Little details that pay big dividends

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HERE IS a letter written recently to a bank manager.

Dear Sir: I acknowledge receipt of yours of the 7th inst, and note that you wish to reduce my borrowing requirements unilaterally to pounds 50,000 less than our prior agreement. I will therefore have no choice but to come round and punch you in the nose until your squawks can be heard at head office. It will probably be the first time head office has ever taken notice of you. Would Tuesday at 10am suit you?

Yours etc . . .

Now, what is wrong with that letter? Anyone? That's right] The etiquette is all wrong. It should not start Dear Sir - the writer presumably knows the bank man's name and therefore should use it - and it should certainly not end 'Yours etc'. And . . . but need I go on?

Here is another, written by the same hand, this time to an agony aunt.

Dear Bertha: Please, please, please, help me. You must. I am at my wits' end. I just don't know where to turn. You are my last hope. Please help me. Please]

Love . . .

Again, the etiquette is all wrong. The writer feels he knows 'Bertha' well enough to address her by her first name, although he plainly knows her only at a distance, from a daily paper. By the same token, he should not sign off with 'Love' until he knows her a lot better, or has had his problem satisfactorily cleared up - a problem which, you will notice, he has not yet even started to explain.

These two letters were written by a woman who came to my letter-writing classes in search of help. Within two months I had taught her that you must engage a correspondent's interest at once by addressing him or her correctly, and she had rewritten those two letters as follows.

Dear Mr Groobly: I notice your bank has made provision for bad debts this year of more than pounds 463m. I would like to arrange a bad debt with you of pounds 50,000. As this may be difficult to clear with head office, could you arrange for an 'overpayment' of pounds 50,000 to be made to me by a 'mistake' at your branch's cash machine? There will be something in it for you, too, of course. I await your reply eagerly.

Yours etc . . .

And to the agony aunt.

Dear Aunt Bertha: I need your help very badly, in strict confidence. I am a well-known film star who has recently got into trouble by becoming infatuated with my wife's daughter. Now my personal life is suffering. My favourite restaurant, for instance, has started giving me a less well-positioned table, and my films are going out later and later on television. I wonder if you could see your way to getting in touch, and indeed, giving me a date, as it would do me a lot of good to be seen out with an older woman?

Yours etc . . .

These letters showed distinct progress. They were gracefully written and nicely typed. They would have got instant replies. But I felt there was still room for improvement. She buckled down willingly to third versions, as follows.

Dear . . . . .: I need money very badly. I need it soon. I need a lot of it. Unless you can help me in this matter, I am afraid that certain information will have to be passed to the police. I think you know what I am talking about.

Yours . . .

And the other.

Dear . . . . .: I am in the most terrible trouble. My life is in a complete mess. I have emotional entanglements that even you could hardly believe. PLEASE please grant me a short meeting with you to let me talk over this network of passionate emotions with someone understanding and mature.

Yours . . .

These two worked like a dream. As you may have guessed, my pupil had hit upon the brilliant idea of sending the blackmailing request for money to Bertha, the agony aunt, and the plea for personal help to the bank manager.

The bank manager, after initially being taken aback, was so intrigued by the request for help over anything except money that he immediately granted her an audience, gave her some quite good avuncular advice and lent her pounds 20,000 more. Bertha, as you might expect, had some secrets she was anxious not to have aired in public and coughed up a few thousand old banknotes. My pupil, I may say, is now engaged to be married to her bank manager, so her financial future seems assured.