Chapter 5: Agencies and Argus
When my mother and I returned to Melbourne and Kenmare Street, I discovered that the welcoming mats from the city’s radio stations were conspicuous by their absence.
I realized that I had left the security of a permanent job at 3YB — even if it was a creative backwater, for the insecurity of the chance of a job in the big city.
After several weeks of enforced inactivity I abandoned the possibility of an “on air” job at one of Melbourne’s radio stations, and fluked the position of radio advertising script-writer at a Melbourne advertising agency in Little Bourke Street — Goldberg Advertising.
So for the moment Norman Banks, Terry Dear, Walter Pym, John Stuart and Eddie Balmer could sleep easy knowing that their jobs were not in jeopardy as a result of the arrival in town of the wonder boy from Warrnambool.
Goldbergs at that time (1948) didn’t have many Goldbergs there, but they did have a fairly strong contingent of people with names like Glick and Rosenberg. They were a good company to work for and I’m sure I learnt a lot about the advertising game whilst I was there.
I learnt a lot, but whether I was able to put my new-found knowledge into practice is doubtful.
I discovered that the work-force in advertising agencies seemed to be in a constant state of flux: people in circulation, resigning from one agency to join another, so when the opportunity arose for me to join Paton Advertising at the top end of Collins Street, I made the move.
The top executive at Paton Advertising then was an energetic little man who was as bald as a badger. His surname was Doe, but because of his lack of cranial adornment, he was known throughout the industry as “Curly Doe”.
The most memorable member of the staff, as far as I was concerned, was Arthur Lane. He was a wonderful lettering artist, and before the days of Letraset (a system of “rub-on” lettering, transferring the already printed letters on a plastic sheet) and computer-generated graphics, a good lettering artist was an essential member of any advertising agency.
But I don’t remember Arthur so much for his lettering ability as for his proclivity for practical jokes in and around the office. Because he was so indispensable as an artist, Curly Doe and the other executives suffered his jokes in silence.
For example, one day we returned from lunch to discover the entire upper floor of the premises festooned in cobwebs. Arthur had discovered that he could generate copious and realistic cobwebs by feeding “milliners solution” (an artists’ adhesive) through a spray gun.
On another occasion, on returning from lunch, we found most of the movable office furniture from the first floor offices displayed on the footpath in Collins Street, with large placards which read “Gigantic Furniture Sale Now On”.
And one other example of Arthur’s genius for practical jokes was at my expense. My Mum and I had decided to lash out with a new car. We purchased a new Austin A40, finished in a nice shade of shiny grey. I took delivery of the car one morning and parked it in the Paton Advertising space at the rear of the building.
When, at the close of work, I went to the parking lot to collect the shiny new vehicle and proudly drive it home, it was no longer shiny and grey. It was matt white. Arthur and his assistant had painted it all over with white poster paint.
Fortunately, it was a water-colour paint, and it was relatively easy to wash off, but I did suffer an initial shock when I first saw it.
After a little over a year in the strange world of advertising and the creative “prima donnas” who people it, my salvation came in the form of a phone call from “Uncle Sid” Kemp of Argus Broadcasting Services. An entirely new career was beckoning!
Before proceeding with a brief outline of the new horizons which were emerging because of a new offer from Uncle Sid Kemp, in 1949 and 1950 I had two jobs which are best forgotten. However to keep the record straight they should be mentioned.
The first was with A.C.A. (Anthony Craig Advertising).
This was a company run by two gentlemen who, although it would be unfair to describe them as “con men”, were probably first cousins to the species. Names? Noel Anthony and John Craig, hence Anthony Craig Advertising.
Their latest venture was the production of a number of recorded tracks consisting of 50 second humorous sketches promoting retail businesses — chemists, hardware stores, garages, clothing stores, etc.
The aim was to sell these tracks to country businesses who could not afford to produce their own dramatised radio commercials. Their local name would be added as a tag to the recorded track.
I was employed to travel the state selling these recorded “scatters”.
The only catch was no-one wanted to buy them. Country business people preferred a more personal and bucolic approach to their customers.
So I resigned from Anthony Craig Advertising.
Then I heard that the C.S.I.R.O. in Albert Street, East Melbourne were looking for part-time workers. I applied and was successful in being appointed.
The job consisted of sitting at a desk in a large and funereal type room, which was peopled by a number of men, most of whom bore an expression of hopeless resignation to the utterly boring task they were doing.
The atmosphere was like something out of a Dickins novel. No sunshine, either real or symbolic pervaded the gloom.
Briefly what we were all doing was filling in cards from a card index system (this was before the computer age).
The cards contained an inventory of everything living and dead at each C.S.I.R.O outpost. And every time something was lost, stolen or strayed from a far-flung arm of the organisation, the designated card had to be retrieved from a huge assemblage of filing cabinets and the salient details added or subtracted.
When the house cat at the Alice Springs branch gave birth to a brace of kittens, the card marked “Felines, Alice Springs” had to be appropriately modified.
I even found myself updating a card marked “Post Holes — Tenant Creek” because somebody there had dug an extra hole to extend a fence.
The majority of the personnel in this C.S.I.R.O. division looked and behaved as though they had worked there for many years, dutifully retrieving cards, scratching out a figure, writing another, and then dolefully shambling back to the appropriate filing cabinet and replacing the card.
Morning tea-break, taken in strict order of seniority, was a highlight of the day. One cup only (unless you were an executive!).
I lasted three days, by which time I had realized that the occupation of “Stores records clerk, probationary class, C.S.I.R.O. for the use of” was not for me, so having filled in the appropriate card, I submitted my resignation.