows what the hell they are.

“Oh, does someone do that?” people ask in disbelief if they do start to understand.

I fare better with “I worked on Tiswas, Game For a Laugh, Surprise Surprise and Jonathan Ross and various other things,” but then there are all the times when I was writing film reviews – except they were mostly features and interviews. And comedy reviews. Briefly. And writing other people’s autobiographies (which is understandably confusing). And let’s not even get into the area of what I might or might not do with comedians or the phrase that brings fear into the eyes of my accountant: Killer Bitch.

But the tables have now been turned.

I have now met Leila Johnston and Sara Williams at Made By Many a couple of times. They run an event called Storywarp which was held at Made By Many but will now be held elsewhere and they both worked for Made By Many except Sara has moved on.

“So what does Made By Many do?” a friend asked the other day.

“I have no idea,” I said. “It’s a sort-of agency that does things or thinks up things connected to social networking and the internet or something. I have no idea. I suspect they don’t know either, but they seem to be quite good at whatever it is they do.”

“And what does this Leila woman do?” I was asked in a foolish follow-up question.

“I have no idea,” I said. “She seems to write for things like Wired magazine as well as work for Made By Many and she seems to be a powerhouse of creative something-or-other but I’m not quite sure what.”

“I see,” my friend said. “Perhaps you should ask her.”

So I did.

“I write and produce all kinds of stuff,” Leila told me. “and I’ve always been into comedy. If not trying to write it, then trying to see how other people do it. I’ve met a lot of comedy people over the years and they’re a strange bunch.”

So at least Leila is a good judge of character.

“I went up to the Edinburgh Fringe with my family in 1994 and it blew my mind,” she told me. “Comedy heroes everywhere! The writer/performer Ben Moor, whom my brother and I knew from some of our favourite radio and TV shows, was up there with a very strange, rather good one-man show called A Supercollider for the Family. Ben’s show had some great gags being projected on a screen behind him… In the Kingdom of the Deaf, the one-eared man is king. But his crown is askew...

“A decade later, like half of London, I became actual friends with Ben and I couldn’t resist quoting some of those jokes back to him. That must have been a bit strange for him, now I think about it. But he has got an even better memory for these details than me, which partly explains how he once got five gold runs on Blockbusters on ITV. We’ve since worked together on Radio 4 pilots and Star Trek TNG parties, and I still make a point of remembering all his jokes.”

Star Trek TNG parties???

It is no wonder I do not know what Leila does. What on earth are Star Trek TNG parties? I feel I have slipped through a temporal wormhole into a parallel universe.

Go back a bit, Leila. Go back a bit. I am old and, as comedienne Janey Godley would say, my skin no longer fits me.

“In 2003,” Leila tries to explain, “I was in my final year at York University, while doing bits of writing work for a communications company. People were beginning to see stand-up comedy would never be the new rock ‘n roll, but it was holding its own as the new drum ‘n’ bass. So the company decided to put on a comedy festival for the area.

“They appointed me their PR officer, which involved a bit of filling in spreadsheets and a lot of going to comedy gigs and propping up the VIP bar. I met Rhod Gilbert on the terrace. No-one knew who he was then, but everyone in the bar was magnetically pulled to his table, because his act had been the stand-out hit of our festival.

“If you’ve seen his manic domestic-appliance-themed act in recent years, you wouldn’t recognise him then. He was downbeat and immobile in the middle of the stage, spinning surreal stories about his Welsh family though, even then, it was all excellent.

Norman Lovett was compering one of the Fringe shows, and did a strange improvised routine involving balancing his spectacles on different parts of his body. I remember, in the bar that evening, being introduced to him as a Red Dwarf fan. He was very sweet and told us that, these days, he’s mistaken for Victor Meldrew almost as often as he is recognised for his own characters. I haven’t seen him since, but he was so nice that I remember his jokes.

“I flyered for Richard Herring’s Edinburgh Fringe show through the monsoons of 2004. I was homeless at the time and living in a tent on a campsite just outside Edinburgh. Richard took a small amount of pity on me, made me a cup of tea, and allowed me to stay over on the sofa in his flat for one night. Chris Addison was there that night, too. It might have been his breakthrough year, but at that point he was just an energetic lad going round the room telling everyone their face was the shape of either a plate or a dragon. I might be mis-remembering, but I don’t think I am.

This is showbusiness! I thought. This is glamour! I went back to my tent-home and it had been flooded.

“I think I have met everyone I want to, so the world might as well finish.

“I am now preoccupied with ways the world could end in 2012, to the extent that I am hosting a series of events called The Event in February, in a basement in London where I think we will be safe. There will be talks, performance, science, a geiger counter, gas masks, and readings. Bunker space is limited.”

Oh… she may also go up to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012 or 2013.

If the world does not end.

Which all sounds great.

But what DOES Leila actually DO?

“Well,” she says, “all that Edinburgh Fringe stuff makes it sound like I’m just a crazed celebrity anecdote generating machine. I usually describe myself as a digital copywriter, because that tends to end the line of questioning. But I feel strongly that writing is just a by-product of trying to find out about things and being addicted to audiences, so it’s not enough to say ‘I’m a writer’. In addition to the day job, I constantly write things for publications, performance and broadcast.”

That really doesn’t help me.

I still have no idea what you could say Leila Johnston does.

But, then, I still have absolutely no idea what ‘thing’ I do either.

If anyone can tell me or even give me a few hints, I would appreciate it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ad industry, Comedy, Internet, Marketing, Television, Writing

In the cyber world of viral publicity, BBC America sent me an e-mail today

Today, I was invited to go to a media show next week – MediaPro 2011 – and all they really wanted to know in cyberspace was my e-mail address and Twitter name.

Why?

I have no idea.

I have a friend who works for a major charity. Coincidentally, today she sent me an e-mail asking:

“Do you like Twitter?”

My answer was:

“I don’t really understand it – possibly because I do not have a smart phone.”

And I do not understand it, though I use it slightly for self-publicity.

It could cope with it a bit more once I understood the use of the hash sign.

But there is the problem of people actually seeing any message in the Twittersphere.

A comedian I know who also uses it for publicity sends any message mid-morning, late afternoon and near midnight to try to get it read.

It seems very popular with celebs and performers. I can’t imagine why they talk to each other on it, though.

My comedian chum Janey Godley Tweets extravagantly and swears it is useful if, for example, she goes to a new city – people will tell her useful information.

It has immediacy, which something like Facebook does not necessarily have. But coming with that is transience – if you Tweet a message at 10.30am, someone following 800 people may not see it if they don’t look until 3.00pm.

It is in that (what I think is an) odd area where, instead of talking to one person on the phone or in an e-mail, you talk to multiple people and (for reasons I cannot begin to fathom) you are having a conversation with one person which anyone is invited to listen in on.

As far as I can see, if you want to Tweet some one specific person, you might as well text ‘em.

I told my Charity friend:

“You might take a look at Google+ for work… Google+ seems to me to have a more up-market clientele than Facebook.”

(Nothing personal to my Facebook Friends).

The best proven way to get publicity, though, is to be included in my daily blog.

Bizarrely, BBC America would seem to agree. Today, I got an e-mail from someone at BBC America:

_______

Hi,

I work for BBC America, the U.S. cable television channel. I came across your blog and wanted to reach out, because BBC America is premiering a new series, WHITECHAPEL, on WED OCT 26 that I think would be interesting to you and your readers.

WHITECHAPEL is set in modern-day East London where a copycat killer is terrorizing London – and it’ll take everything these police officers have to keep history from repeating. The force is faced with the brutal and bloody history of their streets, from echoes of the 19th century & Jack the Ripper to the infamous 1960s crime twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Can these officers “solve the unsolvable and catch the most famous serial killer that ever lived”?

WHITECHAPEL is from the producers of the Emmy Award-winning Downton Abbey and starring Rupert Penry-Jones (MI-5, Cambridge Spies), Phil Davis (Sherlock, Bleak House) and Steve Pemberton (The League of Gentlemen, Viva Blackpool).

Don’t miss WHITECHAPEL every Wednesday at 10/9c starting Oct 26 only on BBC America. Can’t find BBC America on your cable dial? Use the Channel Finder in the top-navigation bar on bbcamerica.com.

PLUS:
• Watch the extended trailer now: http://bbca.me/WhitechapelTrail
• Get an exclusive look Inside the Making Of… WHITECHAPEL: http://bbca.me/MakingWhitechapel
• Watch a special advance sneak peek of the series premiere: http://bbca.me/WhitechapelPeek

Cheers!

_______

Now, I will plug anything for anyone if it sounds interesting – as the above proves – for a bit more profile, but why me?

I may bullshit, but I am a minor little blogger in the grand cyber scheme of things.

I know BBC America will have sent out hundreds of e-mails. But why to me?

I am not  complaining in any way. Far from it. I am delighted, but…

Why me?

1 Comment

Filed under Ad industry, Internet, PR

Digressions in British comedy and acting and a sad death in Los Angeles

I went to Hastings on Friday for the first of Vivienne and Martin Soan’s monthly Pull the Other One comedy shows there. They now have monthly Pull The Other One shows in Peckham, Herne Hill and Hastings. One laughing audience member came out at the end saying:

“I haven’t seen so many naked men since… well, I don’t think I ever have…”

I guess that will inevitably happen when you have Martin Soan, Bob Slayer and Dr Brown in among fully-clothed Simon MunnerySol Bernstein and Charmian Hughes, who tells me she is not (as I thought) giving up her sand dance just at the very point when she is thinking of performing next year in Australia – a land not short of sand.

Australia has sand the way my blogs can sometimes have digressions.

Nay. Nay. Thrice nay. Charmian tells me she is not giving up her sand dance but will be “rationing it due to the erotic pandemonium in unleashes on unsuspecting audience ‘members’.”

She will instead occasionally replace it in her stage routine with the ‘dance of the seven cardigans’.

The real highlight for me of trekking through Friday night traffic to get to Pull The Other One, though, was chatting off-stage to actor and now film-maker Robin Hayter, a man of inexhaustible and fascinating anecdotes.

His ubiquitous father James Hayter starred in BBC TV’s first ever sitcom Pinwright’s Progress in 1946-1947, seemed to be in every British feature film of my childhood and is perhaps most fondly remembered as the definitive on-screen Mr Pickwick in The Pickwick Papers and as the original actor who declared in TV ad voice-overs that “Mr Kipling make exceedingly fine cakes”.

I had not known that James Hayter appeared in a regular role in BBC TV sitcom Are You Being Served? nor that the Mr Kipling cake people paid him a very large sum of money indeed to drop out of the show because they felt it was too down-market a series and his appearances in it might devalue his dignified voice-overs in what they saw as their up-market cakes’ ads.

It also turned out that Robin Hayter and I had both worked with the wonderful David Rappaport. Robin was a fan of ‘Green Nigel’, the character David performed as a piss-take of children’s TV show Blue Peter when I worked on the final series of anarchic TV show Tiswas.

David Rappaport was a very highly intelligent man; a friendly, kind person and a charismatic actor who appeared in Time Bandits and many other movies. I never saw his appearances in his own US TV series The Wizard but, apparently, he was wonderful.

Like Robin Hayter, I was very shocked and very sad, when I heard that he had shot himself, depressed, in Los Angeles in 1990.

Very sad.

_____________________________________________

Robin Hayter’s video ‘pitch’ for a proposed documentary movie is HERE.

7 Comments

Filed under Ad industry, Comedy, Movies, Television, Theatre

Are Pipex/TalkTalk, BT and Virgin Media in a contest to be the most incompetent UK telecoms company?

Right… Standby for a pointless complaint about an insanely incompetent British company. Indeed, companies. No enlightening information. No message for Mankind.  Just a rant… You have been warned… What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t have a rant?

Is there actually no competent telecoms company anywhere in Britain?

Really.

A serious question.

BT treats its customers with much the same care and respect as the Libyan and Syrian governments treat its people.

But Pipex/TalkTalk appears to be in some sort of heavy-handed contest with BT and Virgin Media to win a prize as the most PR-stupid and professionally incompetent telecoms company in the UK. They seem to manage to be devious, deaf and incompetent simultaneously. At least Virgin Media is not devious, it’s just plain incompetent.

Virgin Media claims to have the fastest broadband in Britain but, in my first-hand experience, its broadband does not work for 60% of the time and constantly drops. Someone else I know reckoned, for her, Virgin Media’s broadband was perhaps 10% the speed of her former BT line for 90% of the time. Perhaps it has the fastest broadband in Britain over a measured two second spurt. Try to get any customer service, of course, and you might as well be trying to play football underwater.

As for Pipex/TalkTalk…

In the last five weeks, I have had five cold calls from them using an 0161 (Manchester) telephone number but actually phoning from abroad to avoid the restrictions on cold calling within the UK. When I asked the man with the Indian accent where he was phoning from, he said South Africa.

At least Pipex/TalkTalk’s people are comprehensible, if unwelcome. BT, in my limited experience, have ‘help centres’ in ‘proper’ India staffed by unfortunate people with accents more incomprehensible than drunken Glaswegians wearing gas masks. That’s not racism, it’s a rant against BT’s stupidity in having foreign help centres. They might as well have their help centres staffed by deaf mutes in Guatemala for all the good they do. When will BT realise that saving money on help centres costs them more in lost customers and disastrous damage to their already low image?

I used to be with Pipex. I left because they were generally incompetent, they couldn’t actually supply me with VAT bills and two separate Pipex people told me I had to make phone calls to them not use the internet because the Pipex online service was “insecure”. Not reassuring in a telecoms company. What I didn’t know then but do know now is that apparently Pipex routinely cut off customers who left them before the changeover date for a new supplier so that customers were left without a line.

Now they are trying to tell me they are part of Pipex/TalkTalk and are a brand sparkling new company and offer sparkling service.

I think Colonel Gaddafi’s spokesman has been saying much the same thing about the Libyan regime every few weeks over the last few months. I can’t say I’m convinced.

I work on the principle of three strikes and you’re out.

If I get cold calls, I ask to be removed from the list of the company. After trying this twice – or, if they’re lucky, three times – the phrase “Fuck off, you cunt,” tends to get used in the hope they put me on a list of people who perhaps don’t altogether want to be cold called and might just hurl random verbal abuse at anyone who calls me.

If I forced my way into the home of the chairman of Pipex/TalkTalk five times in five weeks, I somehow think the sentence “Fuck off, you cunt,” might be very justifiably used by him to me. If someone forces their way into my home, uninvited, via my telephone line, I feel much the same applies. If you come into my home uninvited, you can’t complain I am being unreasonably impolite if I tell you to fuck off out of it again.

I find “Fuck off, you cunt,” is often an effective deterrent to unwanted calls and far less hassle than complaining to any alleged regulatory body. With luck, the company has some list of abusive potential customers. Pipex/TalkTalk seem not to understand the words – simple enough to understand, I would have thought.

Like I say, five calls in five weeks.

Clearly they think it is good PR to circumvent the UK restrictions on cold calling by phoning from foreign soil. And clearly they think it is good PR to keep calling an ex-customer who is not a current subscriber and who had zero interest in re-joining them even before these annoying phone calls.

They’re not alone, of course.

I had much the same trouble with BT. I eventually left them when they would not stop making marketing calls to me despite the fact I was on the Telephone Preference Service list to receive no calls.

“We can’t stop marketing calls,” I was told by two separate BT Helpline people. “It’s another department… No, I don’t know which department. It must be one of our marketing departments.”

A friend of mine tells me the tale of BT harassing her dying mother with marketing calls which could not be stopped. It added to the distress of her mother in the months before she died. This same friend has had  a worse time than me – she herself had hassle from BT marketing calls for months and now has had computer-generated calls from Barclaycard for six months (using an array of different originating numbers and still continuing) because their computer got her confused with someone else. The calls say – “Please call this number”.

Can she get the calls stopped by calling the number(s) given? No she can’t. Can she get the calls stopped by writing to Barclaycard? No she can’t.

I am currently with the very efficient Sky TV, though their lines are supplied by the appalling BT and occasionally drop in two of my rooms. But, unlike the utterly unspeakable Virgin Media lines, at least they work almost all the time.

Sky seem to be the only British telecoms company that has anything like a customer-friendly policy – or a broadband service that works – or any corporate ideology that values PR.

So Rupert Murdoch is OK with me.

But perhaps I am tempting fate…

(There was a later mention about this in my blog on 22nd May)

1 Comment

Filed under Ad industry, PR, Telecoms

Johnny Vegas and his woolly monkey worth more than an entire TV network

I once interviewed Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks on Doctor Who and he told me: “The most important thing is to own property.”

He meant intellectual property (IP).

He owned intellectual property rights on the Daleks (although he did not design them) and so was paid every time they appeared on TV, on print or in any commercial spin-offs. The BBC staff member who actually designed them got nothing.

Yesterday, I was at the British Library’s Business & IP Centre and was told that, when ITV Digital went broke in 2002 and sold off its assets, the most valuable assets they had were rights to the woolly monkey which had appeared with Johnny Vegas in a series of TV ads for their network of channels. The monkey and its ads had been far more popular than the network itself.

The remaining woolly monkey toys were auctioned off at £150 each, but rights to the woolly monkey character itself (it has a unique design which can be copyrighted) were bought for far more, which is why, since 2007, the knitted simian superstar has been happily plugging PG Tips tea with Johnny Vegas.

I had forgotten the full drama of their tear-jerking TV reunion, which can be seen on YouTube HERE.

Comments Off on Johnny Vegas and his woolly monkey worth more than an entire TV network

Filed under Ad industry, Comedy, Television