Jobless after ending his National Service, r.p. became a salesman, and this is an account, of the several years he spent in this work, Married, with a young daughter, the 34-year-old author is now head of the sociological department of a London teachers training college.
The salesman serves as a Janus-faced stereotype, for he is seen as both the victim and the hired assassin of the capitalist ethos. As the matron of a girls’ approved school once sadly remarked to me, ‘Desire is on the increase’. The salesman’s economic function is just that—to keep the public wanting a little bit more than they have a little more quickly than they need it. Many left-wingers view the desire for material possessions in much the same light as puritans view the desire for early sex experience. Their comments on hire purchase and pre-marital intercourse are virtually interchangeable.
Selling was my first full-time job. I began thinking seriously about work two months before the end of National Service. I had left grammar school in 1950 with the usual three ‘A’ levels.
On the surface I could always give the impression of being in command of my destiny. Like many other working-class boys of my generation with a grammar-school education, I had learned how to survive by adapting superficially to any given situation. This skill was invaluable in the army. I was ‘referred for three months’ in my first attempt to get to Cadet School on the grounds that I lacked a sense of humour. The next time round I showed a little more levity and went through Eton Hall as one of two grammar school boys in a draft of 40 public school recruits. Thus I reached the brink of employment having been trained as a leader of men, first at school and then in the army. At 22 I was suddenly aware that life had run out of sports teams and platoons.
This harsh reappraisal of my personal and occupational status was completed by a brother officer who suggested in the Mess one night that he knew the very job for me—‘A car salesman—with your bloody gift of the gab you couldn’t miss. I can see you now, leaning on the old Lagondas in a Warren Street showroom. Second-hand, of course—more scope.’
For three months after demobilization I lived on my last army cheque in a state of vocational limbo. I finally decided that I should get a move-on and went to a private employment agency in the City. After I had given my particulars to the agent, he stood up and jubilantly announced,