While I speak two other languages rather badly, I don’t know the
literature of other lands well enough to know if they share the English
delight in silly names. This perhaps reached its peak with Beachcomber
who dreamt up such splendid names as Mr Justice Cocklecarrot and Captain
Foulenough. The Americans are good at this too; the Marx brothers films
contain some pretty dippy cognomens.
The direct marketing industry has inadvertently often made contributions
in this area through silly mistakes made when transferring names and
addresses onto databases. One person has, in a small way, exploited this
by creating a little publication called Junk Mail Backlash. It is an odd
melange of the sort of jokes you see in Viz with laments that direct
mail is gobbling up all the trees on the planet (which it isn’t) as well
as a pleasing variation on the Henry Root Letters, which, you may
recall, was a book of stupid letters written to famous people with their
equally stupid replies.
The editor fittingly calls himself D S Perado and has written to various
firms under such names as Captain O Groinsyrup and Mr A Poodleshafter
and printed their solemn replies. To assist readers who are not au fait
with the rich panoply of English slang obscenities, this kindly
entrepreneur even provides a select glossary from which even I, who
spent many years at school trying to develop my facility in this area,
picked up a thing or two.
The letter I liked most was signed by Jan Smith when she was at Mazda.
I’ve never met Jan, but every now and then somehow she catches my eye in
the context of something I find either mildly entertaining or even
For instance, the other day I read that after being in her present job
as a strategic marketing director for about eight months, she has
initiated a strategic review. I can’t believe this. Such a review is
obviously the first thing to do on arriving, no matter how much deep
thought matters of high strategy require before being entered into.
The letter (complete with grammatical error in the fourth line) was in
response to an enquiry from a Mr A Pencilcock. It is far too short to be
persuasive, but contains this memorable sequence: ‘Whilst standing still
this car echoes the serenity of a perfectly honed [sic] sculpture.’ I
will give a prize to anyone who can convince me this absurd piece of
literary horse-shit could, even slightly, motivate anybody to buy a car
rather than say to themselves ‘What pretentious twaddle’. No wonder
Mazda sales slumped. (And I might add, by the way, that their ugly new
ads won’t be much help).
I have said this before, but it’s worth repeating. If your firm sends
out letters and by mischance your name is on them, do scan them, however
casually, to ensure that even if not brilliant, they are vaguely
competent. This is because, astonishingly, when people enquire about
your product they do so in the hope of being better informed, rather
than confused, insulted, condescended to, patronised or just plain
Drayton Bird runs the Drayton Bird Partnership