Idiots and insults, ad nauseam Maurice isn't the only one to have had a bad time at Saatchi's, writes Lynne Wa llis

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
The difficulties at The World's Favourite Advertising Agency fail to induce any sympathy in me. I worked there in the mid-Eighties, as a secretary, then an account executive and finally in the media department, buying television and radio airtime and press space. It was the most miserable period of my working life.

Then, Saatchi's was at its peak, winning awards and prestigious accounts with the utmost ease and taking its pick from the recruitment pools of young red-braced Thatcherites queuing up to make a career in advertising. The champagne flowed, "bonking" was in, parties abounded, and to say you worked for Saatchi's in marketing circles was really something. But Saatchi's wanted aggressive, thrusting go-getters; "Lulus" with damp handshakes or limp wrists were out.

So was being black. In 1984, I met just two black employees. One worked in the basement in the photocopying room, where I saw him treated with contempt. The other was a secretary. During a working lunch, a senior executive remarked, "It was a tough job, like trying to get a nigger off your mother". He realised his gaffe, paused for a second, then continued. The secretary was more embarrassed than the executive.

The media department appointed a black woman in 1987. She lasted half a day. Someone left a banana on her desk. Others made monkey noises when she passed the desks of these morons, whose other pastimes included looking into the bedroom of the nurses' residence opposite and shouting, "Quick, this one's got her hand down her knickers". A colleague and I took calendars of bare-breasted women down as quickly as they were put up. As a result, I was labelled a dyke, a killjoy.

Some women were labelled "slappers" and "star-fuckers" for sleeping their way to the top. Women in the more down-to-earth media department who appeared to have sex lives were called "right slags" or "bikes". One pretty account handler tolerated the most appalling sexual harassment from a client. She was often in tears and dreaded lunches with this man, who would get drunk and ask her when she lost her virginity. Another senior executive, not wanting to rock the boat, said she was making a fuss over nothing. But this same man once told us us how a "young bird" had fallen asleep opposite him on the train that morning, and revealed how he'd been tempted to "just pop the chap into her mouth". Everyone laughed, even the women. It was tragic.

My final year, 1987, was spent in media buying/planning. I thought it might be different. I was wrong. It was the "below stairs" bit, where the barrow-boy mentality flourished. I felt as if I had been thrown to the wolves. Media buying staff were under tremendous pressure to buy the cheapest press space and airtime, and workloads were impossibly heavy. It was not unusual for juniors to work until 11pm and every weekend. If anyone bought airtime at a price deemed too high, they were bawled out in weekly early morning meetings. Muffled sobs could be heard from the women's loos, and men who weren't macho were ridiculed.

I'd already decided that selling vehicle recovery schemes and government training programmes wasn't adequate motivation to get me up in the mornings, when we won the Amnesty International account and I was put to work on it. Soon I was ridiculed as the agency do-gooder. They should put a red rug by my desk and all the down and outs would come for their free hand-outs, they jested. The account was low status (not a big money-spinner) but I loved working on it and, in early 1988, went to work for Amnesty's PR and fund-raising department.

When I went back to the Saatchi local to visit one or two friends, the whole room would start jangling its pockets. The charity worker had returned. They were pathetic.

It all seems an age away now, but I'll always remember the Monday morning terror of going to work at Saatchi's, the stress, the sleepless nights. Maurice Saatchi was referred to last week by his rivals as "running around like a drunken sailor" buying ev e rything he could. Sounds like the way the whole media department used to behave, in my day.