Monday, March 28, 2011

Living off your hump.

I was watching, studying actually, Alec Guinness in the early 1980s mini-series, "Smiley's People." It hardly matters that the plot was Byzantine--inscrutable even, watching Guinness and his "gift of quiet," is to watch genius at work. He conveys more with a glance or a twitch than lesser actors do with a speech.

One phrase in the mini-series hit me. It came from an associate of Guinness' character, George Smiley, who was urging Smiley to drop a case, to go back into retirement. "George," he says, "it's time to live off your hump."

Living off his hump is something Smiley can't do. He cannot go gently into that goodnight. Instead, with persistence and resolve, Smiley moves slowly and inexorably forward. Finding loose ends and knitting them together. Smiley is obviously old. He doesn't have the energy he once had--he lays down and naps now and again, but nothing stops his forward motion.

Living off our hump is something we in advertising should never, can never do either. We are only as good as our last assignment, our last commercial. Our next assignment doesn't care what our last accomplishment was. The same goes for agencies, too. They cannot live off their humps, either. Nobody cares about a campaign done four years ago.

Of course, there are those who seem to pull it off--living off their humps. The people with a Titanic attitude and a minnow in the engine room. Living off the fumes of something they said they were going to do, or something they almost did, or something an agency they once worked at did.

Sooner or later though, the great scorekeeper reads your tally. There are the workers and the blowhards. As the great Grantland Rice wrote a century or so ago:

"For When the One Great Scorer
comes to write against your name,
He writes – not that you Won or Lost
but How You Played the Game."

What are you doing now?


Anonymous said...

River Kwai baby! Arguably his best.


simon billing said...

Have you read Guinness's autobiographies? The second (of three) has the somehow very apt title "My name Escapes Me".

george tannenbaum said...

I haven't, Simon. Though I've read their reviews.

george tannenbaum said...

By the way, Anonymous and Simon, have you seen "Kind Hearts and Coronets" and "Captain's Paradise"?


My opinion: Guiness's best was "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" in which he also plays George Smiley.

george tannenbaum said...

Bob, I think he was even better in "Smiley." But we're splitting hairs. I think he's a better actor than even David Schwimmer.

Anonymous said...

good one..just what i needed today.


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