While we were strolling along Nairn beach last month, he casually mentioned that it's possible to play the game Call of Cthulhu as any character from the 1920s, before giving me a sideways look and adding 'even Lord Peter Wimsey'.
Sadly this intelligence hasn't* given me a taste for complicated rulebooks and unusually multi-faceted dice so much as for re-reading all of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries.
I've started with Murder Must Advertise, which is a splendid period novel in which people take the tram down Theobalds Road (where I used to work) and say things like 'it's going to rain like billy-oh in about two ticks'. It's also deeply entertaining for me personally, because in it Lord Peter, the aristocratic detective, goes undercover as a copywriter in a London advertising agency.
And that's my job too!
It was also Dorothy Sayers's job, which is why she was able to describe the daily life of an advertising copywriter in the early 1930s in such great and witty detail. I swear nothing has changed, except we now type into computers instead of passing handwritten bits of copy to typists, and we send text by email instead of by messenger boy.
Otherwise, it's exactly the same. Take a deep breath and read this:
Mr Bredon had been a week with Pym's Publicity, and had learnt a number of things. He learned that the word 'pure' was dangerous, because, if lightly used, it laid the client open to prosecution by the Government inspectors, whereas the words 'highest quality', 'finest ingredients' and 'packed under the best conditions' had no legal meaning, and were therefore safe; that the expression 'giving work to umpteen thousand British employees in our model works at so-and-so' was not by any means the same thing as 'British made throughout'; that the Morning Star would not accept any advertisement containing the word 'cure', though there was no objection to such expressions as 'relieve' or 'ameliorate'; that the most convincing copy was always written with the tongue firmly in the cheek, a genuine conviction of the commodity's worth producing - for some reason - poverty and flatness of style; that if, by the most farfetched stretch of ingenuity, an indecent meaning could be read into a headline, that was the meaning that the Great British Public would infallibly read into it; that the great aim of the studio artist was to crowd the copy out of the advertisement and that, conversely, the copywriter was a designing villain whose ambition was to cram the space with verbiage and leave no room for the sketch; that the layout man, a meek ass between two burdens, spent a miserable life trying to reconcile these two parties, and further, that all departments alike were united in hatred of the client, who persisted in spoiling good layouts by cluttering them up with coupons, free-gift offers, lists of local agents and realistic portraits of hideous and uninteresting cartons, to the detriment of his own interests and the annoyance of everyone concerned.
Having just spent the day writing and re-writing a
Sayers wasn't long out of her copywriting job when Murder Must Advertise was published. I like to think of her using it to exorcise years of frustration with difficult clients and meaningless marketing drivel. And I can actually feel her glee at writing the massive 275-word sentence above as revenge for all those snappy five-word slogans she had to write in her job.
Aww, Dorothy Sayers was great.