Friday, 28 August 2009

Shamed by your English?

Or, "Does your English let you down?". These are alternative headlines to the longest-running ad in newspaper history. It was placed in national newspapers, often on the front page, in 1963, and has been appearing regularly ever since. The text claims that the answer to the problem posed is to take a correspondence course in speaking and writing from a company based in Cheshire.

It was, and still is, hugely successful: the course has been taken by 400,000 people. The original ad was based on one written—rather well, it has to be said—by an American copywriter and has remained virtually unchanged; the publishers tried different versions, but none proved as effective as this one. It is, quite properly, headed Advertisement, but clearly many readers take it as editorial because it reads like a newspaper article and uses typefaces matching the newspapers in which it was published.

Perhaps that is a little bit sly, but it is hard not to admire the ad, which is basically a simple and honest one for a worthwhile product, and has outlived the greatest marketing campaigns of our time. It would be interesting to know how much the content of the course has been updated over the years; it may not have changed very much, for a piece of good English written half a century ago—like the ad itself—will still read well, give or take a few changes in fashion.

7 comments:

Grumio said...

Your last sentence is quite right. However, the concept of shame has largely disappeared in the intervening years, whether arising from poor English or any other behaviour.

I should know. The Dog & Duck gets worse by the hour.

Otherwise I wouldn't come.

Tony said...

Well, there were shameful things to be heard—and seen—at the Dog and Duck when we were lads. Coarse brutes, some of 'em were. Perhaps we've become excessively sensitive over the years.

Grumio said...

Sounds as though you were there during Hot Flush Annie's years.

Perhaps you are right, shame was already a quaint concept then.

Still, glory days, eh?

(Were you ever allowed into Annie's "Bookkeeping" Room? Lordy.... )

Tony said...

No, I was never an intimate of Annie's, though I did once catch her out with a cunning semantic subterfuge. But I well recall the fight over Foulmouth Wilkins' improper use of gerundives, when he broke the nose of old Solecism Prendergast.

Glory days, indeed

Davo said...

NFP .. there is, of course, a long discussion about the language "Australian".

Tony said...

Not on my blog there isn't, sunshine. Or at the Dog and Duck.

Grumio said...

No, you want The Redback for that kind of talk. Not that talk is in ready supply in that part of Acton.