In 1977 I was in my last year at M&G and looking for my next career opportunity while working as hard as ever at M&G. Like always in my life I left a person or a group of people but never the heart and soul of the company. Making the imminent departure was the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed working with a great group of people.
Dr. Brackenridge was already an icon of life insurance underwriting and a model medical director when we put a tour of the USA together to publicize his latest book. The book was a rewrite of a decades earlier version of the same title. Anyone who knew “Brack” immediately fell under his charisma and depth of knowledge and the great style of delivering sound expertise in a complicated field. We at the time wanted the Americans to meet the man for themselves, talk up the book and think better of the M&G. IT worked.
The tour was memorable and a milestone for the M&G. Many reinsurers break out of a “sameness” by doing the unusual but regrettably that is not the case today. Today perhaps we are mired in a rut of “sameness” which is just too comfortable for today’s leaders to beak from and charge forward. Perhaps a reinsurer just has to find there own “Brack” today and use him, her or it to lead that charge.
Anyway I reproduce here a story I was asked to write back then for publication in the M&G global magazine for staff. It did not get wide distribution and I struggled to find my original copy. It turned up this past week while researching for a book that I have been threatening to publish for years. Not the financial underwriting text but the one on our industry. Upon finding the old tattered copy and reading it I immediately found a smile on my face from ear to ear as the warm memories flooded my consciousness.
IT was a great “tour” and it will always remain a highlight of my reinsurance career. The people, both M&G staff and invited guests, all contributed to super times that indeed “do it for the M&G.”
Remember that it was written in a different time. The 1970’s were not the same as 2005. Political correctness was unheard of and travel was fun and novel still. If any of the words offend today I am sorry but I do not want to change it and loose the flavour. My current comments are in italics.
“DOES THIS DOCTOR MAKE HOUSE CALLS AS WELL?”
(ALSO KNOWN AS THE M&G TRAVELLING CIRCUS OR THE M&G’s MAGICAL MYSTERY MOVEMENT)
Once upon a time (don’t worry it’s not about Goldilocks) there was a company called the M. & G. (Note that they had yet to brand themselves as M&G) This band of adventurous travelers (N.A. expression) liked to do the unusual and as often as not wondered why the unusual became a habit.
Who else, I ask you, could think of a plan that would involve the “Movement” of hundreds of words (in book form), across thousands of miles of open terrain on the North American Continent. The logistics of the event are beyond comprehension. Not since the Indians (N.A. expression or version) sold Manhattan Island to the Dutch has there been such a momentous occasion in history. The Canadian good guys (appropriately dressed in white) sat for hours trying to think of an imaginative, taxing ordeal that would put an author of such a book as “The Medical Selection of Life Risks” through in such a short period of time.
The “Movement” started in New York and then moved on to Washington, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco – pause – Minneapolis, Des Moines (why here?), Chicago, Toronto (is there a better place?) and Montreal. The Montreal portion of the “movement” has been excluded due to my inability to converse rapidly in the French language – vive le Quebec libre. (Note looking back I have no idea why I added such an end to the sentence)
GWCB and I flew to New York in the wee small hours of Monday, May 16th to be greeted by Brack, EG and RW lazily enjoying lunch. It’s 10:00 a.m. and they are having an early lunch! No, it looks more like breakfast. GWCB and I were glad it was breakfast for, if it had been lunch, we would have missed the opening performance. New York, was an amazing city (probably still is). I was constantly worried that I would run out of money. I spent $90.00 in less than five hours on tips and cab fares. Why are we doing business in this town? Our actuaries would never have allowed for this type of expense margin in our rates.
It was difficult talking to Brack and EG on Monday since they still had not recovered from being inundated with a verbal barrage the day before. One of our clients had given them a very complete running description of city during a whirlwind tour of the city. Who says our clients will not talk to us? I was told the highlight of the tour was Harlem. It’s too bad the U.S. of A. could not obtain war relief to correct the damage caused by the internal wars in Harlem. Maybe the M. & G. and Jimmy C. could work out some catastrophe coverage. (Note how much has changed since the mid 1970’s and most of it for the better)
The Park Plaza was up to the standards expected by the members of the M.M.M. (see title). Elegant surroundings and superb service highlighted the day. Fortunately for the team, the books arrived with only five minutes to spare. A great volume of needless perspiration was spent in anticipation of trying to give away forty books when we didn’t have forty books to give away. All is well that ends well, and on such an original thought we left “The Big Apple” in a limousine which was forty feet long and thirty feet wide. To end the scene one must make a mental image of Brack taking copious feet of movies of the limo ride which are nothing more than road signs, steel girders and bridge abutments. These are of interest to engineers around the world, but heaven help Brack’s family and friends.
Ah….Washington and thank God for RRW who made all the arrangements. Did he really select the hotel and a dining establishment for dinner? Yes, he did! We had charcoal coloured lobster, a steak thin as bologna, wine served in glasses still tasting of a strong antiseptic detergent and a waitress who kept saying “it is not my fault, I’m only a part-time summer student trying to learn a trade.” Back in the hotel we found that our phones did not work. E.G. was without a lock on her door and proceeded to pile the television set, triple dresser, four chairs and her purse against her door to feel secure in her bed.
Fifteen guests were expected at our luncheon, yet the original room scheduled for the lunch would accommodate one thousand guests, a flying circus, a full orchestra and the complete M&G Cheltenham staff if we could have brought them over for the occasion. After a great deal of complaining and sulking in corners we were able to arrange a more appropriately-sized room. The hotel itself got its revenge on RRW by giving him a room which had no towels. When he emerged from the shower his story was that he was forced to roll around in bed to dry himself. At least he said he was rolling around in bed to dry himself, but knowing RRW the imagination could run wild with other possibilities. It would be unfair to mention the name of this hotel so I will just say it starts with the letter “M” and is named after a famous ship in American history.
In Dallas we were met by the ever jovial PHT who proceeded to give us an educational tour of the city of Dallas which is famous for only one thing and that is not reinsurance. (Note, was it the cheerleaders? Being this was a testerone charged trip?) One gets to appreciate the talented drivers that we have in the M. & G. when one of the M. & G. representatives can maneuver down a one-way street, going in the wrong direction, and fail to notice that he is in the wrong. This was an experience and I am sure that all our travelers have tried it at various times and have met with varying degrees of success. Thank God for group insurance.
The luncheon here went well with a large attendance of forty people, all of whom were thought to be invited friends of the M. & G. The books arrived on time and EG was able to welcome the first guests on her own, since the rest of the M. & G. contingent were off touring the city or shopping. At least the rest of us arrived for dessert and handshaking. Yes, it’s Wednesday, so it must be Dallas and we must prepare to move on to the next town. On the way to the airport, once again, was our fearless PHT driving us through the myriad of interstate highways. He made an unusual detour. This was on a country road and we made a “pit stop” at a local cemetery. PHT, being religious as he is, decided not to partake of the cemetery itself but merely walked off behind the bushes to the side of the cemetery and proceeded to let nature rule his body. This has been recorded on film by Dr. Brack and will be shown at the next convention of urologists.
We’re all tired, but we’re all looking forward to Los Angeles – hopefully we’ll be able to see it through the smog and not be distracted by the pornographic material we are sure to encounter. (Note, amazing what one thought in those days of a city and why?)
Ah…..problems started to happen – started to happen is wrong since we had nothing but problems since the start of this trip. GWCB made it to LA but unfortunately, his luggage did not. I had a feeling we should have tipped that red cap. The lack of books presented a problem. RAM and GWCB spent most of the morning digging through the warehouse of Emery Air Freight trying to find a package that contained fifty books. No books – no performance. The show must go on so we left Emery Air Freight with a solemn look on our face and madly tried to write an apology for our guests. Meanwhile back at the hotel EG had set up all the books and had an hour to spare to do some shopping. (Note, EG always found the books first!) It’s a wonder she still had money since she had shopped in every town and had filled her suitcase to the point where it was at least 100 pounds in weight. She must be a pet rock collector!
It’s time to move on but the eternal question crops up. Where’s Brack? Where are his briefcase, pipe, movie camera and extra film? This was the fourth day of keeping track of this individual and by this time our nerves were being frayed and our schedules were being pushed to the limit. It was a continual cry since the time the meeting ended. “I want to see LA”. A quick five minute tour of Beverley Hills was arranged in which time he saw at least one house and fifteen sign posts that pointed to various freeways in the Southern California area. On to the airport with no time to spare and we were quickly whisked on to the plane which would magically convey us to the city of San Francisco. Ah….what luck we met another actress (Note, an actress I liked up until her very rude and arrogant behavior on the plane) but that was a story censored out of this story by MH and SAC.
San Francisco went too smoothly to be believed and the hotel was exquisite.
Thus mentioning the name of the St. Francis should come as a very high recommendation to any one else wanting to venture into the town of San Francisco. The luncheon was a success and handshakes were given to all.
The weekend – a lonely weekend – in the town of San Francisco just Brack, EG and RAM. Saturday was spent touring the Monterey Peninsula and what else? – taking movies of road signs! This should be tremendous movie equal to any Fellini production with a cost only surmounted by that of JAWS. A lazy day Sunday arriving at the airport around noon and flying to that wonderful city of the north, Minneapolis. No, if it was Minneapolis it must have been Monday but I guess we had to get there on Sunday.
Flying into Minneapolis one wondered if there was going to be a runway or a large lake to land on. Lots of green, lots of blue, but few people. Once again everything at the luncheon went well with our nerves getting back to normal and our drinking capacity reducing somewhat since we had nothing to excuse the over-imbibing that had preceded this section of our “movement”. The dinner was cheap here – we had filet mignon for the price of macaroni in Toronto. No wonder we had such a turn out. How often does the client get a free meal of filet in these days of inflation and low salaries?
For seven days now we’ve been asked the question by Brack, “Why are we going to Des Moines? I don’t want to go to Des Moines; there can’t be anything in Des Moines, etc. etc.” But, as Brack learned in Des Moines, the town was founded on the banks of a river where all the wagons heading west to California broke down. Thus needless to say this town is made up of broken down wagons or people who were not able to mend their wagons on the way to the West. Maybe the town should have been named Broken Wagon but of course that name was used by a famous Indian once before but we won’t go into that.
On the wagon again – we swore off drinks before the sun crossed the yardarm. Yet once the yardarm was crossed (we moved the yardarm) our guests arrived. Handshakes galore – no kissing – and sore arms from lugging hundreds of books across this vast continent! A pleasant place Des Moines. WH was in his glory shaking more hands than anyone else and feeling proud that this could only happen in America. Let’s get out of Des Moines before we all stick straw between our teeth and start rocking on the front porch.
Chicago – “that wonderful town, that wonderful town.” What a change after slow moving Des Moines. Well it wasn’t that it was faster since we sat in the cab for almost two hours in 90 degree temperatures on a freeway while everyone looked at an accident where somebody had scratched a bumper. No kidding that’s all the damage! But everybody felt that it was worth stopping to look at. Once again hundreds of feet of film were taken of this event and will be presented to the National Association of Road Accidents.
Have we lost Brack? No! He is merely out shopping again and taking movies of more buildings and roadsides. I think he is going to have difficulty deciding whether Smith Street was in Washington, Minneapolis or Chicago. That’s his problem; the M. & G. Canada staff doesn’t have to edit his film we merely have to endorse it. Chicago was successful – books on time, hot meal and very few “no shows” for a circus performance. RD and his lovely wife were exceptional hosts and did not have to apologize too often for the haggard look on the faces of three M. & G. staff that were now in their eighth-day of the Magical Mystery Movement. It must be Chicago since its Wednesday. Let’s get out of the place.
Ah…..home to Toronto. The town that beats all other towns and where the performance would surely peak – at least it would peak in the English language – one could not speak for the French language edition which was to follow. Toronto was a success with numerous jokes provided by Dr. C who was in rare form and provided jovial entertainment for all those who accompanied the guest. We were very fortunate to call in this guest performer and his addition to the Magical Mystery Movement and/or Traveling Circus was very fortunate. Between Dr. C and Brack it was very hard to get the meeting “on topic” but who cares. I can go home tonight and have a good sleep. Apparently, after this meeting wrapped up, several of the M. & G. bit players and walk on performers joined several of our clients in various bars throughout downtown Toronto and drank the wee hours away.
For those of you who don’t like to read a book before seeing the movie you can be sure that the movie version of this will be provided by Brack & Company. (Note, six months later the team had to sit through countless hours of a movie that had just what one expected — buildings and road signs) Admission will be cheap or at least voluntary. For those of you who think that this was an easy trip I can only quote that famous American author who once said “sit on it”. Thanks Brack!
The bit players on this tour included the following individuals EG, GWCB, RW, RD, WH, PHT, RAM, MAM plus assorted characters who were called in at the last minute for necessary walk-on performances. Of course the star of the show was “Brack”.
Initials have been used for the various characters in this performance so as to protect the innocent yet titillate the imagination enough to let everybody know who was at fault or who was doing wrong during various, performances in the nine cities.
The author of the story would like to thank Brack, for his participation and we are sure that his performance will be remembered at the Academy Award presentations for the best foreign film made in the U.S.A. and Canada. (Note, his film did not win but his book and subsequent re writes are big winners.)