The Real Mad Men

In Others
August 4, 2009

On the recommendation of Adrian Hon, I’ve been watching Mad Men for the first time. It’s awesome: hard-drinking, heavy-smoking guys and girls in sharp suits and swishy skirts.

It reminded me that my mother actually worked as an artist at an ad agency in London in the early 1960s – she was the first female artist they’d ever taken on. In fact, I’m amazed to find that the agency where she worked still exists, albeit with a rather annoyingly pop-up-ey website.

So of course, I had to ask my mother about her experiences, in light of Mad Men. She confirms that there was a lot of drinking – many of the guys, John Golley included, had been soldiers during the war and had taken to drinking to drown their memories – and everyone smoked in the office. She had no comment on the sexual shennanigans, and says there was some antisemitism, but it wasn’t widely acceptable. One man in her office even got fired for being antisemitic.

We chatted about Madison Avenue for a while – she said “of course it was much more cut-throat than the London ad agencies,” and illustrated with a story.

Apparently a colleague of hers at Golley Slater had worked in New York for a Madison Avenue agency for a couple of years. He told her that he worked with a famously out-of control writer who, one day, was so enraged with an artist that he punched him in the face. The guy stumbled back, tripped, and fell out of the window. From the 19th floor.

“What did the people who were watching do?” asked my mother.
“Why, they called their friends to let them know there was a vacancy,” answered her colleague.

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