My stint in London…

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When I reached London… Sundru who was my friend for many years and a few years older than me, was supposed to meet me at the station. Lalu got down at Naples while I went to Rome and then got the train to Galle and a ferry to Dover (that time there was no chunnel). Having 10 pounds in my pocket and not a clue as to where to go, I stood at the station and Sundru came in half-an-hour late, while I shivered in the cold at 1 o’clock in the morning. Eventually,  he arrived and we got in the taxi. The first thing he told me was, ‘Everyone in England has to look after themselves, you have to learn to support yourself as quickly as possible.’ I was shocked to hear his words since he had been the one asking me to come to London. The very next day from Goldhawk Road, I took an underground to Holborn to the Bensons office. The office was located in a massive structure of six floors with maybe 2000 people working there. When I landed at the reception, they had to look up the name of Robert Hardcastle and sent me to his room. His room was smaller than probably a secretary’s room – and I don’t know who was more embarrassed, him or me. There was a table and two chairs kept on the side since there was no place opposite him where I sat down.  Mr. Hardcastle opened the directory and tried to look for the personnel department. He told me there were no jobs available then but he would try and get me in – and he rang the personnel department. I knew it was no use and that there were no jobs available. Wally Olins had warned me in India about this but being reckless as I was, I didn’t pay any attention to him. As I went down dejected, I picked up the London Evening Standard and looked in the Jobs available column. There I saw an ad for an advertising agency looking for a voucher clerk – a voucher clerk is what I started off in Bombay – it was the lowest job. All I had to do is cut out advertisements and attach them to the billing copy which was then sent to the client.

I reached the office which was a three-floor brick building. I went on the first floor to the reception. Pilomenna, the receptionist, told me in her Mayfair accent that I was late and Mr. Butterfield might not be able to meet me. I told her it took me time to find the place as I was new in London.

This was my second day over there. However while going down the stairs, I met Biddy who was Mr. Jeff Butterfield’s secretary. She took me up to meet him.  Mr. Butterfield then took me up another floor to meet Mr. Monty Alexander who was the other director of the company. Within the next 5 minutes, I had a job that paid me 30 pounds which was a princely amount of those days. But I had gone back to where I started from and was back to being a voucher clerk. This was however the beginning of great days.

I intentionally told Sundru that I was getting only 15 pounds and kept the remaining money aside. Little did I know that by this time Sundru had become a lush – he would rather spend time in the pub than go out to meet people or even go for a movie. This made life very difficult for me. So when I went back to the office the next day, I called Lalu, who was in Rome by this time and asked him if he could come to London because I would like to move out from Sundrus’ home at Shepherds Bush. At that time, Shepherds Bush was probably the worst area in London – without being prejudiced,  the building was full of blacks and there were fights that took place on the higher floors, we were on the ground floor and beer bottles would come crashing down right outside our window. Lallu told me that he would leave Rome immediately and be in London within the next two days. I had saved the money for the rent of the house for the next two weeks. So I said goodbye to Sundru and went off to meet Lallu at the station. At first I took a place at Holloway which was the cheapest as it was near a women’s prison. We had a room up on the third floor, quite spacious with a built-in kitchenette. Before Lallu landed in London, I had made calls on his behalf and got him an interview at Burberrys where all he had to do was measure cloth and sell it by the yard to customers. His office was very close to mine. We used to go from Halloway to Regent Street every day by bus, while he went to Burberrys. I went to Alexander Butterfield and we used to meet again in the evenings. This is when my good days started. I was appreciated for my work and quickly got promoted to Media and Space Buyer. Although all the other people in the office were English, they were very very nice to me. By now I had moved to the third floor and my room was right opposite Monty’s room. Monty had an assistant called Bruno Pozzy. He wore sharp-cut Italian clothes and had a fancy car with a continental accent and was one of the executives who handled our major accounts.

One day when I was in my room, I heard a little noise outside. I went out – there was Mrs. Longsdale who had the franchise for Capital Records. There was a scheme where you bought 12 records but paid only for one but had to buy another one for the full price every month for the next 12 months. I had already made the media plan but had not yet given it to Monty because Mrs. Longsdale was supposed to come the next day. When I went out Mrs. Longsdale was yelling at Bruno that the meeting should have taken place as it was supposed to be today. Bruno was very nervous and told her the meeting was scheduled for the next day. However, Mrs. Longsdale kept on screaming so I interfered and said, “Excuse me, Ma’am, if you want the media schedule, I have it ready. She gave me a grumpy look and told me to show it to her. She looked at all the newspapers I had selected. I did – both the space and time buying. She asked me why I took the Mirror and Sun in the schedule as these were cheap papers that only rednecks follow. I said, ‘Excuse me, Ma’am but the records that you sell and I am not talking about the classical ones but singers like the Beatles, Elvis Presley and others will appeal to workers rather than the others. Classical records could appear in the Times and Guardian but the other records would sell better if the Mirror, Sun, and News of the world were used’. She was very upset and walked out.

However, I was not worried because I knew how fond Monty was of me and that my job was safe. The surprise came the next day because when Mrs. Longsdale came back she said, “I want that Indian Boy, whatever his name is to handle my account. So from being a Space and Time buyer, I suddenly became an executive. I was also giving my IPA exams, which is the Institute of Practitioner in advertising while I was working,  so I used to go for evening classes. From 9 to 9 I was busy every day with Saturday and Sunday off. I did not do any cooking. Lallu and I just used to buy potatoes, mash them up, and we had them with tamarind chutney for dinner.

Lunch was usually at one of the burger joints and that’s how nearly two years passed. I passed the IPA and came back to India. Hardly had I landed, the next day we went to Crawford market to have a gola (this is crushed ice with syrup poured over it. From there I made a call to Wally Olins who told me to please come to the office immediately. I told him, I am not wearing a tie and a jacket. It was ‘de rigueur’ in those days to wear that to the office. He told me to come immediately so I went across to Bensons and there he dumped a whole lot of files on me. Bal Mundkar had gone off to start his own agency Ulka. Ahmed Ibrahim had gone to London for treatment of health problems. George Figauro had gone off to Australia so there was a shortage of executives in Bensons. He handed me plump accounts which included British Airways whose advertising officer was Gordon Maxwell and he was terribly unhappy with life as he wanted to be the head of the company. However, I got along very well with him, especially since I took his son swimming a couple of times. He was difficult to handle but I had no problems with him. Those were the days when I treated British Airways as my personal carrier. Very often, I spent weekends in London. I would leave on a Friday and come back on Sunday. And when I could manage more leave, I would leave on Friday and then from London, I would go to Rome or Paris or Amsterdam. Each time I had to come back to London as I could not fly directly from Rome or Amsterdam as British Airways routes did not allow this for free passengers. However, I had my aunt who lived in Ealing so I used to leave my clothes with her which she laundered while I went on my next trip. She complained to the people in India that she only saw me for a few hours. They told her, you are lucky as we don’t see him at all. And that is how I saw most of Europe except for Rio De Janeiro which I missed because one of my friends from British Airways wanted to go to Madrid and asked me to get off the plane, However, I went there for just two days. I got an urgent message to be back in Bombay as there was a shortage of Executives.

To be continued……watch out for this space