A couple of weeks ago I was playing a socially-distanced game of Monopoly with my 6-year old grandson. It was a simplified version of the game, designed for younger players like him and senile old luvvies like me.
I prefer it to the original, which as I remember always used to start out as great fun with each player in winning confident mood, sorting the £1’s, £5’s, £10’s, £20’s and two £50’s that had been dished out by the bank.
Invariably, the Top Hat, the Scottie Dog, the Boot etc, would be slowly bled dry by whatever piece owned Park Lane and Mayfair and was methodically acquiring the rest of Monopoly London.
Tempers would fray and players would storm out. An afternoon’s fun could end up very nastily.
Not unlike the real thing. Something I knew from my own brief flirtation with the world of the company boardroom.
If this were a TV show, the Monopoly board would dissolve as we hear ‘going back in time’ music …
* * * * * * * *
It was Christmas Eve, 1980, when the telephone rang.
It was back in the days when it didn’t matter whether you were upstairs, downstairs or in the lady’s chamber.
When the telephone rang, there was the receiver nestling conveniently in the cradle and you didn’t have to run round the house like a headless chicken looking for a handset. Great idea, huh?
It was Moya’s and my first Christmas in Laytonia. Our new home with enough bedrooms for my two older children to have a room each when they came and a nursery for our 9-month old baby boy.
Yes, that same baby boy who a couple of weeks ago became a daddy! (See ‘Life in Laytonia’ 21).
And I remember quite clearly, I was in the kitchen when I answered the ‘phone.
‘George, sorry to call you on Christmas Eve, mate, but when you hear the reason, I think you’ll be pleased’.
The voice – let’s call him Dave Smith – wasn’t someone I would have called a mate. Dave Smith was the promotions director of a huge entertainment/leisure conglomerate. He had been kind enough to book me for ‘Personal Appearances’ whenever the company needed a face off the telly.
George: (surprised) Hello Dave, happy Christmas…’
Personal Appearances, or ‘PA’s’ as they are known, were not only one of the perks of appearing in television series such as Dr in the House, It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, Minder, etc, they were a guilt-free diversion from writing.
More important, they were a welcome little earner at a time with the new house and the new baby, there seemed to be more going out of the coffers than coming in!
PA’s ranged from turning up and cutting a ribbon or hosting a company Christmas party or corporate event to running a quiz evening or launching a new product.
Some were a doddle, others were more time-consuming.
A number required considerable preparatory work such as gleaning information about members of staff, particularly at director level. In-jokes at the bosses’ expense always went down well.
Whatever the PA involved, I always gave it my trademark energy and enthusiasm.
That said, one of my ‘Dave’ PA’s in the late 70’s was being on a panel of judges for a national beauty contest.
Even though this was the best part of 40 years before the start of the Me-Too movement, I truthfully felt uncomfortable looking at – hopefully not leering at – a procession of delightful ladies parading back and forth in swimming costumes.
To my shame, however, not uncomfortable enough to turn down the handsome fee for this taxing job!
Back to Christmas Eve, 1980.
George: (surprised) Hello Dave, happy Christmas…’
Moya, holding the baby, was mouthing that it was nappy changing time while she got the bottle ready. This was our nightly military operation. Moya organised the bottle, the fistful of dummies and all the other paraphernalia required to get the little man down, whilst I was charged with changing the nappy and prising him into his sleep suit.
Dave: And a very happy Christmas to you, mate. And I’m ringing you to make your Christmas even happier.
Putting my hand over the receiver, I sotto voce-ed that it was Dave Smith from XYZ Leisure.
Moya combined a ‘What does he want?’ with a ‘Tell him you’ll call him back’ motion.
George: Dave, I was wondering…
Dave: Wondering why I’m calling you on Christmas Eve? I’ll tell you why, mate. How would you like to earn a couple of grand a year for doing nothing?
Change a nappy or discuss 2,000 sponduliks per annum for doing nothing? A tricky decision…
Dave Smith told me that he was heading a consortium to open an up-market leisure centre/country club and he wanted me as a non-executive director on the board.
A Non–Executive Director: A member of a company’s board of directors who is not part of the executive team. A non-executive director typically does not engage in the day-to-day management of the organisation but is involved in policymaking and planning exercises.
Dave: Two grand a year for doing nothing. Happy Christmas, mate!
Recap: I may have earlier referred to the Personal Appearance gigs as ‘perks’ that come with being on television. Whilst some are admittedly easier than others, all are paid engagements requiring 100% professionalism, energy and enthusiasm.
Tempting as it was, apart from sounding too good to be true, I told Dave that I would not be happy being paid a sum for “doing nothing”.
Dave: Don’t take me literally, mate. You will be required to attend a few board meetings during the year. Mind you, if sometimes you can’t make it, no big deal.
Ah! I was not going to be paid for doing nothing. Just next to nothing.
Dave: But more important, George, I want you on the board for your showbiz connections…
‘Showbiz connections?’ I certainly knew more than a few liggers who would be happy to be wined and dined at somebody else’s expense.
Dave: I’ll be paying you for your valuable time.
I reckoned I could possibly spare some of that ‘valuable time’ currently being spent on staring out of the window for days (and days) as I struggled to dredge up a plot for the next episode of Robin’s Nest, the television series I was writing at the time.
With a guilt free conscience I decided to board the Non-Executive Gravy Train. I accepted my new role.
And that is exactly what it turned out to be. A minor role in a farce.
I freely admit that as I sat at the first meeting in the mahogany-lined boardroom of an office building somewhere in the City of London, I was in total awe of my fellow directors.
One was a Member of Parliament.
Another, an impressively tall gentleman – at least 6 feet 8 inches – who held an armful-long list of directorships in a myriad of companies.
The third, a Dutchman who spoke impeccable English, represented the venture capitalists that had invested in Dave Smith and his ‘baby’.
The fourth was a bluff Northerner, seemingly wealthy, self-made and ‘proud of it’.
They all had that air of confidence. They spoke without inhibition. They were experienced in business matters. They could read a spreadsheet. A cash flow forecast. They had a right to be on the board.
What the hell was little old me doing in the same room with these wise experienced businessmen?
My ‘total awe’ did not last long.
Long story short: I soon realized that without exception, they were all a load of…
NO! I’m not going to write it. Not even with *******! Let’s just say it rhymes with ‘anchors’.
All of them talked BS by the shovelful. Each used a100 words where 10 would do. Except the pompous puffed-up Member of Parliament. He would use at least 200.
The tall impressive 6 feet 8 inch gentleman revealed himself to be an unimpressive tall streak of p**s. And wind!
Our bluff, wealthy Northern friend I found out later was a bankrupt con man, wanted by the police.
At the final directors’ meeting I attended, there was no Dave Smith. His services ‘were no longer required’.
He was out! A ruthless dismissal, engineered by the Teflon Teutonic from Amsterdam with the backing of the pompous MP, the tall streak of p**s and the ‘self-made’ Northerner.
That was it. I gathered my stuff, told them they were all a load of useless ‘anchors’ and I departed.
The gravy train had come off the rails not long after it had juddered to a halt at Boardroom Central.
A few months later I received a (badly) handwritten begging letter from the bankrupt Northern conman asking for money, which he promised to pay back…
* * * * * * * * *
‘GG – concentrate, it’s your go!’
Back to our game of Monopoly. I threw the dice and landed on Park Lane. I owned it!
Whilst the game proved to be educational for our grandson, throwing the dice and counting, picking the Chance cards and reading them, it struck me as we played, that today’s Monopoly needs updating to reflect the torrid times we are living through.
With tenants forfeiting their leases and what were successful businesses having to close down, owning property all around Monopoly London is becoming more of a liability than an asset.
The Chance cards need some additions: ‘Rishi Sunak gives you X amount’ ‘You have applied for a fraudulent Business Loan – go to jail, go directly to jail’
My young grandson brought his own Covid rules to the game. He also landed Park Lane but he had no money to pay the rent.
‘Sorry, mate. You’re out!’
He refused to accept it.
‘But that’s the game. If you can’t pay the rent, you lose! ‘
He wouldn’t hear of it. He insisted I give him more time. Six years old and he’s asking for a rent-free period! And being a softie, I caved in.
And guess what? Little Philip Green passed ‘Go’ and got lucky – he went on to win!