The art of the high flyer
Bring your attractive secretary and start every trip with Champagne . . . Rosita Boland unearths a book devoted to the art of travelling on expenses
Retro view: Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) and Don (Jon Hamm) in Sky Atlantic’s Mad Men made the new era of jet-set business travel look glamorous
Being editor of Punch, the famous satirical British magazine, in the 1970s was a high-flying job. Quite literally. The magazine, which was first published in 1841 and closed in 2002, was in readership and circulation clover in 1975 and its editor William Davis had a little sideline, he was also editor of the British Airways’ in-flight magazine, High Life. That year he also found time to publish a book Have Expenses, Will Travel, a practical and amusing guide for business travellers. It is long since out of print, but it provides an astonishing retrospective insight into that world in the 1970s.
“Travel is much more pleasant when someone else is paying,” is Davis’s undeniably honest opening statement, under a chapter called Sign Here. “Expense accounts,” he says, “breed self-confidence, generosity and good humour”.
It’s assumed that the reader is a man, because they’re the ones with the big jobs and the expense accounts. Or at least they were, back in 1975. There’s an entire chapter called Conference Man. We learn that some businessmen go on “study tours. I have happy memories myself, of two personal study tours. The first was to Bordeaux and involved visits to a dozen of the world’s most famous wine cellars, it may have been more, but I lost count after the first six. The second was to the splendid vineyards of Tuscany.”
But enough of the study tour, and back to the overseas business trip, which your wife has accompanied you on. What’s she up to? “While you are at your business meetings she is likely to be roaming around town, finding all sorts of things which you simply must take back with you. Your function is to sign travellers’ cheques.” The businessman “takes care of whatever business happens to be the purpose of the trip,” and his travelling wife, when not buying souvenirs, “looks after the usual travel chores – packing, paying bills, tipping porters, phoning airlines, making appointments, ordering breakfast and booking tables at restaurants”. She sounds like she’s earning her free trip. Who pays for the wives to travel with their husbands? The ideal situation, “of course, is for the company to foot the bill”.
Davis acknowledges that the women who travel on the business trip, all expenses paid, are not always wives. “Some executives insist on being accompanied by their secretaries. If the executive is single, he will see nothing wrong in inviting an attractive secretary along and presumably she wouldn’t go unless she knew what to expect. It’s her decision.” Well, that’s alright then. It’s the attractive secretary’s decision. The plain ones probably never had to make those kinds of decisions.
Once you actually get down to work, you can really get working on those expenses. “If you need to impress the natives with your importance, you can of course hire a Rolls or Cadillac and engage a chauffeur.”
There’s a lot in this book about air travel, reflecting an era when flying was much more relaxed and esoteric than it is now. “My aim, on long trips, is to remain in a state of gentle, blissful intoxication and my favourite helpmate is Champagne. It comes in quarter bottles, so I always start with two, to save time.” Even some of the business trips themselves took place on planes. “Conferences in the air have also been used a few times as a successful gimmick. One charters an aircraft for the day, packs it full of salesmen, dealers or press, gives them the hard sell and plenty of Champagne . . .” The author loves his air travel. “Given a choice of yacht or corporate jet I’d take the plane every time.”
He’s not expecting much either (apart from endless expense account champagne). “It doesn’t even have to have a revolving bed or a complement of Bunnies.” They would be the Playboy Bunnies, much in the news in the 1970s.
The alcohol consumption does not stop once the businessman has landed. “Drinking and business trips are as inseparable as Siamese twins,” says Davis, noting sternly that, “The teetotaller has a hard time because no one really believes that he is serious”.
Then there’s the question of how the male business traveller can craftily extend his business trip for his own entertainment, while still putting it all on company expenses. “Good business, I stress, is only done when one is not tied to a rigid schedule.” He recommends adding on a “rest day” because “your mind is getting a rest, as well as your body”, although presumably there was no rest plan for the businessman’s liver during that time.
After reading this book, how any business ever got done in the 1970s frankly remains a great big mystery.