September 24, 2012 by JoBe Cerny
The first time I visited London, I was on a business trip to sell detergent for Procter & Gamble. The American Cheer campaign had won many international awards by that time, and every new country I traveled to had different cleaning needs. So it was just a matter of time before I was sent to clean up England. And it was truly a royal experience. The flight to London was on British Airways aboard a first class seat. That was the first time in my life I had clotted cream and scones. It was quite a change from donuts and coffee. Scones tend to be very dry, but the clotted cream softens them up. Without the clotted cream, they are too dry for my taste. In addition to shooting commercials for P&G, I was going to be paying a visit to my studio’s new business partner in London, John Cleese’s company, Video Arts. Video Arts was the largest Business to Business Sales Training company in the world. To bolster American sales, Cerny/American’s Industrial Division was hired to create a line of business videos that would appeal to American companies. We had won an extensive competition to gain the business, and our unique brand of comedy in the business to business area was proven successful as we wrote and shot many videos and, I was creative director and head writer for many live annual meetings for Fortune 500 companies. Peter Burns who headed our industrial division and I were going to work Chris Langham who wrote for The Muppets and also wrote for Video Arts to create our new product line of American Videos.
When I got off the plane, it was getting dark, and a driver picked me up at the airport and drove me to my hotel. I asked the driver where the hotel was, and he said it was across the street from the Queen’s place. I laughed, but he didn’t. It turned out that the hotel faced Buckingham Palace! Talk about the royal treatment. It was a very elegant hotel. But, I usually travel light because I spend my days shooting. So, I didn’t spend much time in my hotel room looking out a window with binoculars trying to catch a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth. When enter a hotel room, I always turn on the television to make sure it works. And what came on shocked me! WGN was airing Bozo in England. I worked with Bozo and Cookie, so instantly I felt right at home. What struck me as odd was instead of English commercials, the program had local Chicago commercials for Al Piemonte Ford, asking viewers to come to his Chicago address for a great deal. Maybe he was trying to get the Queen’s attention. When I thought about it, maybe I was there to get the Queen to try P&G detergent to get stains out her royal gowns. Bozo and Cookie threw a lot of pies at each other, and clean-ups of Bozo and Cookie’s clown costumes were a high priority. After Bozo, I watched the Black Hawks play a hockey game on WGN. So, I was a happy camper who felt right at home.
The next morning I was picked up at the hotel by a chauffer with a private car. It was not a limo, but a very high end, high powered eight-cylinder Audi. He wore a chauffer’s outfit complete with a cap. As we drove off, he began pointing out the sites to me. I asked him where John Cleese’s company was, and it turned out it was within walking distance of the hotel. The studio was a bit further away (Just a few more kilometers), and when he pulled up to the studio, he got out of the car and opened the door for me. He told me he would wait for me until I was done. I told him I wouldn’t be done until very late that night, but he said: “I am your man for the day. I don’t mind waiting. That’s my job.” He seemed pretty set on waiting, but I told him to do whatever he wanted to and come back later that afternoon. He smiled when I suggested that, but I don’t know if did what I suggested because he was parked right where I had left him when we finished filming that night.
The next day, I didn’t need to be on set early so I scheduled my visit to John Cleese’s company. I always loved his eccentricity and bizarre sense of humor. And like all things English, his CEO and CFO had wonderful, colorful, English names, and I am sure John Cleese hand-picked them to work together. There names were John Christmas and Maggie Tree. In my mind, it was a match made in heaven: Christmas-Tree. As we talked about the sixteen videos Cerny/American was developing, Christmas-Tree both politely and pleasantly nodded their heads to let me know they were listening, and I did the same as they talked about their marketing ideas. As I remember this trip, everyone I met in London was pleasant and polite, and I found myself being trying to be pleasant and polite to blend in. I always like to meet the people I do business with, but I never got to meet John Cleese because he was shooting a feature film. I never got to see Queen Elizabeth either, but I did get to see a helicopter land on the lawn at Buckingham Palace. Everyone was pleasant and polite to the people who landed on the Queen’s lawn. Try doing that in Grant Park near Buckingham Fountain!