In an intimate but packed venue in Crouch End last night, erstwhile Crouch Ender, comedian, Mad Woman (and I’m alluding here to the TV series Mad Men about the mad, bad world of advertising and not her sanity!) and now author, Joan Ellis, gave a funny and fascinating talk.
Organised as part of the Crouch End Festival – which officially kicks off tomorrow with 10 days of community, arts, music, cabaret and spoken word events – I had no idea when I first spoke to Joan to arrange the talk that she had lived on the same road as me, with a short overlap as she moved to the Isle of Wight soon after I got there. And in a further coincidence, one of her advertising colleagues had been Chris Arnold – now one of the Directors of the Crouch End Festival. It certainly is a small world!
With much wit and humour, Joan gave an insight into what it was like working as an advertising copywriter in the 1980s – where should pads (and egos) were huge and the pitch HAD to be won! During her talk she switched seamlessly between her real experiences and the fictionalised version contained in her book “I Am Ella Buy Me”. Ella is a girl trying to survive in the macho world that was advertising in the decade where greed was good and money triumphed morals. Ella is in turns charming, tenacious, fragile and often a pain in the arse – with touches of Peggy from Mad Men and Bridget Jones. As someone who started work in the 1980s in the then male-dominated field of law and who spent much of the early 90s in various drinking establishments in Soho – observing the great and the good (and the bad and the ugly) of the world of “medja” passing through – I find Ella very relatable. Joan admits that though the sexism is now ostensibly gone, ageism remains an issue and it’s still a very tough environment.
Working in advertising did have its fun moments though, and Joan shared anecdotes of meeting many stars such as Felicity Kendal and Paula Yates, some before they became famous names such as Jennifer Saunders, Neil Morrissey and an 18 year old Noel Fielding who even then had star quality! And there was the cautionary tale of a missing moggy that made a studio go bankrupt (time is money when shooting an advert and if the cat that has the starring role goes missing for four hours it’s not good).
Both Joan’s and Ella’s adventures in adland have, in my opinion, all the makings of a fine sitcom or film treatment. I’ve love to see them realised on screen. Until that happens, I’ll just have to make do with re-reading the book which Joan very kindly signed for me.
Thank you to the ArtHouse cinema for providing the venue. The mezzanine level decorated with film paraphernalia and paintings of classic movie scenes provides a great little space for such events and there’s a good array of drinks and snacks in the bar below.
I’d also like to thank Joan for coming back to Crouch End for the Festival. And she’ll be appearing at another Crouch End Festival event next week to talk about how a chance meeting on a train with a murderer inspired her to change genres and write a psychological thriller – “The Killing of Mummy’s Boy“. It makes for a chilling read! So if you missed Joan yesterday, do come along to Clocktower Desert Island Books on Tuesday 9 June at 7.30pm (for an 8pm start) at Harris+Hoole in Crouch End Broadway.