My sister and I have a little in-joke about words. It stems from the fact that I once memorably (at least as far as Ann is concerned) began a sermon by saying, ‘I love words. They fascinate me.’ I have to say that, as I was writing the sermon, it never occurred to me that there was anything strange or particularly noteworthy about my opening line. It’s true. I do love words. That’s why I chose English Language over Literature at university and why I like to write.
I’m happy to say that Kate Wilson would understand this. She wants to be a copywriter because she loves words. Because we’re in a 1955 career novel, she gets the job she’s after even though she’s only twenty one and not the twenty two or three Mr Oliver, head of the Copy Department at Arnold, Swift and Lockyer, Advertising Agents normally prefers. On her first day she’s given a timetable of visits round the business so that she can gain an understanding of exactly what they do. The first third of the book is taken up with them before Kate actually gets to do any writing. A huge amount of information is passed on to the reader in this way so that the book might also enthuse would-be artists, TV ad producers, market researchers and so on as well as copywriters.
I read this book as a teenager and three things about it have stayed with me. The male Art Director is known to everyone as Primrose (it’s his surname). As he’s also the potential love interest I found this a nagging irritation – and still do. Then there’s the fact that Kate is told to stay at home one Monday morning so that she can help her mother with the weekly wash. Kate’s main account is to be Flip washing powder so she needs to see it in action. The third thing is that half a dozen of the advertising staff go to Cardiff (from London – naturally; all careers happen there) to see the new improved Flip being made at the factory. I presume this is based on fact but it seemed strange to me in the 1980s and it feels positively anachronistic now. Maybe someone knows more about advertising than I do (extremely likely) and can put me right on this?
Kate in Advertising is a happy, placid book. There are no moments of high drama but Ann Barton conveys well Kate’s pleasure in her job as well as her burgeoning relationship with John Primrose. I especially like the fact that the book ends with Kate sailing to New York for six months work experience at the American branch of the company. She may have John’s card in her pocket and flowers in her cabin but it’s the excitement of working in New York that’s uppermost in her mind.