Back in the 1960s, my education was advanced significantly by
meeting a number of US mail-order operators, some none too scrupulous.
They realised that there were fortunes to be made in Europe, although
few succeeded because there were quite a few ingenious rogues here
The leading US mail-order speciality operator went into partnership with
a clever Belgian, who outwitted him at every turn. One day, he came to
visit the Belgian in his rather neat little penthouse with the modest
address ’The Sun Tower, Monte Carlo’. His host showed him the view over
the harbour and asked whether he liked it. ’I should do,’ replied the
American, ’I paid for it.’
Some of the US scams were hilarious. Slumberslim, for example, would
lose you pounds of ugly flab ’through the miracle of
When I asked the genius responsible what that was, he replied:
’Sweating, kid. Sweating.’
It was, and still is, legal because you could make outrageous claims in
a book and get away with it - as they are only the author’s
The guarantee was brilliant, too. If you weren’t happy, you simply tore
the cover off the book, sent it back and got your money back (or rather,
My favourite scamp was Monroe, a superb copywriter who just couldn’t
bring himself to tell the truth if it was more fun to tell a lie. One ad
he ran was for fast-growing trees. He showed a man standing in front of
a conifer about ten times higher than him. The headline was ’Just plant
- and stand back!’. Monroe made loads of money, but never kept it. It
all went to his lawyer to keep him out of jail.
I wonder how much we’ll end up paying for this government’s
I only ask because of something I commented on last year: the right of
politicians quite legally to tell whoppers in election advertising. I
quoted lies about hospital waiting lists and school class sizes. If this
government had to withstand the scrutiny that poor old Monroe was
subjected to, they’d all be in jail double quick.
I saw recently that the minister for consumer affairs, Mr Griffiths,
wants to stop holiday companies quoting misleading prices.
But how does it compare with finding out that my children are being
badly taught, or my old Gran will pop her clogs before she reaches
When will Mr Griffiths stroll boldly in to Number 10 to nick Mr
What disgusts me is the hypocrisy. Look at all the flannel they unloaded
about encouraging saving. The reality is Mr Robinson’s new ISA
As we know, he has salted away mountains of money offshore. Legal or
not, how many people feel that if he was poor, he’d never get away with
Putting him in charge of how our money is invested is like appointing
the head of the Medellin cartel as drug czar.
I suspect that what this country really needs is an opposition
Drayton Bird runs the Drayton Bird Partnership.