Forth flaw sez… 1,250 words?


A word from Associated-Rediffusion management in 1959: sorry, what did you want me to write?

Cover of 'Fusion' 7
From Fusion 7 in 1959

‘I wonder if you would be good enough to write the next article in the “Fourth floor says” series for Fusion. I should require approximately 1,250 words and the deadline is…”

So began an internal memo from the editor, recently discovered (the memo, not the editor) among one of the enormous piles of paper which find their way on to my desk with such monotonous regularity. (Who was the sage who referred to the invention of the printing press – which for this purpose may be taken to include typewriters – as one of the greatest-ever booms to mankind?) While, in fairness to the editor, I am bound to say that there was a gap of some eighteen days between the date of receipt of his memo and the specified deadline, I cursed him roundly nevertheless for having imposed this chore upon me at the season of the year when all my leisure time – pause for a moment here for a burst of ironical laughter – is reserved for much-needed activity in the jungle which surrounds my country seat, situated in what – except for the jungle referred to – is generally known as the Garden of England.

(Any time readers of Fusion are in the neighbourhood, I shall be delighted to show them my wonderful display of Taraxacum Officinale, Ranunculus Bulbosus, Beilis Perennis, Rumex Obtusifolius, and the many other exotic botanical specimens which flourish in such prodigal profusion as evidence of my horticultural propensities.)

While I have written many reams of agendas, minutes, memoranda, reports and suchlike for Board Meetings, Annual General Meetings, Extraordinary General Meetings, Council Meetings, Committee Meetings and what-have-you, I have no pretensions to literary ability in the general sense. But I must confess that my fancy was somewhat tickled by the suggestion, implicit in the editor’s invitation, that there might be someone who would, of his or her own volition, be prepared to read something which I had written.

So I decided to take the plunge, accept the editor’s invitation in principle and proceed to the obvious next step, namely, the settlement of a fee for the job. I was distressed when the editor explained that he had paid all the previous contributors to the series a fee of nil, but after much skilful bargaining on my part (I ought to be in contracts section) he eventually agreed to double the fee in my case.

Arthur Groocock
A. W. Groocock, Company Secretary

Honour being thus satisfied, I considered what should be my next move. One thousand, two hundred and fifty words being quite a lot for a literary tyro, I suggested that since two pages had to be filled, it would be a good idea to have a full page portrait of the contributor on one side so that only six hundred and twenty-five words approximately need be provided by me for the other. But on this he resolutely refused to co-operate. Apparently he took the view that the advantage to his readers of having to suffer only one page of my literary outpourings – substantial though that would be – would not provide anything like adequate compensation for inflicting a full-page picture of me upon them. In an aside on the subject of the proposed picture, I distinctly heard him mutter that even a Jack Emerald couldn’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s car.

Quite clearly I was rapidly getting nowhere on this, so I concluded that there was nothing else for it – one thousand, two hundred and fifty words or thereabouts it obviously had to be. But after all, I thought, one thousand, two hundred and fifty words or thereabouts should present no problem to one who in his Third Form days regularly got one hundred lines each Thursday morning for declining to decline ‘mensa’ in the manner specified in his Latin Primer.

So I braced myself for the task. The editor shall have his one thousand, two hundred and fifty words or thereabouts -I’m more than half-way there already. The probable results are (a) that he’ll get the sack and (b) that I shall never again be asked to write for Fusion. As to (a), I offer him whichever he prefers of my sympathy or my congratulations; as to (b), I am sure this will be better for all concerned.

Following these few brief words of introduction, it is necessary to decide what this article shall be about. (I apologize for straying from the path of grammatical rectitude by ending a sentence with a preposition – but my brain is tired; writing the introduction must have exhausted me somewhat.) And since, according to my reckoning, I have only some five hundred words to go, I think a decision on this matter had better be made without more ado.

Surely I cannot do better than take a leaf out of the chief accountant’s book – what a wonderful write-up he gave the accountant’s department in Fusion 5 – and say a few words about the secretary’s department, the principal function of which is to deal with all those matters arising in the course of carrying on the business of an independent television programme company which all other departments, by reason of their ignorance, incompetence or inertia, are unable or unwilling to handle. But, on reflection, the comparatively few words that remain to me (can’t be many more than three hundred now) will certainly not enable me to do justice to the invaluable services rendered by the select few who are my departmental colleagues, let alone to the priceless part played by yours truly.

But maybe there is sufficient space left to correct one very widespread misconception as to the usefulness of a Company Secretary. I am told that the view is widely held that the Secretary performs his most useful function by writing letters in the following terms:

Dear Sir (or Madam)

I write to inform you that your salary is increased to £________ per annum with effect from 19__.

Yours faithfully, _____________ Secretary

but that his usefulness would be considerably increased if he would only ‘let himself go’ a bit more when inserting the figures following the £ sign.

This, I contend, takes too narrow a view of the functions of the secretary, though I suppose I mustn’t complain since it does suggest – albeit with motives which may be questioned as to their disinterestedness – that there may be some justification for his existence. But I certainly prefer that view to the one expressed by Lord Esher in 1807, when he said –

‘The Secretary is a mere servant. He has to do what he is told, and no person can assume that he has any authority to represent anything at all.’

With respect to the learned Lord quoted, I prefer the view of Gladstone who spoke of the company secretary as –

‘Very frequently one of the original concocters of the Company. Usually in substance the Managing Director,’ after which he added —

‘The Secretary has in fact put the directors into their office, and they have a feeling of delicacy towards him in consequence.

(Note for Printer – Please underline this last bit.)
(Note for Fusion despatch office – Please send copies of this issue of Fusion to Associated-Rediffusion directors by registered post.)

And that, dear Editor, is that. I told you I had no pretensions to literary ability in the general sense, and I can already hear you saying ‘You’re telling me!’


From the Dick Branch collection

About the author

Arthur Groocock was Associated-Rediffusion's company secretary

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