We turned up, drunk, to the Porsche showroom and demanded to test-drive the new Carrera Turbo. No doubt the salesman could smell the three glasses of Dom Pérignon, the two bottles of Meursault, the bottle of exquisite Gevrey-Chambertin and the refreshing ale or two on our breaths but he didn’t bat an eyelid. After all, we weren’t just there to buy a Porsche. We were there to buy two.
My colleague and creative partner had his eye on a red one. I preferred the white.
Fortunately, when it came to my turn, the salesman offered to drive the gleaming vehicle out onto the street for me, otherwise in my eagerness and inebriated excitement I might have taken it straight through the large plate glass sliding doors before they were actually opened.
The memories of advertising in the Eighties came flooding back as I sat through Martin Scorsese’s engaging The Wolf of Wall Street the other evening. Something about harmlessly driving a white Lamborghini whilst not entirely master of your own faculties struck a distant chord.
Admittedly, Scorsese’s tale of wanton excess kicks off where my own boom period ended; October 1987. But there is much about the tale — if you remove all the silly stuff such as blowing cocaine up a prostitute’s bottom (why would you want to do that?) — that resonated with Eighties London adland, albeit in a less cartoonish and exaggerated fashion.
As I hurtled down Fulham Broadway, determined to get the mysterious turbo function to ‘kick in’ as promised, I couldn’t resist taking a quick detour down the grimy back streets behind Earls Court station, whizzing straight past the miserable little bedsit that only three years earlier had been the overpriced, flea-infested student squat I had occupied since coming to London. Two fingers in the air (what else is a cabriolet for?), a quick blast of the horn, foot down on the pedal, a loud roar of the engine, then back up towards the showroom in Knightsbridge. Take that you bastards.
As Scorsese has reminded us in several films, fast cars, women and cocaine are de rigueur in any tale of capitalist excess. But more important is the rapid rags-to-riches ingredient, the idea that one moment you’re a penniless, snotty-nosed kid and the next you’re washing down the caviar with a well-chosen Chassagne-Montrachet. This was certainly true of my own experience, going from sweaty messenger boy scratching around the boardroom for leftover sandwiches at lunchtime to sweaty creative person swanning around the finest restaurants in Soho within the space of three short (and fun-packed) years.
For some reason, Leonardo DiCaprio keeps bringing reams of naked, cavorting women back into his office where they cause all sorts of mayhem. We never actually tried that back in the Eighties, but there were plenty of tantalising alternatives. The back streets of Soho are filled with dingy little strip joints; our favourite of which was Jack’s Club (just behind Saatchi and Saatchi), where large numbers of advertising’s most talented men and women would congregate after their various long lunches in order to sober themselves up over glasses of foaming ale before returning to their respective agencies. Part of the reason the ale was foaming was because one of the buxom young artistes who would take to the floor had a habit of, midway through her act, coming over and squeezing her conical breasts into the punter’s pint mugs. I have no idea why; perhaps they needed cooling down in that hot and claustrophobic cavern. I searched in vain throughout the three hours of The Wolf of Wall Street for anything quite as imaginative.
In my experience, cocaine was everywhere during the Eighties. And I mean literally everywhere. I sneezed so violently during my one and only ever attempt at this particularly unpleasant and ubiquitous slice of hedonism that the stuff blew all over the carpet, coffee table and my trousers. My mate (who went on to become one of the major figures in Australian advertising) was furious, and our friendship never quite recovered. Nor did my sinuses. I had the most painful hayfever I’ve ever experienced for at least a week afterwards and couldn’t stop sneezing for days.
Of course, as both Scorsese and DiCaprio know only too well, no tale of capitalist promiscuity is complete without the gratuitous trip to Italy. After all, Italy represents the finest traditions of epicureanism, culture and art all rolled into one.
The so-called wolf of Wall Street heads off to Italy with wads of hundred dollar bills taped onto the torso of a curvaceous young Slovenian model. In our case, we simply persuaded the film company who were filming our TV commercials that a) they could only be filmed in Italy and b) the PA should bring along an abundance of per diems. How she brought them, taped to her body or otherwise, was of little concern to us so long as she handed them over when and where required.
Martin and Leo go a little over the top with their story at this point, with a dramatic scene involving a large yacht and an improbable Mediterranean tsunami, but they are right about one thing. You haven’t upset the Italians until you’ve done it on the water. We chose a slightly more sedate, but equally self-indulgent scenario; being chased by an irate boatload of gun-wielding carabinieri down the Grand Canal in our freshly liberated gondola after one particularly enjoyable evening of sea-bass and an excess of Banfi Brunello di Montalcino.
All good things must come to an end. Jordan Belfort, the real-life character upon whom Scorsese’s morality tale and DiCaprio’s character is based, winds up in a place worse than hell as punishment for his life of greed and avarice. He ends up giving powerpoint presentations on ‘how to sell’ to eager young marketing students.
I can’t imagine anything worse.
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