It was the greatest job of all time. The dogsbody. The job around the office where you had to do all sorts of menial, often humiliating tasks for very little money and working all sorts of horrific hours. Also known as the messenger boy, tea-boy, runner or sometimes even receptionist, these were the jobs of old, that have now largely disappeared, that were the launching pads of many a stellar career.
Their demise came about largely through the internet age, where you no longer have to rely on a physical being to get crucial items from A to B in order to meet your deadline, as well as through higher wage costs, payroll taxes, superannuation and the like. But many a career, mine included, would not have been possible without the mixture of experience, education, work ethic and sheer fun that such jobs provided. From Frank Lowe (founder of multi-national advertising network Lowe and Partners) to top Australian director David Deneen (who created the multi-award winning Filmgraphics company) those individuals who started at the bottom often survived the longest at the top.
For my part, running through the freezing dawn of London’s Soho district with large film cannisters under one hand and still going at 11 at night delivering printers blocks to the hungry machines of Fleet street was my entry into the advertising industry. Paid a pittance, I loved every second of it. It was exhausting, but it was also exhilarating. But above all, it was the hands-on introduction to, and respect for, so many aspects of the business that proved invaluable later on.
“Work experience” is supposedly the modern equivalent. It may just be a Gen Y thing, but time after time I have found those who I have taken on in such a guise have no desire to experience anything arduous whatsoever, particularly work. On top of which, there are so many petty regulations and HR considerations to take into account that the exercise often proves fruitless – on both sides.
“Whatever happens, be there at 6 am on the dot,” I said to one teenage boy, who had professed a great passion for the film industry and a lifelong desire to attend a shoot. “I’ll pick you up. But if you’re not there I won’t wait.”
Had that been the young me, I would have been there, shivering in the cold, from 5.30 onwards. Needless to say, not only did this particular Cremorne -educated kid not show, he didn’t even bother to phone and apologise. “Oh, I slept in,” was the disinterested retort I finally received on inquiring as to his whereabouts.
Somehow, I doubt a successful business of any kind, large or small, will ever bear his name.