The Star Agency
The more I think about Dot’s plan the more I like it. Lamplight likes it as well and is prepared to provide the detective to do the following, so we have decided to go ahead with it tomorrow. Dot will be Amy’s look-alike; the detective will follow the follower and Lamplight and I will follow him in Lamplight’s car. My Capri would be far too distinctive and if he should glance behind him and spots us the game would be up. If the follower isn’t there or doesn’t show up, we will simply abort and try again another day. I will tell Dot when she arrives. I suspect she will be delighted. I am also quite curious to hear how she got on yesterday with the women libbers. I do hope they didn’t eat her alive!
I look once again at the note that was on my desk when I arrived first thing this morning. It was from the boss saying quite brusquely that he wants to see me at 11.00am. It doesn’t give a reason or an explanation so I suppose I should be worried but quite honestly, I’m not. If he wants to fire me that’s fine, I will walk out there and then and he can try and run the agency on his own. I know it will be a total disaster. If he had any sense, he should know that, but common sense is not something Jerry is blessed with in any abundance. All the same, I am intrigued. Usually, if he has something to say he simply walks over to my desk and tells me, so evidently this is not some run-of-the-mill decision or announcement. I mentally shrug and stare at the great heap of mail that has just been dumped on my desk by the boy from the mail room.
It is Monday and the mail is usually greater because PR men and women think they have a greater chance of their stuff getting noticed on a Monday, so they time their press releases accordingly. It is a nonsense, of course. It makes no difference as far as Iam concerned. If a pressrelease has something interesting to say it will get used, even if it nearly always must be re-written to get rid of all the blatant advertising copy. If it has nothing interesting to say, it will just get spiked or binned.
The PR industry must spend a small fortune on photographs to go with their press releases, most of which are quite unusable and would never be printed in any newspaper. The PR industry does not appear to realise that, by and large, newspapers will only print news. Features are a different matter, of course, but it is rare for a press release to form the subject for a feature.
I am working my way through the mail when Dot arrives looking generally pleased with herself. She walks briskly over to my desk treating me to a broad grin in the process. I can’t help smiling back as she sits down.
I ask her if she has been converted to bra-burning and under-arm hair. Her grin becomes even broader. ‘Actually, it was nothing like that. I met a lady called Sue Crockford who I have since found out it is something of a name in the women’s movement nationally. Most of what she said I completely agree with – equal pay, equal rights, fair promotion opportunities, abortion on demand. That sort of thing.’
I point out that some women libbers take things to extremes. How does she feel about that?
She giggles. ‘I have to admire them,’ she confesses. ‘They are planning to disrupt the Miss World contest at the Royal Albert Hall later this year and there are other campaigns in the pipeline too and Sue Crockford is in the process of making a professional movie, a documentary. She has invited me to the premiere sometime next year.’
I’m not surprised. I can imagine Dot going down well with them. I ask if she has enough material for the feature.
She gives a short ironic laugh. ‘Absolutely loads. Ms Crockford had invited a lady by the name of Alex Fenton who told me her story, literally rags to riches. In fact, she is worth a story just on her own, but I am going to include her just to show how a determined woman with a good idea can do it on her own without help from any men.’
I ask her if she managed to get any opposing views and this time she giggled.
‘Oh yes, I went to The Athenaeum to talk to the bosses, or three of them at any rate. Actually, two of them were generally supportive which I thought was interesting but the third really wasn’t. He was also the one who was leering at me.’
I ask if she is likely to finish it today so that I can begin making calls. She says she already started at home last night and that she should finish it this morning. She stands and is about to walk to her desk when she stops and turns.
‘I almost forgot,’ she says. ‘One of them was a man named Paul Smith who, just as I was about to leave, took me to one side and asked me if I worked for you. Naturally, I said I did. He gave me an odd look and asked if I would pass on his regards and before I could ask him anything, he donned his trilby and took off. Do you know a Paul Smith?’
I shake my head and tell her that a trilby rings bells with me though. Did he say what he does. She tells me that he is in the cotton business. I decide to look him up. He may be a broker in which case he will be listed.
Before she leaves, I tell her that the game is on for tomorrow if she is still happy to go through with impersonating Amy. A huge smile envelopes her face and she says she can’t wait. I tell her it will be late afternoon, but I will finalise all that with her later.
‘I’ve got the wig already,’ she says walking away jauntily.
By 11.00am nearly everyone is out on jobs apart from Dot who is immersed in her feature and a junior who has the unenviable task of re-writing a few press releases. It is time to see what is behind Jerry’s mysterious note so I walk to the end of the office and rap on his door.
Once inside, I see he appears to be half buried in a sheaf of papers. I knew it couldn’t be anything journalistic that commanding his attention so it must be financial. He looks up and waves me into a chair.
He puts a pile of documents on one side and stares at me. I am expecting the sack and I have a little speech all ready for him but instead he delivers a major surprise.
‘I’m leaving,’ he announces abruptly. ‘I have finally decided to sell up. I made the decision a few months ago and have been looking for a buyer and finally I have found one.’
‘Your father began the agency, didn’t he?’ I ask. ‘It must be painful to sell what has been a family business all these years.’ I couldn’t really care less but I am supposed to say something in situations like this and that seems appropriate.
‘I thought it would be, but journalism is changing, and I can foresee the day when agencies like this won’t exist. The way newspapers are produced will change too; I am reliably informed. When you think about it, newspaper pages are produced by hot metal being cast into lines of type. They were doing that in the 19th century for God’s sake. This is 1970 and industry insiders tell me that change is coming – maybe not for ten years or so but it is coming. I have decided to get out while I can and put my money into something else.’
I am tempted to say something along the lines of rats leaving a sinking ship but decide to hold my tongue and see what else emerges, so I ask who the lucky buyer is. He glares at me, no doubt thinking I am taking the piss, which I am, but I maintain a straight face.
‘It’s the owner of a Liverpool news agency who is looking to expand,’ he says guardedly.
‘What about the staff here? Is there likely to be redundancies? Is he going to keep both agencies going, competing against each other?’ There are other questions I want to ask as well, including what my future role is likely to be, but I decide to wait to see how he responds to those questions first.
‘We have not discussed any of that,’ he snaps. ‘That is going to be entirely up to him.’ He obviously doesn’t care what happens. I know our agency has a good reputation which is completely down to the staff and that is what has made it so saleable. Hopefully, a new owner will simply want to expand an existing operation rather than close us down.
‘Are you going to make an announcement to them?’ I ask, nodding in the direction of the newsroom. ‘They have a right to know,’ I add. ‘They will want to know if their jobs are safe.’
He drums his fingers on his desk. ‘I suppose you’re right. I will talk to them later when everybody is in the office.’ I stare at him. He evidently wasn’t going to tell them and if he thinks he can just walk out of here and just leave them in the lurch he can think again. I will make bloody certain he makes an announcement before he leaves the office. And if he doesn’t, I will!