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My involvement with the Guardian started when management changes at Redfern's made my life unduly complicated. Redfern's was a family business when I started there. I was advertising manager, responsible to the general sales manager, and working with the sales managers of half a dozen separate departments: footwear, covering both shoe manufacturers and the repair trade, household items, automotive, chemical and engineering trades, and advertising mats. Which gained me experience in a whole range of advertising activities from exhibitions, sales and technical literature, point-of-sale material and mail order.
(It was the exhibition work and occasional visits to the ad agency that got me down to London so often in those years). I also had charge of a small internal printing and mailing section, which explains the incidence of offset covers for Astroneer, Space-Times and other zines of the time.
However the day came when Tom Redfern started looking forward to his retirement, and brought in a firm of consultants to plan the future structure of the organisation. It finished up with Redfern's becoming the holding company, and each of the sales departments being boosted into a subsidiary company. This meant that the general sales manager became redundant, and took early retirement.
So, instead of having a referee to appeal to, in the event of a disagreement with one of the sales managers, now elevated to directors, I found I was at their beck and call, and spending most of my time dashing from one company meeting to the next, and trying to cope with conflicting priorities. So, I decided the time had come to move on.
The problem was that to get a job with the interest and variety of advertising activity I'd enjoyed, probably meant moving south. This I wasn't keen on: we were well settled in at Romiley and Philip was attending William Hulme Grammar. There was just a faint chance that a local manufacturing company might be looking for someone like me, otherwise the alternative was a job with one of the bigger advertising agencies still operating in Manchester in those days, which could be restricting and too specialised.
To sound out local prospects, I drafted out a small display ad, which I thought would stand out in the classified columns (the pages were crammed tight with small print in those far-off days) and sent it off to the Guardian, asking the cost. I promptly got a reply from the ad manager, Norman Roscoe, giving me the info, with a PS asking me to phone the secretary of William McMillan, the advertisement director. I did, and was asked to call in and see him.
Willie McMillan, (known to everyone as 'Mac'), had my letter on the desk in front of him. It seemed that Norman had been impressed by my handwriting, and shown the letter to Mac. Having read my intended ad, Mac decided I was just the man they needed to start up the promotion department the company had been planning. So it was all settled, just like that. Salary? Don't worry, you'll get more than you're getting at present.
I insisted on tackling a job just to show how I'd go about matters, and was passed over to a rep with a problem that wasn't really a problem, and everyone was suitably impressed with my solution. So it was all settled, just like that. Only snag was that there was no office space immediately available in the Guardian building at the time, so matters had to be left until suitable accommodation could be found. I left in a slight daze, and Mac's parting words were mock-regret that he'd not put the ad in the G first before interviewing me, so he'd have got the revenue!
All that happened in the autumn. I got occasional phone-calls from Mac, apologising for the delay in sorting out the matter of office space, but the weeks passed by, and I began to think it was all too good to be true, and would fizzle out...
I needn't have worried though. Just before Christmas I had a call inviting me to view some premises in the Royal Exchange, across the road from the Guardian building in Cross Street. And matters were clinched there and then.
I handed in my notice at Redferns to move into the new studio, and the new job, a couple of months later... just in time to attend a Dave Brubeck concert at the Free Trade Hall by way of appropriate celebration! And that's how I came to meet and work with Laurence and Charles Scott, Brian Redhead, Michael Frayn, Harold Evans, Mary Stott, Bill Webb and other press worthies, over the next thirty years. ■
letter to Fran & Brian Varley, 20 January, 1997
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