White male columnist offers quirky poster-oriented fun

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The Independent Online
THE OTHER day I mentioned how puzzling it was for us country dwellers to come to London and find the phone boxes of the capital plastered with the calling cards of prostitutes. (Down in Wiltshire and Somerset you'd be hard pressed to go into a phone box and find anything, even a phone sometimes. The only personal ads I have ever seen stuck to the glass in rural phone boxes have been appeals to find missing pussy cats and offers to deliver logs.)

I also said I had never seen anyone in London putting up or taking down these naughty notices, which was true enough, but I have since been told by the cartoonist Mel Calman that he once found himself queuing outside a phone box while the man inside, far from making a phone call, was busy sticking up hundreds of these little ads for black models and tall women with corrective canes. Mel was so furious at having to wait during all this that when he got in he immediately tore them all down and stuffed them in his pocket.

('I should really have thrown them away there and then,' he said. 'I ought to warn you, in case you ever think of doing the same, that it causes trouble later if they are found on your person - especially as no explanation sounds particularly adequate.')

I have also received a letter from a reader who was once making a call in a London phone box, which was plastered with prostitutes' cards, when a woman broke in and started tearing down them down, shouting: 'Filth] Filth]'

But the oddest thing about these little notices is how terribly conventional they are. They all follow the same pattern. Name of girl (false), kind of service offered, smudgy picture and phone number. That's it. They remind me in their lack of adventurousness of other unchanging posters, such as those for films and football matches, which are, if anything, even less informative than prostitutes' cards.

I don't think football posters have changed at all in my lifetime. Some puritan football body must once have ordered that all you could put on a football poster was the name of your team, the name of the other team, the name of the ground and the time of kick-off. And, ever since then, that has been that, and all you could do to brighten up this dreary bald announcement was print the name of the other team as big as possible or change the colour of the ink.

The world is waiting for the man who will be brave enough to break the mould and start introducing information and entertainment into league football posters - news about the other side, for instance, relative league position, song sheets for the latest chant, suggestions for heckling, the latest scandalous rumours about the other side's manager, etc.

Film posters suffer from the opposite disease (and so do film credits): a plethora of useless information. No punter could possibly want to know any of the facts offered by film posters. When it says in small print: 'Musical score written by Orpheus Goldstein, arranged by Manny Sylvester and conducted by Boris Turandot', does anyone in his right mind say: 'Hey, guys] Boris Turandot's conducting the music for the latest serial killer movie] Let's check it out]' Well?

There are thousands of such facts on film posters. Screenplay by . . . From the book by . . . Lighting camerawork by . . . Nobody in his right mind would be attracted to a film by any of them. They're not there for the public, of course, they are there for the self-satisfaction and the curricula vitae of the people who worked on the film.

Which might be fair enough if they did put on the posters the information that the public does want to know: such as what kind of a film does it think it is, which film is it trying to cash in on the success of, how many writers and directors were fired and why, whether the three good jokes mentioned in the reviews are the only three good jokes in the movie, whether the famous actress making a guest appearance is on screen for 30 minutes or 30 seconds . . .

No such information has ever appeared on a movie poster.

You learn more about a film on television from Barry Norman's one-inch summary in the Radio Times than from the arid open spaces of a movie poster. All you get in the poster, apart from the small print, is a wishful colour picture and a snappy meaningless slogan such as: 'For the man who had everything - she was the perfect present]' or 'When passion turns to revenge . . .' Come to think of it, there is no very great difference between movie posters and prostitutes' cards. Except sheer size.