How an 'ology' brought me fame and riches


Twenty eight years ago, I sat in my office in the J Walter Thompson advertising agency in Berkeley Square and bashed out a script for a British Telecom commercial. It contained this scene:

Grandmother to disconsolate grandson telling her about his GSCE results: "An ology? He got an ology! You get an ology, you're a scientist!"

A few months later (and after a lot of fighting with market researchers and the client and the director and half the world it seemed ) those words, in the mouth of the brilliant Maureen Lipman, became part of the language.

And for me they became a calling card that I am still using nearly three decades later.

Truth to tell, I am using it right now. For I have just written my first novel and I know that the surest way to get some attention for it is to make sure that people know that I am the "ology" guy. Funny thing is that, at the time, or very soon after, I began to resent wearing the "ology" label.

I wanted people to know that was not all that I had done, nor all I could do. I got in a ridiculous prima-donna strop one day and demanded to be taken off the account. (Then, about three weeks later, I realised what a fool I was being and demanded to be put back on it.) I had done lots of other campaigns that had been fairly well thought of in the tiny bubble of the advertising world but nothing that remotely approached the success of the BT campaign in finding a way into the public consciousness.

It was, as the Americans say a "phenom" and I really have no idea why. Sometimes, in life, you just roll a succession of sixes and keep landing on Mayfair or Bond Street.

Yes, I was conceited enough at the time to think the campaign was pretty good but I had never realised what one big hit can do for you. It trebled my salary, got me job offers left, right and centre, and made me almost as revered by my relatives as if I'd been a brain surgeon.

My novel has nothing to do with BT, though it is partly set in the advertising world, and the main protagonist is not so very different from me though the story is entirely fictional. It is, as the cover notes say, a story of lost love and lost bearings. The story of a man looking back at his life who, not content with wondering what might have been, risks everything to find out.

But there is one connection with British Telecom and that is Maureen. She and I have been friends ever since and she was the first person to whom I sent the manuscript.

One thing Maureen is famous for, apart from her extraordinary gifts as actor and writer - of which I am genuinely in awe - is her heart-on-sleeve honesty. If someone wants a truthful quote about Israel or the state of Jewry in Britain today or just about any other subject, they ask Maureen. They know that she answers without fear or favour. So I knew if I asked Maureen she would tell me what she genuinely thought. It was her encouragement that drove me on.

These days, I am old enough to realise that I should certainly not be resentful that the "ology" campaign is all I'm known for. Far better to be known for one thing than for nothing.

And now I've written my novel, perhaps I will be known for two. Perhaps the words of the old commercial may be slightly altered:

"An ology? He's got an ology! You get an ology, you're a novelist!"

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive