My dad was a police sergeant.
One time he was called to deal with a dead body.
A lodger had died, probably from a heart attack.
When Dad got there the body was at the top of the stairs.
He got the medical examiner round to check everything out first.
The landlady was very distraught while all this was going on.
Dad got her a chair and made her a cup of tea.
When the medical examiner had left, Dad had to take the body downstairs.
He put it over his shoulder and that forced the remaining air out of the lungs.
The dead body groaned.
The landlady screamed her head off.
The scream made Dad jump and the body slipped off his shoulder.
It cartwheeled down the stairs.
It hit the wall at the bottom and landed in a heap.
The landlady went into hysterics.
Dad started laughing.
He said “Don’t worry love, I won’t let him get away”.
And then he smiled and the landlady stopped screaming.
Dad acted like it was nothing unusual.
Just a dead body, no big deal, nothing to make a fuss about.
So the landlady took her cue from him.
Being a policeman he must know what he’s doing.
If he thinks it’s alright, I don’t want to cause a scene.
And Dad got a neighbour to come in and sit with her.
Which meant the landlady had to make the neighbour a cup of tea.
Now she had something to do she was okay.
What I love most about that situation is the use of humour.
For working class Londoners, humour was the way to handle most things.
There’s not much that wouldn’t be better by having a laugh about it.
In the war, sitting in an air raid shelter, having your house bombed.
Nothing you can do, you might as well laugh.
Which is why I find it odd when people ask why there’s so much humour in advertising.
The truth is, humour is almost part of the language.
Humour (if it’s good) lifts everyone’s spirits, it gets noticed, it gets passed on, what we’d now call viral.
Have you ever heard the expression “Gone for a burton” meaning broken?
Did you ever wonder where it came from?
Just before World War Two, there was an advertising campaign for Burton Ales.
The strapline was “Gone for a Burton”.
Posters featuring people leaving their jobs to nip out for a pint.
A bank manager, a shop keeper, a doctor, a bus conductor, each time with the strapline “He’s gone for a Burton”
They even gave out signs for shop doorways: “OPEN” on one side and “CLOSED (gone for a Burton)” on the other.
So, during the war, when a pilot didn’t come back, no one wanted to bring everyone down by saying he was dead.
They just said “He’s gone for a Burton”.
And gradually that morphed into meaning lost or broken, no use anymore.
The ads weren’t stylishly executed or technologically innovative.
They didn’t win any awards.
But that humour got into the language, and that strapline was still in use 80 years after those ads ran.
Name a Cannes Gold Lion winner you can say that about.