Ad land begins at 50

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The Independent Online
A middle-aged shopfitter on the dole in Cornwall is not a likely candidate for a job with Saatchis. But George Statford's talent shone out. By Paul McCann.

It is no exaggeration to say that for many people in the media the hardest thing they ever had to do was get their first job. Especially if they happen to be a 50-year-old unemployed French-polisher with not even an O-level.

But that is what George Statford was, and he pulled it off, making him a beacon of hope to all those whose rejection letters are a threat to the world's rain forests. More importantly he is also one of Saatchi & Saatchi newest copywriters.

Mr Statford, now 53, was made unemployed six years ago after a career as a French polisher and shopfitter. "Nobody wanted to know me because I was in my late forties and had no formal qualifications," Mr Statford says. "I applied for everything at first but eventually I dropped my sights and couldn't even get a job cleaning toilets."

After three years on the dole Mr Statford was ready to give up on life: "My mother had died, I had no money, no job and no self respect." But the thought of his mother seeing him down and out provoked him to action. He had written for pleasure since childhood and decided to get some qualifications. He started at a local college to do English A-level when he was spotted as a talent by a tutor. "She encouraged me to go into further education, which I had assumed was just for school leavers." Mr Statford decided on an advertising and copywriting diploma at Falmouth College of Arts. A lecturer there told him after he had applied that at his age he was wasting his time. The lecturer changed his mind when he saw Mr Statford's written work.

But the offer of a place was not enough. The government had scrapped maintenance grants for mature students and Mr Statford, who had to pawn belongings to get to his course interview, was stuck. " I tried getting sponsorship from local ad agencies but none of them could offer more than tea and sympathy. With only days to go before the deadline for accepting the place I went to look through lists of charities in the library. I came across the Royal British Legion and I realised that as an ex-serviceman they might be able to help."

It was not the most orthodox request the Legion had received but it agreed to fund him.

The whole time that he was at Falmouth Mr Statford had resigned himself to getting a job in a local advertising agency "working on Mr Bun the Baker accounts", because of his age. So when work experience placements were being handed out in his final year, Mr Statford decided to hold out for the biggest name he knew, Saatchi & Saatchi, so that he could at least taste the big time.

He won the three-week placement but was so broke that in his first week he had to sleep rough until the agency discovered what he was doing and gave him money for a bed and breakfast.

Mr Statford benefited from some fortunate timing. At Falmouth he and another student had entered work in the industry's student awards run by the Design and Art Direction committee. They had created a radio advert for the Czech beer Staropramen on the theme of pronouncing the name in order to be able to ask for it.

While at Saatchis Mr Statford discovered that his work had been nominated from out of thousands of entries and he was assured of a first, second or third place. (As part of his prize the ad is currently being aired on Capital Radio.) "I made sure that at Saatchis found out and the creative director, Martyn Walsh, took me to lunch."

Mr Statford started work for Saatchi & Saatchi's healthcare division in July and has been offered a permanent contract. The man who three years ago could see no reason for going on with life has also got married to a radio journalist he met after coming to London.

"I have to constantly pinch myself and think `How did I get here?' Winning awards and working for the biggest advertising agency in the world where people talk to me as if I am an equal - it's incredible." His ambitions is not exhausted. Mr Statford now has an literary agent and is looking for a publisher for a number of novels.