Advertising Whores

The late and great Bill Hicks once introduced a sketch with:

‘By the way, if anyone here is in marketing or advertising, kill yourself.’

A tad extreme perhaps, but I know what he means, and that was in 1993. If only Bill was around to skewer the greedy celebrities of today.

Most American and British actors have been reluctant to appear in widespread advertising campaigns, assuming that it cheapens their image and can be seen as selling out.  But Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jodie Foster, who generally avoid publicity in the United States, have been doing large-scale advertising campaigns in Japan and China. Leonardo DiCaprio and Meg Ryan have filed cease and desist letters against websites that mirrored their foreign advertisements in an attempt to preserve their image at home. Robert De Niro has advertised for American Express, Bob Dylan for the Co-op.

‘If you’re a young actor, I’ll look the other way.’

Bill Hicks

You expect the venal to advertise: Bruce Willis, Britney Spears, Beyonce, Beckham and so on, but when I see Helen Mirren, David Tennant and now David Bowie whoring their image for money they don’t need, my heart sinks. How was your Hamlet, David? I don’t care. What about your Prospero in the recent Tempest, Helen? Not interested. And David Bowie? He’s been making millions since the sixties. Does he need any more money? No, he doesn’t. Will he whore himself to Louis Vuitton for a few million more? Sure he will.

‘You do a commercial, folks, you’re off the artistic roll call for ever. You’re another corporate shill, you’re a whore at the capitalist gang bang, and if you do a commercial there’s a price on your head. Everything you say is suspect and everything that comes out of your mouth is now like a turd falling into my drink.’

Bill Hicks

Nothing these people do will ever mean anything to me again. As Bill Hicks observed: they have removed themselves from the artistic register. Here is a small sample of people whose names will never quite mean the same to me:

David (Virgin) Tennant

Helen (Wii) Mirren

Al (Sky) Pacino

George (Nespresso) Clooney

Derek (Sony) Jacobi

David (Apple) Mitchell

Uma (Schweppes) Thurman

Chris (Direct Line) Addison and Alexander (Anything) Armstrong

I owe a sort of apology to the celebrities mentioned because of the many thousands that have not been mentioned. The people here are just those that I remember or who particularly stuck in my mind when they appeared selling stuff for corporations. I don’t watch commercial TV very much so I suppose there are hundreds more that I have never seen. There seems to be a free for all now. Nobody cares. Let’s sell our souls.

Did Luis Figo stop to think that people might prefer to remember him as a fantastic footballer rather than pretending to use Just For Men? Did Jarvis Cocker really need to endorse Eurostar or Derek Jacobi pimp Sony?

‘You have no rationalisation for what you do, you are Satan’s little helpers.’

Bill Hicks

I’m not at all jealous. I don’t have any money. I have enough for today and next week and that’s all I’ve ever needed. I wouldn’t mind a bit more, but only a bit. Perhaps I’ll sell a book, I don’t know but I don’t mind either. I don’t understand greed at all. It doesn’t make any sense.

The strange thing is that few people care. We live in such a commercial nightmare that many people see this behaviour as normal. I’m not sure that many people can tell the difference between the ads and reality. It really isn’t normal. It’s very strange behaviour.

I tried to balance this with a list of celebrities who don’t advertise. Several Google search combinations just repeatedly came up with those who DO advertise, such is the way of the world, I suppose. Google finds it unthinkable that anybody WOULDN’T want to appear in an advert. How horrible.

But, nevertheless, there must be hundreds, thousands who do not and would not appear in adverts. Many actors just use their voices so it is hard to tell. I know that Ian Hislop refuses to advertise, but he is a famously moral man – he has to be, as the editor of Private Eye. I’m afraid the rest of my list are just guesses. I don’t think that Ian McKellan, Alan Rickman or Juliet Stevenson have ever appeared in ads, but I’m not sure. I don’t think Steven King has either, apart from his books of course, which is different. There must be loads of others and I salute each and every one of them. A toast to non-greedy, sane people everywhere.

‘Haven’t you got enough money, you ####### whore?’

Bill Hicks


Butch Cassidy versus the Accountants

I watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid recently. I first saw it in 1969 and it had a big effect on me, as did many films of that time. However, most of those films are deservedly forgotten or they were so of their time that they are now unwatchable or they were simply very bad. I was much easier to please in those days. Butch Cassidy is still as good now as it was then, perhaps in many ways, better. One would think that with the terrific technological advances made it would seem dated. That is not the case. It helps that it is a western; there are no outfits or hairstyles to go out-of-date. Films now date very quickly with phones and computers becoming obsolete practically overnight. But really, there is little about this film that shows it was made 45 years ago. It is timeless.


The only lack from a spectator’s point of view would be the lack of moving cameras. Perhaps some long shots could have been improved, but only very little. The 27 minute chase scene never gives a close up of the pursuers; in some of the long distance shots you can barely see them, so maybe a slightly closer view would help, but I don’t think it matters. The fact that the pursuers are barely visible makes the whole situation slightly more sinister; it adds mystery.


The three main leads are impossibly attractive and do not seem dated in the slightest. The whole film is full of humour; even the death scene at the end is humorous; you know it’s coming, Butch and Sundance know they are going to die, but they face the inevitable with the same attitude they faced their whole lives with. The film is a celebration of life. Butch is more intelligent than the average outlaw; he spends the whole film running away, not something the average cowboy did – they usually stood, fought and died. Butch and Sundance do their best to find more banks or trains to rob; their day is done but they keep trying. Ten seconds before they die they are planning a trip to Australia. Their pursuers are never really seen: they are the enemy; we identify totally with Butch and Sundance. The last scene was accurate: they faced about 200 soldiers as they made their last stand. All those people to kill two bandits.

I had forgotten how slowly the film starts. I cannot remember if I was bored at the time, but once the chase begins the film is gripping. The chemistry between Newman and Redford makes the film; brilliant lines that everyone remembers:

‘Who are those guys?’

‘Hell, the fall will probably kill you’

and many more. The film is a paean to friendship, friendship to the end. It is wonderful. Remember also that the film was made before a pubic hair had been seen on the screen or a swear word uttered.


George Roy Hill ‘shot’ the film with beautiful scenery and colour, perfect teamwork between the main actors and a great script. The late Paul Newman, speaking on the twenty fifth anniversary of the film in 1994, said:

‘In those days they shot films. Now they shoot schedules, budgets, someone’s bonus or a release date, but that film was shot. That may be why it worked. There was a lot of pressure at the end on George Roy Hill to hurry up the distribution because some southern distributor said he could get a million one out of Texas and Arizona. George lived in someone’s dressing room so that he wouldn’t waste 20 minutes driving to and from the set.’

Robert Redford said that George Roy Hill created space for behaviour and character. He had discipline and knew exactly what he wanted to do. Redford believed the critics missed the core of the movie: bonding and friendship. Actors worked on days off and didn’t let ego get in the way of the film. Redford said that it was

‘The most fun on any film I’ve had.’

I can’t hep but feel that this is analogous to our times, 45 years on. There are too many people managing who don’t know what they’re doing. They are taking an awful lot of money for telling people who do know what they’re doing what to do: in education, health and finance – they are everywhere, but especially in films. With the massive advances in technology, cameras can do anything and most directors overdo the scene switches and close ups. Until about ten years ago only one or two people could edit a film; it was a skilled job. Now anybody can do it and many talentless studio executives do edit films because they don’t like the ending or because, possessing a massive ego and little else, they think they know best. Writing appears to count for very little: we’ll just make up for it with special effects. Writers have rarely been given credit in film, now, in most cases, particularly in the US, they are obsolete or just provide conveyor belt stuff.


Forty five years ago executives tried to interfere with George Roy Hill’s vision for Butch Cassidy. They failed. With technology as it is and a perverse political correctness holding sway, the money men have taken over. Hollywood does still produce some good stuff but it is rare. I would rather watch a Latin American, Scandinavian or French film, costing pennies but showing a little intelligence, than most of what is churned out today.


And if you haven’t seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, watch it now. And if you have seen it, watch it again. As Paul Newman said:

‘The film was about the delight of the film maker. All the ingredients have to work. We had a terrific time.’



The New Maid – Free Reader Promotion

102-002She left Spain to escape from a domineering family. A new job in London gives her the opportunity to start again: the start of something fresh and exciting or has she just swapped one dysfunctional family for another? A self-obsessed mother, a quiet, flirty husband and a very forward thinking daughter – and a lot of time to herself.

What lies in store for her? How will she cope?

Will it be heaven or hell?

The New Maid: a story of change, new prospects and a kind of redemption.

“…a tale of a maid working for a stereotypical, high class, dysfunctional family. It empathises with the maid as she gets all caught up in the politics of the family. But there is only so much a maid can take…”

Available free through KDP from Decemeber 14th through to Decemebr 19th.

Download a copy now

“a short story which manages to capture so much.”


Amazon UK – The New Maid

Amazon US – The New Maid

I would really like to hear what you all think.

Reading in Bed

“Those of you who have seen my book, whatever you may think of its contents, will probably agree that it is a beautiful object.  And if the physical book, as we’ve come to call it, is to resist the challenge of the eBook, it has to look like something worth buying and worth keeping.”


From Julian Barnes’s acceptance speech at the 2011 Booker Ceremony, on winning with his novel, The Sense of an Ending.

A Guardian article states at length how the book buying public are now being seduced by a book’s appearance as well as its content, how more care is being taken in the production and appearance of books. Generally, I don’t believe this is true.


The Sense of an Ending is a physically beautiful object; a compact hardback with dust wrapper containing a nice but simple design, all put together with good quality material.  I think all books are beautiful in their own way, but that is another discussion.  Barnes’s book is a beautiful object, but how practical is it?  By that I mean how well does it do its job, perform its practical purpose of being read, and being read with ease, without unnecessary hindrances?  The answer to that is: not very well.


I read frequently in bed.  That may not be where the majority of reading hours are put in, but it is the place where my reading most often takes place – every night without fail.  Actual reading time can be as little as one minute before the object of reading falls onto my face to remind me that I’ve fallen asleep; it can also be hours or occasionally a whole book.  In bed is where one judges the practicality of a book.  I believe most of us must read while lying on our back, holding the book above our face; that way when sleep comes it’s possible to place the book on the floor or on the bedside table and quickly get to perfect slumber without unnecessary interruptions, such as changing position drastically or rearranging pillows, cushions and covers.  If, like me, you do read this way, then you should know what I mean about the practicality of reading a book as opposed to its beauty.


Julian Barnes is right.  His Booker winning novel is a beautiful object; I read it over a few nights, entirely from a prone, on my back, position.  And it is not a practical object.  For a very simple and infuriating reason: its inner margins are too narrow.  The book requires an uncomfortable and impractical two hands to be able to see the whole of the text; in other words, without forcing the book wide open with two hands the inner text on both pages will disappear into the fold of the book; one is constantly tilting the book this way and that to read the end of the sentences on the left-hand page and their beginning on the right hand page.  This is unusual with hardback books, but this is a small book.


Although this fault is most noticeable in bed – I suppose publishers will protest that books are not designed to be read in bed (if not, they should be) – it is almost as annoying when reading anywhere in any way.  If, like me, you love books as ‘physical’ objects then you will resent having to practically break their backs to read the central text.  Apart from the discomfort and the detraction of pleasure, you are damaging the book, shortening its life – the act of doing this, bending the two halves of a paperback hard against its spine makes me angry; apart from the inconvenience which has been added to what should be a pleasure (depending on the book), I resent having to treat a book this way.  It should never be necessary.


Why are so many books made this way?  And who is producing them? I can’t decide if this is just a quirk of printing or penny-pinching.  I was unable to decide if some publishers habitually printed unreadable books, if some never erred or if the whole business is a lottery.  I was going to put together an extensive list but found that margin width is completely random, there is no pattern to it; a publisher may release a book with wide margins followed by one with narrow margins: same price, no reason. It appears to be haphazard. Rather than try to catalogue the problem, here are just a few examples of what I have been reading lately.


Geoff Dyer’s Working the Room (Canongate) is impossible to read in bed without forcing the covers back with two hands (not a natural position).  Using the natural stance of holding the book between thumb and forefinger reveals the bottom half of the text, but the top half disappears into the centre, forcing one to use unnatural, uncomfortable pressure to be able to see the upper text.

A Little Aloud (Chatto & Windus) is not only a marvellous book, its proceeds going to charity, it has really wide central margins to make one-handed reading easy as well as silent or noisy reading in bed – in fact why not read aloud to a loved one in bed?


I had hoped that this would be a modern phenomenon, a sign of the philistinism and greed of the post-modern era, penny pinching publishers saving another £0.0001 per copy by depriving the reader (me!) of reading space and comfort.  It was not to be: A 1998 Penguin edition of Lucky Jim is very mean with its margins.  It requires two hands and needs forcing open at all times because also, without the book open flat there are always shadows to contend with, a hazard for all but those with 20:20 vision.


Another factor is ‘Give’.  Have you noticed how the better paperbacks allow themselves to be forced flat, you feel as though you are breaking them but you are not – the spine remains uncracked, the glue holds – they are a miracle of design and engineering. I present two examples: Alone in Berlin (Penguin) 2009, and Leviathan (Fourth Estate) 2009; beautifully put together books, but Alone in Berlin has narrow margins while Leviathan has wide margins; they are both priced at £9.99 – the problem has nothing to do with cost. I don’t think publishers even consider this. The Empty Space by Peter Brooke also has ample room on the inner margin.


The crazy thing is: Who needs outer margins? They are necessary for appearance’ sake but provide no practical purpose. Why not shorten the outer margin and give the difference to the inner margin? I hope I’m not the only person to notice this. Any thoughts?