30 years ago around 1984, before I trained to be a copywriter, I walked into a room at the Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster) where I’d been given the job of PA to the Pro-Rector (Deputy Principal), a lovely bloke called Dr David Billing (who, sadly, passed away recently). The room comprised wall-to-wall piles of paper and documents with just enough room for Dr B to make his way to his desk where he sat looking defeated, pointing to the mountains of paper that threatened to engulf him and indicating some terrifyingly inadequate filing cabinets. “This,” he said, “is why I employed you”.
A few months later another enormous pile of paper appeared on my desk with a note from Dr B. Would I be kind enough to photocopy it 20 times and distribute to the management team?
I sat there, open-mouthed, flicking through going on for 1,000 sheets of A4 paper, jam-packed with long-drawn-out, incomprehensible academic-speak, massive paragraphs and a huge amount of duplication. It was a total mess. I couldn’t let it go out like that!
So I sat down and began to organise it.
I discarded the duplicate sections, cut out the academic-speak wherever possible, re-wrote sections and edited down the epic paragraphs into bite-sized sections with headings, sub-headings, a brief summary, bullet points and so on, with an easy-to-navigate index.
Then I photocopied the much-reduced result and distributed it to the team, to the frazzled Dr B’s delight.
It was the first of many such exercises. So much so that I became his unofficial editor much of the time rather than his Personal Assistant.
Indeed I have my (really nice) old boss, David Billing, to thank for sowing the seeds of my 25-year-long career as a copywriter.
I will always be grateful to him for that!