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THE OFFICE PARTY

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Adam Curtis | 14:03 UK time, Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Here is a lovely documentary made in 1969 about that year's Christmas office party at a London advertising agency.

I've used shots from it in the past - but I've always loved it as a film - so I thought I would put it up.

It tells the story of the preparations as well as the party - and it beautifully captures the mood that Christmas parties always create in offices.

 

The firm is called Davidson Pearce Berry and Tuck. I did a bit of research on them and it turns out that the film also captures them at a fascinating moment of change.

The original agency had been around for years and had always done very straight Industrial advertising in trade magazines - aimed at buyers. Their biggest clients were firms like Colt Heating and Ventilation, Wates the builders, and Holman Compressed Air.

Not boutique.

But recently two very ambitious young advertising men had joined. One was called Norman Berry - who had come from Young and Rubicam, the other was called Allan Rich.

 

They were determined to turn the agency into what Mr Rich describes as "a sexy boutique agency". They were modelling themselves on the new kinds of American agencies that people like Mary Wells had set up in New York.

And they had just scored a great success. The firm had got the account of the Conservative Party and its new modern leader Edward Heath. They were going to do the advertising for the 1970 General Election.

Saatchi before Saatchi.

And they were changing the firm radically. The old patrician world of British advertising was being dismantled and by now much of it had gone from the agency.

The only real remnant of that old world in the film is Mary Crowley from Accounts (along with her unnamed friend from Wages). I love Mary Crowley, she is like a ghost from an older Britain haunting the new "on-trend" flash agency.

 

But that new world wouldn't last long. The firm would succeed with helping Edward Heath get elected. But very soon an economic crisis would hit Britain - and advertising too.

The firm was bought by the giant US agency, Ogilvy and Mather, and Norman Berry went off to America. And the old agency just faded away.

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Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Here is yet another rehashing of my work.
    Just pulling your leg, the work is always of a high standard & it's useful to have the primary sources up here.
    Another televised film would be even better though. I caught some of The Foods That Make Billions which is currently on the BBC & couldn't help noticing the difference in the sources they used. They were getting authors and PR men for their talking heads, as opposed to CEOs and MPs. Was quite sensationalist and inaccurate too. Anyway that's another matter!
    Thanks,
    -Will

  • Comment number 2.

    Where are they now...
    Norman Berry died in March this year:
    http://www.ogilvy.com/News/Press-Releases/March-2010_Norman-Berry-Memoriam.aspx
    Amongst other things Allan Rich is now in to digital signage it appears:
    http://www.espritdigital.com/whoAreEsprit/boardDirectors/

  • Comment number 3.

    A party only has one function: to regulate the need for men and women to form relationships. Of course, it's a conceit when dressed up any other way, but it's fascinating to watch and even re-live some of the inadequacies and problems when humans attempt to change one conceited social order for another conceited social order. Everything is regulated and controlled, even cathartic loss of control.

    But what I found fascinating about the documentary were the women. I felt a pang of sorrow for some and felt the joy of others, as they sought out human contact. A party is perhaps one of the few human things that go on in an office.

    Nice to see the origin of a few scenes from Mr Curtis's other projects. Thanks for sharing this gem with us.

  • Comment number 4.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/2010/12/the_office_party.html

    I'm a bit sad about the Ted Heath story, but only because I always enjoyed the one in Jeremy Scott's book "Fast And Louche", where he describes how his firm won the same advertising contract for the Conservative party by spiking Heath and his entourage with small, enthusiasm-generating doses of amphetamine.

    It's one of the greatest books ever published - a true roadmap for life - I can't find the relevant section online but here is Scott telling the same story to the Guardian in 2002:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2002/oct/09/redbox

    * It is not, he insists, the part of his memoirs that he likes the best. But Jeremy Scott's tale of how, as a vogueish advertising executive, he spiked Edward Heath's canapes with speed, is indeed a high-carat anecdote. "I was really just trying to cheer everyone up," he adds sheepishly. "The quantities I used were minute."

    * In the spring of 1970, Scott's agency, the Mayfair-based James Garrett and Partners, was pitching for the Conservative Party's TV campaign for the forthcoming general election. Heath, Willie Whitelaw and entourage were invited to a presentation at the company's offices. Scott served a dry and flinty Chablis, canapes from Fortnum's, and methedrine, "the Perrier-Joüet of amphetamines".

    * "The slight hint of bitterness seemed actually to enhance the rich flavour of the foie gras, introducing a certain je ne sais quoi, hard to define in terms of taste yet magical, historic," Scott writes in his book Fast and Louche: Confessions of a Flagrant Sinner. He kept a stock of the 10mg pills in a trunk under his old nanny's bed, along with his Colt .45 and revolver. He had laid down a bottle of 500 tablets in 1966 just before they had become unobtainable when Burroughs Wellcome ceased to manufacture.

    * Did it not occur to him that there was anything remotely controversial about his action? "Clearly, but there were many parties that one went to at that time where one started to feel unusually well about an hour later, and it did seemed to have rather a beneficial effect." The quantities were tiny, he re-iterates, although flecks of spittle did begin to show at the corners of Heath's mouth as the meeting progressed. The guests left flush-faced and exhilarated, launched, Scott believes, on a month-long high which would last until election night. His agency won the account, and six weeks later Heath won the election. "It was," he notes with satisfaction, "a very good party."

  • Comment number 5.

    That is a great little film. The film is of it's time but the behaviour is timeless and universal. Thanks for the seasonal posting.

  • Comment number 6.

    Norman berry looks like a vampire. Ok not a deep insight i grant you.

  • Comment number 7.

    What is that plastic band or string hanging off of the back of the guy's head at the end? the one that shuts down the party?

    Thank you Adam Curtis for this film, and also for bringing to the world the priceless visual history you mine from the BBC archives.!

  • Comment number 8.

    Can't say this is a topic with which Curtis' international audience is likely to identify.

    I am just wondering, if Adam works on this stuff in parallel with the foreign projects, as a way of reflecting on the boundary between the local and that which he observers at a distance, but in terms of relative space, not absolute.

    This post is personal, and something Adam identifies with. It seems like a bridging, after distancing, a technique produced instinctively. Cant' really find the right words for it.

    Basically, it has a "structuralist" function for those actually familiar with the actual approach.

    Obviously working on subjects as demanding as Afghanistan and the impact of the Psychological frame of reference on popular and elite discursive constructions of society, requires some concrete biographical reference...

    I guess I myself am engaging in a type of anthropological psychology here as a continued effort to identify the context to what Adam is producing.

  • Comment number 9.

    I take your basic point, avishalom, in attempting to decipher where Adam is coming from in posting this material, and I would concede that you've made a valid comment on the 'parochial' quality, I suppose you might call it, of the piece relative to the international audience. But I don't actually think there is a great mystery or, indeed, a sense of inherent incongruity involved in Adam posting up material such as this. As a documentary maker, it is clear that he has always been interested both in crafting politically engaged collage essays, and in revisiting the artistry of the documentary as it stands as a genre in and of itself.

    Mr. Curtis's technique has always been to create his documentary material from other, 'found' material (indeed, that is really what constitutes its claim to uniqueness, because most other documentary film-making is based on original filming work - though of course, much of his material is interspersed - or it was until recently - with *some* specially shot interviews and *some* ambient location footage), and to attempt to see the balance, contrast and sense of distance that is generated by the sometimes felicitous, and sometimes incongruous, juxtaposition of the central images. Virtually all of his key material is taken from holdings that the BBC possess in archive (or material produced by the BBC in the first instance). Therefore, at one level, all he is doing when he shares documentaries such as this one with us is to post in its entirety, as I think he states, material that he has happily edited down and reworked elsewhere. This is partly of interest because Adam has made a certain amount of promise on this blog that he would do just this -post up some of the most intriguing sources for his own material in their entirety in order that we can see what this raw material consists of; and it is partly because he is interested in sharing with us the creative vision of long-past documentary experiments that he admires the workmanship of. If it is nothing else, this piece is an extraordinary social document, both for the sense (perhaps unintended on first broadcast) through which it enshrines its time, and also because, as a documentary, the format itself (structuring the entire piece around the party - preparation and aftermath) is an audacious technical choice. Indeed, it's probably fair to say that part of the value Adam unearths in these long-gone documentaries is a sense that such interesting and nuanced film-making is rarely allowed much leeway these days - now that every subject is far too camera savvy to respond objectively (or near objectively) to being filmed and every director/producer is asked to sensationalise their material in order to generate more audience share and more revenue. This sense of crafting a documentary for the purpose of social analysis, anthropological study or in order to create a solid political point seems to have largely fallen by the wayside in present times.

    In thematic terms, the subject matter is not entirely remote from Adam's other concerns, either: the documentary is, indeed, centered on the Christmas Party (and, of course, one reason it has been flagged up by Adam now, as opposed to three months later, is that the subject matter is 'current' - the blog has frequently seen 'opportunistic' postings of this sort - i.e. Adam flagging material that seems currently relevant, as occurred for e.g. when there were new reports released on Henrietta Lacks, or when the UK was gearing up for the General Election) - but it is also about an advertising agency, and so it links, in however broad a way, to Adam's earlier study of the rise of the Madison Avenue ad execs that has been posted here. This, in turn, appeared to link, in strong part, to Adam's emphasis on the prevalence of post-war 'negative liberty' economies conisdered elsewhere, and even something like the Afghanistan series, once it branched into the question of e.g. 'shock therapy' solutions in post Communist Russia, flagged up elements of concern that seem common to all these areas of interest. Extracts from the 'Christmas Party' documentary have been used, voided of immediate context, (I think) in Adam's recent attempt to distill the 'essence' of the 1970's and in 'It Felt Like a Kiss', which considered the role that US influence had held over Western cultural responses more generally in the Cold War years.

    I appreciate that your original post was asking a possibly more rarefied question: whether or not there is some psychological drive in Adam himself that makes sense of the balance he strikes between his politically motivated work (whereby bygone attitudes are deconstructed in order to allow a better understanding of modern issues - present in his Afghanistan postings, 'It Felt Like a Kiss', his Henrietta Lacks documentary and so on) and his interest in simply revisiting what appears to be nostalgic material (this documentary, the piece on the Hell's Angels, and so on), but I think it's fair to say that a big difference is simply that the 'nostalgia' type material is generally unmediated - it is simply being shown in entirety because Adam thinks of it of interest. His own use of that material is generally much more politically engaged, and recontextualises it in radical ways. But he has had to become familiar with, and appreciate the original documentary first, before this can be done.

    Beyond that, I don't really know...

  • Comment number 10.

    As a relative young'un, I feel that this is a complete time apart. Even the women appear sexist and I never thought that I would say this, but Spice Girls feminism seems just.

  • Comment number 11.

    avishalom, Leeravitz... I think researching the adverting industry is very much part of AC's world view.

    The connections between perception management and politics is a long running theme of his work. As is the part consumer psychology has played in forming the world we live in. Numerous small edits in many of his works(often rehashed in latter ones) come from obscure archive footage such as this. He is in danger of self parody and jumping the shark.

  • Comment number 12.

    Understanding our world is helped if we can see that it has changed.. changed in the way people view themselves and their role in society. Here we glimpse people thinking about themselves in a way we recognize as old fashioned...or just different?

    what do we see as human constants compared to changes. Are archive films like this instructive if you bring a certain style of inquisitiveness to the viewing?

    That itself is an interesting idea. the notion of how you set out to view something changes the information you can extract from it? Not in some totally arty farty ineffable way but the very act of looking for changes and similarities produces information with a "degree" of objectivity.. at least in those areas one decides to interrogate the piece. Those questions are a bias of course but not ones lacking in self awareness. If pieces of this archive end up in his work we may see how he read this particular film or the questions he was trying to ask and answer?

  • Comment number 13.

    Thank you for showing the Office Party. My mother, Gillian Strickland was the reporter. It's funny to hear her 'BBC voice'.

  • Comment number 14.

    "Lady copywriter"!!!! Marvelous.

  • Comment number 15.

    Dear Adam, thank you for all of the good work you have done in trying to bring understanding to this otherwise "mad" world. Another interesting aspect that you may care to look into is the paradigm shift in the way viewers can now interact with the BBC in real time through its HYS blog. Of particular interest might be the HYS topic concerning Larry King, the popular American interviewer who has just decided to retire. The BBC asked it's bloggers what they think Larry King's legacy might be. The answers here are revealing of how the Internet is allowing previously passive viewers to actively coerce the BBC in true democratic fashion to discuss what they believe is relavant. I hope you find it as enjoyable and as enlightening as I did. The link to the comments is: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/haveyoursay/2010/12/what_is_larry_kings_legacy.html?page=2#comments You need to read a few to get the jist.

  • Comment number 16.

    Fantastic documentary. But the 'what happened next' to Davidson Pearce is way off. It was a very successful agency throughout the seventies and never sold to Ogilvy - it was associated with many famous campaigns such as the PG Tips Chimps but finally lost its way in the 80s and was acquired by BMP in 1988. Allan Rich, the only media director I've seen drinking nothing but bitter lemon, went on to found the Media Business.

  • Comment number 17.

    Subtly odd pronunciation of "accounts" (1.34) and "pounds" (1.55).

  • Comment number 18.

    I am still irritated that Curtis' working on blogs cannot be downloaded. We have no guarantees the BBC will preserve any of this material for our uses. Take the Afghanistan series. Nor has the BBC gone and retroactively unlinked certain embargoed films from the first few posts Adam put up. This is sloppy, and a little cavelier.

    @Leeravitz and Mini

    "such interesting and nuanced film-making is rarely allowed much leeway these days - now that every subject is far too camera savvy to respond objectively (or near objectively)"

    *I find a big difference between distrubtion and what's actually produced. How can you know, unless you could show me the distribution for the old documentary? Today we have a more robust documentary market. Something as beautiful as "Herculaneum Shadows and Light" is made, and will not see the "light" (forgive the pun) of day, because it has no distribution. Or think back of Niall Ferguson's highly politically incorrect documentaries on Channel 4 made only a few years back. Try buying them in a store or online. You absolutely can't. Want to call blackwell or whatever the producer's name is? Good luck. Or take the Triump of Western Civilisation, a massive BBC documentary, a classic. Unlike more famous coeval documentaries it is today completely off limits today. I recall when Curti's Century of the Self came out - many of us formed some kind of priviledge club. When we told people about it, they weren't interested in watching it, since they had never heard of him, or his work. Till this day a few of his episodes "Oceans Apart" are not available to us.

    "This sense of crafting a documentary for the purpose of social analysis, anthropological study or in order to create a solid political point seems to have largely fallen by the wayside in present times."

    *I don't feel Adam attemps any such thing. But I don't say this with any bitterness. It's just my little opinion.

    I simple don't get the imperssion that Adam is trully interested in advertising, marketing, PR, nor even politics or political history. Having read a few works specialised in the field of PR, and often keeping updated on them I get the impression Adam is keenly aware what historians of the field have done, and he doesn't seek to approach their depth, nor to attempt translating it entirely on camera. His camera, to me, is psychological.

    Take Century of the Self. This made Adam's career. The source of its narrative is familiar to those who have read Stuart Ewen's "PR! A Social History of Spin". Ewen happens to make an appearance in the documentary, so we know Curtis read the work. Favorably inclined towards Curtis, you'll call his Century Ewen on celluloid. Ill-inclined, plagiarism. I say this merely to point out that Curtis does have direct inspirations for some of his work. The Trap seemed tohave Isaaiah Berlin at its source, while the Power of Nightmares was indebted to thinkers like Shadia Drury.

    Curtis doesn't treat history, or political science, with any academic rigor. Indeed, to academic observers, and to myself, his work has greater coherence when seen from a Psychoanalytical perspective.

    I am not worried about "bias" or "prejudice" in Adam's work. Like I said in a few comments back on another of his posts - he has a hysterical perspective, and I salute it. I still don't have a clue where Adam is coming from, but I see a psychoanalytical posibilities. Yes, this post is certainly abotu a party at a marketing firm. But we could agree that it is a withdrawing from the broader subject matter, and Adam expresses a bit of sentiment here, which is itself an unconscious assertion that he sometimes dwells too far away from home, for too long. I definitely do not see any conflict - it us as, as the audience, who will splinter. Naturally, we are all consuming different parts of Curtis' work. He is the coherent one, we as an audience can coalesce, but we can't be coherent.

    Although I could see psychological counter-arguments. Whatever. I'm just thinking out loud, but I certainly enjoy whatever exchange comes way.

  • Comment number 19.

    @ avishalom there is screen capturing software that can film your computer screen or designated areas. google screen capture or screen recording

  • Comment number 20.

    I worked for Davidson Pearce in the early 1980s and it was a very successful Ad Agency. I was on the TWA Account, there was also the PG Chimps campaign on at the time & Tommy Cooper was a regular visitor as he appeared in a range of ready-made meals. We were based in Brompton Road, next door to Harrods. We also had office Christmas Parties, although perhaps 11 years after the one in the film it wasn't very different! Happy Memories.

  • Comment number 21.

    Nice photos and video..we can see old style party.
    In my office..quartely we perform party..to create solid team. [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 22.

    jesus christ avishalom, just watch the videos

  • Comment number 23.

    It is great to see my father just before the start of his wonderful adventure that was The Media Business which eventually floated and then was paid to revive the fortunes of Mediacom when TMBG took Mediacom over but kept the Mediacom name.

    I have no other real insight into my father. This allows me to look into the man that I don't know at all .. and begin to know him a little.

    If at all possible Adam I would like a copy of this. To know I can always access it, to be able to show his grand-children and one day mine.

    Many, many people owe their careers and hence in many ways their lives to him. Though they were all at one point his great and wonderful 'kids', they all in turn helped shape his.

    I was always on the outside of both families ... but I never really saw it then.

    Whilst not the point of the piece ... to have come to know Rich now, through him and his family, may have surprised you. He was caught completely ... and yet I would have guessed most looking would have thought him 'unreal'.

    He is very real ... and I can see more than ever ... he is wonderful.

    Thank you

    Jason

 

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