Where have all the great characters in our business gone?
The writers who threw typewriters out of the window?
The creative teams that swanned around driving matching imported red Ford Mustangs?
Where are the people who smoked joints on the fire escapes? The ones who were caught bonking in the car park at lunchtimes? And the ones that went to lunch on Tuesday and returned on Friday morning?
Where are the eccentrics? The nuts? The unstable? The actual ‘unemployable in any other industry’?
We’ve lost them and in the process we have become bland and dreary. We have become normal human beings: dull and colourless.
As an example, there is no one left in advertising like Barry.
Barry was a little guy. Not very tall and sort of roundish. Not fat though, Baz mostly looked pregnant. And he walked with a funny stoop to the left; like one side of his body was tighter than the other or he was permanently carrying a heavy weight in his left hand. This gave the impression that if he didn’t concentrate really hard he’d spend most of his time walking around in circles.
And Baz had a chronic stutter. Not that this made him funny. It just added to the theatre. Like the time I heard him trying to cancel a cheque over the phone
Oh t-t-t-t-t-the number, well it’s one-one-one one, two-two-two no, no only one, one. No one. Two-two-t-t-t-two. I’ll st-t-t-t-t-t-tart again. One-one-one .. Oh, f-f-f-fuck it I’ll f-f-f-f-fax you What-t-t-t-t’s the n-n-n-n-n-n-number? One-one-one .
Actually Baz seemed to spend most of his life holding himself together. He seemed to make pacts with himself to get somewhere, and then he fell apart. For example just after he joined, Leo Burnett he took an extended trip to Europe where he hired a car to drive from Munich to Paris.
How did you go Baz?
I-I-I-I-I g-g-g-got sick.
H-h-h-h-h-half way d-d-d-d-down the f-f-f-f-f-f-f–k’n Autobahn. I h-h-h-h-had to s-t-t-t-t-stop and pick up a hitch-h-h-h-h-hiker.
What did you say?
You d-d-d-d-d-drive, I’ve g-g-g-gone b-b-b-b-blind.
But Baz always got sick when he went away. He always fell ill. He was a keen skin diver and much to our surprise we learned he was a world expert on sea slugs. Barry never failed to amaze.
How was your dive trip to Guadalcanal?
T-t-t-t-t-there we’re seven y-y-y-y-y-young ladies and me on a boat f-f-f-f-for s-s-s-s-six days.
Really, what happened?
I-I-I-I-I got sick.
And Baz never failed to amaze. Like the day he lost his stutter after 7 bottles of wine during lunch with another Burnetter.
Would you like to hear my scripts dear boy? Not a single stu-t-t-t-t-ter
What followed was 7 Bazza the Bunyip radio spots. Not a single stumble. By comparison his lunch mates could hardly scratch themselves.
Not that Barry had a drinking problem. He drank a lot – large quantities of Scotch which he brought to work in a green Décor flask. During the morning’s work a lunch girl with a basket would call at reception. Out Bazza would tack like a listing galleon. He’d return with a can of Diet Coke which he would sip and top up with the spirit from the Décor flask. Sip, top up. Sip, top up. Sip and top up all day. Until at 5pm the Décor was empty and the Coke was full, colourless and savoured by Baz to the last drop.
He used to like keeping us guessing, Like the day he wore a ‘Kill them all, let God sort it out’ tee shirt to the office. He subscribed to Soldier of Fortune magazine and would often leave it on his desk, open to pages of mail order commando knives and garotte watches. It was his way of unnerving anyone in power.
He backed this up one day with a story of his attempt to kill his Creative Director in Singapore. He worked in an agency there which had an ammunition account. There were lots of samples in the store left over from photographic shoots. One Christmas, with little to do, he and another hatched a plot to dispatch the Creative Director with an office made cannon. By removing the projectile part of the bullet they could access the explosive powder within. Once they had collected enough, they made a cannon from stout cardboard tubes. A tennis ball, from the same props cupboard fitted the bore perfectly. Once primed with black powder they were set for a trial. Aiming loosely at the wall of the office they lit the fuse and ran. The resulting explosion blew the ball through the dividing wall making a neat hole in the plasterboard wall.
To retrieve the ball, Baz wandered towards the tenancy next door.
To his surprise all of the female staff were standing on their desks, skirts raised believing a ballistic rat had flown through the office.
C-c-c-c-c-c-can we have our b-b-b-b-b-ball back, please?
Or the day he announced he got out of jury duty by wearing a clown costume to the court and when questioned “Do you normally wear these clothes sir?”.
Baz replied, N-n-n-n-no this is j-j-j-j-j-j-just what I w-w-w-w-woke up in this morning!
He was dismissed. And returned to work in normal clothes.
Barry liked to keep us guessing.
Barry never looked you in the eye while he was speaking. It was either too painful, or he could not concentrate with eye contact. So he would peer at you as though he was looking under some unseen branch a sort of down and up glance. His gaze would be fixed on the floor and, not until the end of the sentence, would he finally make eye contact.
This was always followed by a broad ‘rainman’ grin that did come straight from his heart.
It was a big heart, but unfortunately, not a strong one.
Bazz passed away quietly as he recovered from surgery. He was alone at the time, but possibly Bazza was happy about that. He seemed to be comfortable with his own company. He didn’t need people. He was a hermit who enjoyed the company of others.
Upon resigning, his last words to me, as he handed me his green Décor flask, were
Here d-d-d-d-ear boy, you’ll need this more than I do. You’re the o-o-o-o-only one I’d-d-d-d work with from here again.
And so I can’t help thinking of him when I enjoy the occasional whiskey.
Rest in peace Bazza.
The world is less colourful without you.