I have decided to start this new blog thread, alongside the standing up diary and the occasional random rants (and others that I aim to start soon).
I find blogging to be a useful self-discipline and even therapeutic. It helps me to write in between writing. In between a series of detective novels that I am trying to complete (or at least the first one), in between two new film scripts I am plotting, and in between everything else I want to write – especially ‘A Load of Barça’, which one day will be a sequel to ‘A Load of Bull (ALOB)’ (once I get the lawyers’ green light).
‘From Vogue House to Madrid’ aims to be a sort of prequel to ALOB. But instead of writing a new non-fiction book from beginning to end, it will help me to write it as a blog, in sporadic episodes and chapters, yet chronologically (I hope), as I slowly decipher all my diaries, memories and photos (and then who knows? – one day I might then collate it all for a book, or an e-book, if books or e-books still exist). The idea for it came a few years ago, when I was asked by someone who’d read ALOB how I’d come to work for Condé Nast in the first place, and that I should therefore write a fun book about working at Vogue House in London during the late 70s and the decade of the 80s – with the backdrop canvas (similar to los pijos and la movida in ALOB) being all the Sloanes, Yuppies, fun, greed, money, double-breasted Next suits, big hair, big shoulders, Blondie, Bowie, Boy George, Brideshead Revisited, Sex Pistols, Habitat, Sam Fox, Wall Street, the Docklands, red braces, or Mrs.T. The idea came and went, though, boxed and filed away in storage … until last week … when someone asked to interview me as part of her entry for this year’s Vogue Talent Contest.
Me? The Vogue Talent Contest? I didn’t know it still existed but apparently it does – and the deadline for her entry is in 10 days time. Applicants must be under the age of 25 by 1st January 2013 and complete the following three tasks: (1) Write about a personal experience that you consider appropriate for the pages of Vogue (800 words); (2) Write a short feature article – e.g. a cultural review, current affairs review, fashion trend or beauty trend (500 words); and (3) Write a short interview with a person who is not a member of your family (500 words). I, obviously, am about to form part of her answer to task 3 – in other words, I am clearly not ‘appropriate for the pages of Vogue’ (task 1) nor am I a ‘fashion trend’ or a ‘beauty trend’ (task 2). No, I am the ‘person who is not a member of her family’ and she is interviewing me via Skype in about an hour’s time. I have put on a clean T-shirt for the occasion.
Whilst flattered to be asked for the interview, it got me thinking about Vogue, about the Vogue Talent Contest, about Condé Nast Publications in London, about Vogue House, Hanover Square … and now I just can’t resist starting ‘From Vogue House to Madrid’. I’ve heard that is when you are able to write: when the thought of not writing something is worse than the thought of actually sitting down and doing it. So here goes. And let’s start with the Vogue Talent Contest itself.
With a first prize of £1,000 and paid work experience at Vogue, winners of the Vogue Talent Contest have apparently ‘gone on to become successful poets, playwrights, authors and members of Vogue staff.’ The ultimate talent success story was Liz Tilberis, who won it in 1967, joined Vogue as a fashion assistant in 1970, and took over as editor of British Vogue from Anna Wintour in 1987. She went on to become editor-in-chief at US Harper’s Bazaar before succumbing to cancer in 1999. She was a fantastic, talented, very kind lady (never aloof like many characters at Vogue House) – and I coincided with her in London from 1978 onwards …
So is that how I ended up working for Vogue and Condé Nast in the first place? By winning a Vogue Talent Contest? No. Of course not. I’d simply walked in and asked for a job. And I got a job (I learned years later) because I reminded the Personnel Manager (Angela Simons or Simmons) of her nephew. I started work on Monday 13th November 1978. I was 18. My starting salary was £2,500 a year – plus luncheon vouchers. I think I was wearing a pair of high-waistband ‘Brutus’ baggy beige cords. I also wore a beige jacket, cheap button-down white shirt and a tweedy, thin, beige tie. It was the only ‘smart’ Take 6-style outfit I had – all new, for my first day at work. I still had blumfluff on my top lip. It is nearly 35 years ago and I hadn’t read it again until just now … but here is an exact extract from my diary for that day:
‘Started at Vogue today. Chris [brother] gave me lift to station. 8.10. Chris Arkwright and Nigel Banks [friends from school] on train. I’m glad I’ve left college and I can’t imagine working in a bank. I felt nervous about Vogue though. Went into the Hanover coffee bar feeling important before 9.30 but spilt some coffee down my cords. They had a white stain on them for the rest of the day. It felt strange working among some people who seemed to change their clothes at lunchtime, and people shifting around in leopard skins and so on. The models – my God. But you can’t really tell the models from the secretaries. Any one could be one. Met everyone. Advertising Department. Make-up of the magazine. Very interesting. Very nice people. Great fun. Tiring. Richard Hill – boss of my department. At the moment I’m some dogsbody who comes up on the Great Northern Electrics via Stevenage & Welwyn. If I had my own home, and my own living [?], I could fill my house + body [?] with the things I help print. It’s a dream. At the moment. Checked through transparencies etc. Took a mag. Lunch pizza in Carnaby Street. Horrible. Used luncheon vouchers. Day went quickly. Nice day. Felt good. Home. Supper. Royal Variety Show. Queen mum. Worked a bit. English for tomorrow. Kathryn [girlfriend; name changed] round. Surprise. Nice though. Talked. And mum. Jane [sister] rang. Kathryn home. Worked. Watched box. Bed.’
OK, I agree … re-reading it now, it’s not exactly … well, riveting, is it? And what’s probably more bizarre (or sad?) is that I was already writing ‘page-a-day’ diaries and had been since I was 13. But it was my first day at work – and at Vogue magazine! It was the start of a big adventure. Or at least I hoped it was (to be continued) …