Not even the staunchest defenders of advertising would pretend it works every time. But when things go wrong, there’s usually a good explanation: the creativity was poor, the medium was ill-chosen, the product stank.
None of that, however, will come as much comfort to Susan Constable, who advertised for a man and was sent an assortment of lemons. She didn’t do the advertising herself but wisely, as she thought, delegated the task to a professional, the Initial Approach dating agency of Dunblane.
Ms Constable stated plainly the nature of the item she sought. It was male, presentable, a non-smoker (smokers being the modern day equivalents of the vampiric undead), and the holder of a valid driving licence plus car.
Initial Approach scoured its files in the way dating agencies do, applying its special knowledge of the mysterious vibrations that draw mate to mate, and the equally mysterious calculations by which its fees are justified.
The runes consulted, the signs read and the buttons pressed, up popped the men of Ms Constable’s dreams. They were, however, the kind of dreams that awaken you with a start, your nightie dripping in cold sweat.
The men who arrived at her door, she says, were totally unsuitable. She had nothing whatever in common with them. For example, some were fat and bald. (A reminder of an item once seen in a lonely hearts column: “Bald, energetic fun-loving male seeks similar female”. A man who writes his own ads has a fool for a copywriter.) Worse still, contrary to her specific requirements, most of the misters dispatched by Initial Approach couldn’t drive.
One was so short-sighted he had been advised not to get behind the wheel of car. Another lived nearly 200 miles away and was too scared to visit her by road.
All in all, 14 men were sent, and not one bore the least resemblance to Stirling Moss, except the bald ones. And incredible but true, some had the stain of nicotine upon them.
Had Ms Constable ordered a thoroughbred stallion and been sent a warthog, she could not have been more disappointed. Nor was that all. As part of its duties, Initial Approach had invited her to a mediaeval murder mystery evening costing 69 and had refused a refund when she was unable to attend. It seems curious that a dating agency should consider such an event suitable for its members, but, on more mature reflection and given Ms Constable’s account of the men on Initial Approach’s books, a night of ghastly and gruesome murder perpetrated by hideous bent-backed monsters seems little more than prudent preparation.
At any rate, by the time the 14th hairless, fat, myopic chain smoker had enjoyed an all too brief rhapsodic tryst at her door, she’d had enough. Fearing that the next caller might arrive juggling a glass eye and a wooden leg, she complained to the agency, which promptly cancelled her membership and refused a refund.
Up to this point our sympathy has been with the wronged Ms Constable. But she forfeits it the moment she decides to sue. Not for herself, you understand, but “on behalf of all lonely hearts who have grievances with dating agencies but are too embarrassed to speak out”.
Maybe it’s a legacy of the me-generation of the Sixties; it might, heaven forbid, be the result of the world of promise and fulfilment held out by marketing; but whatever the reason ours is an age in which disappointment is intolerable. In centuries past our forebears understood that life was indeed a vale of tears strewn with the rocks and boulders of disillusion and despair.
Not any more. Setbacks are seen as monstrous betrayals of the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness correctable only by recourse to the law. We know the result – sleek, preening lawyers, clogged courts, and absurd payouts for wrongs real, imagined, or concocted.
Thankfully, there are still a few who, having trodden on life’s rake, content themselves with bellyaching to the press.
Take Dennis Woolley, 74, a retired railway worker from Doncaster, who was chosen along with his wife Kathleen and 4,000 other couples to attend a grand golden wedding party given by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
As with the unfortunate Ms Constable, the reality pulled up short of the expectation. “We had to queue for nearly two hours to get into the Palace and were stood up all the time,” he says. “The seats were like gold dust and I had only been on mine for five minutes when it gave way. I ended up on my backside on the lawn in front of thousands of people. It was very embarrassing.”
Were Mr Woolley to consult m’learned friends, he would no doubt be advised that there was a bob or two to be made from his discomfort, distress, hurt, embarrassment, and exposure to public ridicule.
But Mr Woolley would rather die than sue his sovereign. Just like another unfortunate guest, aged 74, who did exactly that and dropped dead as he left the event.
Recalling his day at the Palace, Mr Woolley says he would have preferred a pork pie and a pint. Seldom have life’s simple pleasures and greatest expectations been summed up in so few words.