A heartwarming story of entrepreneurial endeavour

Miles Kington
Monday 14 February 1994 00:02 GMT

MICK and Polly Morrish were a modern success story. Well, let's be honest: they were half a modern success story. That is, they had identified a gap in the market, had created a product to fill it and had tested the product with 100 per cent success. To that extent they were successful. They were unsuccessful in that they hadn't sold any so far.

What the product was doesn't really matter. It may well have been a holder for unwanted chutney jars, or a small machine to replicate the missing pieces in jigsaws. Again, it may well have been a rubber stamp which printed your signature, so that when you are writing the name of a shop on a cheque and the assistant says, 'Don't worry, we've got a stamp for that', then you can get out your stamp and say, 'Don't worry, I've got a stamp for that,' and stamp your signature on.

Actually, it wasn't any of these. What it was was a scanning device for the theatre. You know how when you go to the theatre and you splash out pounds 1.50 for a programme, there is never enough time before curtain-up to find any information about the production in it? Well, Mick and Polly had devised a cheap scanning device through which you could feed the programme and which would locate and beam up on a mini-screen all the available data about what you were about to see. (The additional advantage of this was that the screen was lit, so you could go on reading the programme after the lights had gone down. If the play was really boring, you could read a novel instead.)

A great product. Unfortunately, they hadn't sold any. They had found themselves opposed by the powerful cartel of theatre programme producers, to whom it is a matter of traditional pride not to include any information at all about the current production. They also had no idea how to market it, until one day a friend of theirs said: 'Mail shots.'

'How do you mean, mail shots?' said Mick and Polly.

'You buy a list of names and addresses,' said the friend, 'and then write to them all so convincingly that they buy your product.'

Gentle reader, you may not be aware that it is easy to buy lists of names and addresses of whatever kind you want. For a lot of money you can get the membership list of a top London club. For a little less you can get the House of Lords. You can get the subscription readership of one of those trendy men's magazines which may or may not be homosexual but certainly have nice photos. Moving on down to the bottom end, you can get a list of the creditors of a bankrupt MP, or of protestors against the Channel rail link . . . It all depends on how much you want to spend.

Mick and Polly didn't want to spend very much. They opted for the readership list of a well- known national broadsheet newspaper. It didn't seem to cost much. What had not been explained to them was that they had in fact only bought the list of all those people who had paid for a Valentine's message in that year's 14 February issue.

'Some funny names on this list,' said Mick. 'Lots of people called Tiggles and Mugwumps. Not many called Smith or Jones.'

'Well,' said Polly, 'names do become funny when you look at them closely. I mean, Portillo is an odd name, as everyone keeps saying, but it's not as odd as Hurd. Or Major-Ball.'

'Yes,' said Mick, 'but there's one here called Bunny-Wunny. I mean, that is a strange name.'

'Look, this is silly,' said Polly. 'Let's just get our mail shots ready and bang them off.'

And so they did, and so it came to pass that a lot of readers of a certain up-market newspaper received letters in the next few days addressed to Mr and Mrs Itsy- Bitsy, or to Hucklebuck and My Very Own Jam Tart, containing a mail shot for a theatre programme scanner. Now, nobody likes being addressed openly by names like this, so you will not be surprised to learn that Mick and Polly got very little response. They were very sarcastic about this when they next met the friend who had advised the mail shots.

'OK, OK,' said the friend, 'but you don't leave it there. You now have an operational post- mortem.'

'Operational post-mortem?' said Mick and Polly.

'Yes. You find out what went wrong.'

So Mick and Polly looked into what had gone wrong, and they found that what they had done wrong was to buy the paper's Valentine's Day mailing list. They couldn't fire anyone, as there were only two of them.

'What we have got hold of here,' said Mick, 'is a very elite mailing list. It is not right for our product. But if we could find the right product, we'd be quids in.'

'What sort of product?' said Polly.

'Blackmail,' said Mick.

This exciting modern story to be completed tomorrow. Don't miss it]

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