Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Oh, Joke, Joke, Joke

           A large square room in London,  tall steel framed windows at one end,  a desk at each corner.  
         Llewellyn Thomas, kewpie doll face, tight blond curls, wide eye’d innocence his usual look, the one he’d inherited from his father, Dylan Thomas.  That look meant he’d just thought of something wickedly funny. Llewellyn was in one corner. 

Dylan Thomas with Llewellyn on his left. Dylan's mother, Florence, wife Caitlin, daughter Aeron and other son Coln in front.

           Assia Wevill, green eyes, sexy in a dark, zoftig, smokey way, like she knew so much more than you, you would have no idea what was happening before it was over.  She was a poet, having an affair with (later Britain's poet laureate) Ted Hughes and pregnant with his child when Hughes wife, the great poet Sylvia Plath, killed herself.  The New Yorker would publish two of Assia's poems in the week after she killed herself, as Sylvia Plath had killed herself, with her head in her gas oven.
Assia in 1965

              Tom Rayfield, freshly down from Cambridge in another corner.  Tom was very bright and very shy.  It took some practice before you could separate his mumbles into words.
              And me fresh off the boat, in the back corner against the wall. They all assumed I knew nothing and they were right.
             I was in JWT’s London office because I’d done an ad at JWT NY for a bank that ran in The New Yorker.  The bank’s chairman was also the chairman of Y&R.  His wife read the ad and said, "you should hire this guy." So Y&R offered me, with two years experience, twice what I was making. JWT offered me a job in London for half my salary.  So I said yes and  Karen and I got married, took a 6 week honeymoon in Europe, and came back to New York to sail for London on The SS France.  
            The conversation in that room was faster, sharper, and wittier than anything I’d heard before.  Full of references I did not know.  They’d burst into laughter and I’d have no idea why.  It was a month before I spoke.
              "What? What" Tom Rayfield said.  "It spoke, it spoke.  What’d you say," he demanded.
              I repeated what I’d said.
              “Oh, Tom said.  “Joke. Joke.  Joke.”
               Twenty five years later, I was on my way to the airport in Portugal when I read the news that JWT had been sold and had lost the Ford account.  I was, by then, in the Hapsburg panoply of advertising titles, International VP and Creative Director on Europe's largest account, Ford.  Soon, obviously, to be unemployed.  And it was Tom who gave me a list of a dozen things I might do.  One of them was to become the Dick Francis of motor racing.  Which I did.   

No comments: