Up The Agency: The Funny Business of Advertising

Peter Mayle

Read May 2003

Yes, that Peter Mayle. He apparently worked over a decade in advertising, which is what drove him to Provence. Surely the people of that hardy region must wonder at this wretched twist of fate. And indeed, the evidence of his past is all too clear in his present success: Provence Preferred is doing rather well.

Oh yes, the book. Mayle is not bad as a gentle humorist, and fortunately he doesn't try to make too much of his material. He rarely asks hard questions—who does, in advertising?—but at least it qualifies as eminently light reading, with some well-turned phrases. Only after a hundred pages (literally) does he get serious about the profession, but it's too little, too late. And he never asks the really obvious questions about the morality of his trade—that wouldn't play well in his circles. And for that matter, the stories he could tell! But Mayle's evident fear of being sued sadly strips the book of much of its wealth, so it's mostly facade. Sort of like an ad, I guess.

(A note of warning: Mayle's language is hopelessly un-PC: all executives are men; the secretaries are all women, half of whom are of dubious repute. This is not a particularly old book, either. Is he trying to make a point? I normally don't much care about gender-free pronouns and the like, but one has to wonder if an author as savvy as Mayle isn't doing this for effect.)