Celebrating at the Netball Ball – Rolls Royce, cigars and all.
Celebrating at the Netball Ball – Rolls Royce, cigars and all.

BH & G days were the ‘best’

I’VE worked for many businesses over my life. Most of them were involved in the media and my jobs were all on the advertising sales side.

Over the years I worked for television, radio, newspapers and magazines. The happiest four years of my life were spent working on a publication that most of you would know – Better Homes and Gardens.

BH & G was in turn owned by Family Circle – a huge success and an innovation in its day, which has sadly fallen by the wayside. Family Circle was the first publication to be placed at supermarket check-outs. They said it would never work. Hah!

Selling ads into BH & G was easy because it was/is a great publication and flogging something you believe in is three quarters of any sales job. But more than these terrific publications, it was the work environment that has kept those days so close to my heart.

I joined the company in 1979 and BH & G was just six months young. The boss was John Southam – better known to us as Big Dad. John had kicked the company off in Australia with a half million dollar cheque placed into his account by The New York Times, who owned Circle in America. That’s trust!

The Mag'n'tisers Netball Champions.
The Mag'n'tisers Netball Champions.

John’s motto was ‘work hard, play hard’ and boy did we! The conference room was lovingly called the Play Room and was open for drinks every afternoon at 5p, and 4.30pm on Fridays. This was not just a beer or wine but top shelf, and it gave me a taste for highball glasses of Stolichnaya Vodka with a splash of tonic on top.

Often the hangers-on would kick on to dinner somewhere after a drink or six – and often it would be Jack Southam joining us and picking up the tab. These evenings could go until the wee small hours and getting up in time for work the next day was difficult – to put it mildly. Jack though would always be there by 8.30 and be as bright as a button.

It was years later that we realised that come 9am when he was ‘in meetings’ and couldn’t be disturbed, that he was pushing up Zeds in the boardroom.

Family Circle by name and by nature. It was almost an unwritten rule that everyone was having an affair with everyone else – and that after six months we’d all take one step to the right and kick on. Yep, we were incestuous and we revelled in it. There was one Sales Director who frowned upon this inter-company ‘frivolity’ and sacked his secretary when he discovered she was having a relationship with another work colleague. Not a problem. That colleague’s boss promptly hired her back and the Circle continued unabated.

When our anti-affair Sales Director resigned to move to greener pastures we in the advertising department thought long and hard about a farewell present. The result was the picture accompanying this column. He left and started a successful business in Brisbane and that picture took pride of place on the wall behind his desk.

The perfect parting gift for a prude.
The perfect parting gift for a prude.

The ad industry had a Netball competition and our girls decided to form a team. I was elected team manager and Pete Gray was the coach. Our roles consisted of making them run around at training while we consumed a slab of beer. We won the comp that first year so the girls quit, having reached the pinnacle.

Those were the days when our job meant taking clients to lunch five days a week. It was tough but someone had to do it. We had company cars but were also supplied with a book of Cab Charge dockets. John Southam’s rule was Do Not Drink and Drive; this long before it became commonplace.

We were paid monthly which in my case meant two great weeks followed by two starving ones. I’d often have to go to ‘Doobie’, the BH & G accountant and ask for an advance on my expenses to take a client to lunch.

After giving me a hard time he’d say, “Who’s the client and where are WE going?” Everyone got to share in the company’s expenses.

I left the company in 1983 to travel and work overseas for a couple of years and went on to other companies in the industry, but none of them held a candle to the camaraderie (and more) that we shared at Circle.

Many years later there was a reunion and 97% of the folk I’d worked with turned up – the other 3% having passed away.

It’s been 37 years since I worked there and, whatever else I’ve done in my life, those four years were the absolute best ever.