Am I The Only One Who Doesn’t Love ‘Mad Men’?


I understand why the chattering classes are excited about the new Mad Men season, but find it difficult to share their enthusiasm. The clothes, the cocktails, the smokes, the cynicism, the moral compromises, I get all that, but it’s slow-moving, rather obvious and, being telly, very soapy. It’s also designed to make you love their world, and therein lies the problem; I don’t. In its own way, Mad Magazine was more incisive because it was staffed by hard-headed ex-copywriters.

I think it’s because I’ve been there and it’s not pretty. I worked in advertising for seven years, as a copywriter for JWT, Saatchis, Masius and Ted Bates. In the seventies these agencies were all still trading on their sixties cool image, but were far from cool. I’d been raised on ad agency films like ‘Every Home Should Have One’ and ‘I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘Is Name’, and books like Jerry de la Femina’s ‘From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Pearl Harbour’, but now they were less attractive places to work.

I refused to work on British Associated Tobacco, but that was just the start of the questionable morality of agencies that asked me to persuade mothers to stop giving their children home-made food and buy them crisps instead. Then there were – and still are – the ‘weasels’, the cheat-phrases that hide ugly truths in advertising. I eventually felt so compromised that I quit the industry, and was glad I did. From the outside much of it looked revolting, and worse still, most of the best ideas were stolen from more creative, less well-paid people. (They do throw up the odd gem, though: see below).

Of course there are good people working in the field, but I still have trouble with an industry built on the surface charms of acquisition. Here’s a short passage from the upcoming (I hope) sequel to ‘Paperboy’, ‘Film Freak’…

‘Our creative department did not have ergonomic furniture, bean bags and a stripped-pine boardroom. It looked like a Welsh post office. The staff were sweet and drippy, and couldn’t have schemed their way out of a moistened paper bag. We had a tea lady who came around with an urn and a limited selection of Peak Frean biscuits, and an ex-army liftman with one arm.

In the afternoons, things were so quiet that we played Cowgum cricket, a game which required you to manufacture a ball from layers of rubbery clear paste and rolls of toilet paper. Some of us slept. Others went to an illegal afternoon drinking club run by a vicious old gin-bag who was always going on about how much she’d enjoyed the war because she liked a man’s man.

The work was low end and stultifying; trade ads for tyre companies, catalogues for sanitary engineers, a flyer for fishing bait (basically, an ad for worms), leaflets for insurance firms, charity ads. One day I was asked to write a recruitment brochure for a convent, and travelled to the end of the Northern Line for a meeting with a bunch of very sweet nuns. I asked the Mother Superior what she had in mind for the front cover. After thinking carefully for a while, she held up her hands to help me visualize the concept and told me ‘I thought we’d have a cross.’

15 comments on “Am I The Only One Who Doesn’t Love ‘Mad Men’?”

  1. wayne says:

    No you are not the only one who doesn’t love ‘Mad Men’ I think its another one of those poor shows that is a waste of time much like “Pan Am” which could have been so good if it wasn’t so soap like.

  2. Alan Morgan says:

    It appeals to people who have spent their lives in suits and offices since it allows them to share in an idea of being cool otherwise denied them. I say this unfairly and entirely based upon perhaps half an episode.

    I sort of defend soaps (without watching ’em) as they’re becoming the last reliable refuge for writers and actors on tele. Not that there’s a lot of creative freedom to be had. A friend of mine after thirty years on radio lasted less than one day on EastEnders after seriously proposing that viewers might enjoy a little joy amongst all the misery.

    Roll on Film Freak. I enjoyed Paperboy very much, even if it put Psychoville in a somewhat different light ;0)

  3. Red Wolf says:

    Not just you. I find it beautiful to look at, but dull and so divorced from reality as to be worthless.

    There was a similar article last week on Crikey, but it’s behind their paywall.

  4. Gillian says:

    No I just don’t get the hype at all. It’s indicative of so much these days, all style over very little substance but because they’re told it’s good people feel the need to gush about it. The people I know who love it are all obsessed with Jo Malone candles and Orla Kiely …I don’t get that either….

  5. James Cameron says:

    No, you’re not the only one. Found it boring and depressing and I just didn’t want to be part of its world. Gave up after three eps when I realised it was merely a directionless soap opera with soulless characters

  6. Dan Terrell says:

    You are not alone. I saw 3/4s of one show and switched to a book. I wondered what my Father would think of the show. He spent 25+ years in explotation, publicity and advertising, but when he retired in ’69, he said he was not happy with the way the profession was going: dishonesty, cut-throat business activities, and career and money goals being the sole reason people entered the field.

  7. John says:

    I know nothing about the show since I’m a terrible cheapskate when it comes to TV. I don’t pay for cable services and only watch FREE TV over here in the land of free TV. I do know I hate that it spawned that terrible hat wearing trend and every damn teenager, hipster, and wannabe was wearing idiotic plaid versions of hats that went out of fashion decades ago. Thank God, it’s over. Big irony: People used to take off their hats when indoors. There was an etiqutette to hat wearing. Not now. In attempting to be classy all these hipsters are uterrly classless. Hats never come off. Neither do sunglasses. Everyone’s a “chic” superspy. Oversized sunglasess, trench coats, hats. Ugh.

    And get out of my yard, you pesky kids!

  8. Dan Terrell says:

    Hey, it’s me again, but … Here is a swell real-life news story just out. We’ve talked about graphic novels and comic books, and super heros, so go to the Washington Post website and look for today’s story on Batman. We really have one. His Batmobile was stopped on Route 29 last week and everyone has been asking who is he. The story tells you. He at no cost to anyone, but himself, visits sick children in the hospitals around here in full Batman attire with a beaut of a black car. This is a kosher website, look for Batman or Route 29 Batman and feel better.

  9. J. Folgard says:

    Ditto -while I can see why the show’s so popular and obviously well done, I couldn’t bring me to follow it. As you pointed above, despite being so very ‘edgy’ on the surface, it feels like a very well produced soap where it’s hard to find one character you’d really want to follow.

  10. Gretta says:

    I think John and I may have been separated at birth.

    As for Mad Men, I would offer an opinion, but I’ve never seen it. My current televisual viewing of a week is four games of rugby league, Secret War*(which would be MUCH better without the ridiculous soundtrack and the over-emotive voice-over), Songs From The Inside(local show about musicians working with prisoners) and Grand Designs. That’s it. From seven free-to-air channels.

    *In the episode of Secret War on Hardy Amies, there was a historian called Will Fowler, any relation? You looked vaguely similar-ish.

  11. Sherry says:

    I have similar feelings to those you express about Mad Men and the advertising industry; however,it’s directed at the American medical system. Propiquity can breed some really nasty aversions.

  12. Sherry says:

    I have similar feelings to those you express about Mad Men and the advertising industry; however,it’s directed at the American medical system. Propiquity can breed some really nasty aversions.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    That whole cigarette, martini scene put me off at the time and I haven’t felt like rejoining it now. There was an article in our paper last week describing how terribly uncomfortable the women’s clothes are and someone noted that women above the typing pool level wore their hats in the office to mark that fact. My husband wears a hat, always has, a fedora style when it isn’t a flat cap and he knows the etiquette around hats. I must take note and see if he follows it. No, men don’t wear hats indoors, no further than the foyer or front hall.

  14. Steve says:

    Never seen it, nor do I have any desire to. My wife and I eat dinner around 11pm (we have a weird schedule) and watch DVD’s – usually British murder mysteries or series – currently something from the late 90’s called “The Vice”. A bit over the top with the gratuitous sex, but entertaining. We watch very little in the way of current programming. I wasn’t a big fan of the 60’s when I lived thru them – except for the music – and have no desire whatsoever to revisit them.

  15. Helen Martin says:

    Ken says he didn’t wear a hat at the relevant time so he doesn’t have to abide by the etiquette now. I think he’s just being egalitarian.

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