“I’ve flown this route many times,” barked the account director next to me, puffing on his Silk Cut. “There’s only one way to travel.” The British Airways stewardess smiled down at him and handed over a vodka and tonic. From that point on, she served up a winning stream of miniatures with the constancy of Roger Federer.
The account director was Jerry Judge. His mischievous eyes constantly swept the horizon for fun. Jerry was the reason I had landed at BBH in the first place. Meeting him at a party in rural Bucks, he encouraged me to show our portfolio to Graham Watson who, in turn, shunted it towards John Hegarty. A charismatic performer nonpareil, Jerry started young, starring opposite Richard Attenborough in the 1959 film Jet Storm, aged eight. Something of the schoolboy performer stayed with him in perpetuity.
Sitting in the back of the plane alongside us were Paul Edwards, a precise, bow-tied planner, Stephen Gash, account manager, and Martin. We were to meet a new client for a briefing and, shortly afterwards, come up with advertising to boost sales in Europe. It was spring, 1988.
The client was Norwegian Caribbean Lines. After meeting in their offices on the Miami seafront, we were to ‘experience’ a weekend cruise to Nassau. Come the Friday morning, body clocks off kilter, we slid out of the elevator at the appointed hour. The office decor was all dull cream, leather and cigar-smoke, so beloved by corporate America. Our haggard looks spoke of a blizzard of inflight drinks and little sleep. Outside, under grey morning skies, an occasional cruise ship swept out of the maritime car park. Meeting the senior marketing manager, a man called John, clad in serious suit and tie, we attempted concentration. The morning lurched from one impenetrable transparency projection to another, until John announced that we would go out to lunch.
In seconds, he changed personality to become a shrieking party banshee, energetically piloting us down to taxis and on to the legendary Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant. He giggled us into Dubonnet cocktails as we were wrapped in paper bibs. The stone crab was in a class of its own, elevated higher still by little pots of melted butter. Outside the sun broke through. John made happy little claps when anything pleased him. He clapped a lot.
From the restaurant, we boarded our home for the next 48 hours, the SS Sunward II. Already ‘of a certain age’, about 350 passengers and nearly the same number of crew members swarmed its decks. After the offices, the bright coloured carpets and furnishings were an assault, a Berni Inn backed into a particularly fluorescent biryani.
We nosed out of the Miami seaway towards the open ocean and a very light swell. Paul looked anxious. It was the first time I had ever seen him without a bow tie. Sporting a towelling polo shirt (that may well have been ironed), he turned green. The waves were perhaps a foot high and spaced a cricket pitch apart but it became clear that he’d left his sealegs at home. Deftly grabbing a small glass ashtray, he was neatly, precisely and accurately sick, a triumph of distressed control. We watched, fascinated.
John herded the rest of us to the bar for our induction. A Hieronymous Bosch meets pantomime affair, it was led with terrifying cheerfulness by the Ents Officer. A ringer for Richard Stilgoe, he grinned horribly through his beard until the finale, when he seized an accordion, played a medley of tunes at benzedrine speed and bobbed about as if having a fit. It was awful. Earlier, he had commanded us that, wherever we were, whatever we were doing and whenever we heard him yell, “Bahamarama” over the ships tannoy, we were to bellow back the same, as loud as we could. Duly, Jerry cleared his throat and murmured, “Bahamarama” with impeccable BBC diction and started to look for an escape route. John, the client, clapped and hooted with delight. The Ents Officer gibbered to a close.
NCL’s weekend trips were known by the crew as ‘divorce cruises’. Snowbirds from the wintery midwest would flock down as soon as legal proceedings were done, all set to blow their alimony in the ship’s bars and on the gaming tables. There were also flights of the newly retired, set free and homing in on Florida sunshine. Among the Hawaiian shirts and cocktail dresses, a lot of cleavage was on display from both sexes. ‘Turtleneck’ took on a whole new meaning.
Martin Galton, Stephen Gash, Jerry Judge, Will Awdry, John (from NCL), the Captain.
The next morning we were roused by a ‘Bahaharama’ or two and found ourselves docked in Nassau. The divorcees and retirees were already off on manoeuvres, invading the straw market and stockpiling Tee shirts, belts and hats of every description. Martin and I wandered down the street to Government House, little realising we’d be back there two years later with some of Sir Lynden Pindling’s cabinet. That afternoon, we steamed to an atoll NCL had leased off the Bahamian government. Approaching its immaculate white sand, attractively spaced coconut palms and thatched beach cabins, we admired its beauty, only to watch it transform in moments to an Omaha Beach of cruise passengers. They flooded the place like geese, shouting ‘Bahamarama’ every now and then and pecking at any last square inch that might still be uninhabited. We joined the throng at a beach bar for a contemplative rum punch while Jerry reeled off anecdote after anecdote. Gently, John replaced his clapping with surreptitious hiccoughs.
That evening, we were the honoured guests on the Captain’s table. Besides us, there were two fabulous Nashville divorcees and a dozen senior crew members. All the men were Norwegian or Danish, in smart white uniforms and heavy with melancholy. You could hardly blame them. They had to sit with passengers every working night of their lives, miles from the soothing, cosy gloom of Oslo or Copenhagen, and suffer enforced cheerfulness. It must have been ghastly. The First Officer, sitting next to me, appeared on the verge of tears until I asked about deaths on board. Instantly, his face lit up, wreathed in smiles, as he described the eight berth morgue – cleverly refrigerated – in the hold. He made it sound like heaven, which I suppose, in a way, it was. He told me about a couple who, together with their 68 year old daughter, had sailed for a ten day cruise to Cancun. The elderly husband expired in his cabin on the first day. The captain arranged to meet the grieving widow and daughter, explaining they would be disembarked with the body at Nassau the next morning and repatriated to the mainland by plane.
The widow was emphatic. “No,” she said. “We’ve been saving for this for years.”
For the rest of the cruise, mother and daughter ate, drank, played deck games by day and took to the dancefloor by night as if there was no tomorrow. Which, for the husband lying downstairs in the fridge, there obviously wasn’t.
Around the Captain’s table, my BBH colleagues were similarly wading through treacle, with the exception of Jerry who had somehow seated himself between the attractive ship’s purser, a provocative, Rula Lenska figure and an equally elegant woman, who ran the ship’s domestic staff. He grinned wolfishly as we left the table.
All of us shot up to the top deck and danced madly with the throng to shake off the crew’s gloom. The Nashville pair joined us, both very good company and extremely funny. I have a residual memory of Martin stepping out with each of them in turn. He held his eager – and rather well endowed – dance partners at a decorous arms’ length, with the same rigidity one might handle a wheelbarrow. At about 2am, knowing the next morning heralded a debrief meeting upon landing, I headed for bed. On the way down, I bumped into Jerry, ambling along a carpeted passageway. He was looking at the cabin numbers on the doors, with a studied, distracted air, checking them against the two scribbles on his napkin.
“Ah-ha. Awdry. Yes,” he ventured. “Looking for, er, anyway… Bahamarama”.
The next morning, feeling like death, we peeled ourselves off our bunks, bolted some breakfast and disembarked. At our three hour meeting, Jerry, in very dark sunglasses, talked nineteen to the dozen, while we looked on in awe. I don’t remember a word he said. None of us did. John, the client, as similarly compromised as we five, nodded wearily during the speech, and hiccoughed only slightly. We all left as very good friends.
The advertising we did was therefore something of a ‘what we did on our holidays’ exercise with a liberty or two about the age range. Ken Griffiths took the shots in Westway studios. Our octogenarian dolphin lady, swinging about in a harness while grabbing a prosthetic fish, drank half a bottle of gin during the session. For some reason, the French absolutely loved the ads. They headed off to NCL cruises in shoals, while their advertising publications showered us with all sorts of awards, none of which we understood. The legendary art director Mark Reddy liked our snorkel piece in Direction magazine.
All in all, another’s day’s work in paradise. Or, as I might say if I was feeling a little more shouty, ‘Bahamarama’…