God showed up in Soho. He was planning to make use of local services. Not prostitutes. Few whores could afford the rent any more. And it wasn’t for the coffee. You could get decent coffee anywhere in the UK. (Except the Forest of Dean.) God went to Soho for the post-production facilities.
Humankind was going through a rough patch. A misunderstanding festered at its epicentre: different people had different opinions about what God wanted. So The Almighty decided to clear things up. He’d tried several times before. Knowledge of his initial attempts are, at best, common themes in ancient myths. Efforts during the rises of various civilisations were quickly buried beneath layers of local superstition and partisan need. So he decided to sit it out and wait for the Age of Communication. (Our era.) He knew it was coming. He is, of course, all-knowing.
Prior to turning up in Soho, God consulted with a few media agencies. Media agencies are balls of wool that brands use to navigate the complicated maze of our multimedia world. They all came up with the same strategy – launch with a flagship TV advertisement, then add further communication channels to broaden the campaign. Having seen too many examples of messages getting distorted as they move from one medium to another (stone tablet to word of mouth, for example), God decided to do just one thing. And do it well. He set out to make greatest TV advert ever made.
Most brands use creative agencies to devise their advertising campaigns. But The Lord of Heaven, like Vision Express, decided to skip this expense. He thought to himself, “If I can create the universe, I can write a flipping TV ad.” God did, however, need a production company. He had no experience in post-production. He chose a London–based outfit called Regal Productions. With the guidance of its small team, he’d find the best advertising talent in the world. Post-production, they advised, should take place in Soho.
Which brings us back to the opening sentence. By the time God pitched up in Soho, the commercial had already been shot on location in a virgin rainforest. And editing was underway. So the senior producer at Regal Productions, an experienced hand with an intimidating don’t-bullshit-me frown, was introducing her client to prospective service providers: special effects wizards, animation gurus, sound design magicians, etc. Each had just 15 minutes to make their pitch. Meetings ran from 7:30 in the morning until 9 in the evening. This suited The Almighty perfectly. God absorbs information pretty quickly. And he didn’t want to spend more than one day in Soho having meetings. It retained a seedy reputation. Plus, once word leaked out, he knew the crowds would arrive. And they did. They formed a throng. Or multitude.
Although the meetings were scheduled to last 15 minutes, five would have been enough. God makes his mind up pretty quickly about people. Good or bad (in their specialist area) he could tell right away. He could sniff out bullshit from a thousand miles. Although his producer’s frown was deployed on several occasions – it wasn’t needed. By the end of the day, God had chosen his team.
Sound design would be done at Savannah Sound by Chas – a Londoner born and raised in Sheffield. A convert to the metropolis. Chas was more London than half the people born within the sound of Bow Bells:
- Chas was a Gooner.
- The thought of living outside the capital filled him with horror.
- And stuck on a packed tube train in the summer, wrapped in a pastry of other people’s bodies like the sweaty filling of an ogre’s sausage roll, Chas felt no discomfort whatsoever.
At first, Chas only told his wife the exciting news. But the managing director at Savannah Sound had no intention of keeping things secret. Business was tough. And telling prospective clients that one of your engineers is doing the mix on God’s television advertisement – would bring advertising agencies flocking to your door. So the word got out pretty quickly. And the beginning (of Chas’s rise to fame) was the word.
God and the senior producer from Regal Productions were one of a kind. (Figuratively speaking.) They both believed in excellence, value for money and graft. Chas mixed sound from eight in the morning to six or later every evening – long hours for a Soho-based sound engineer. By the end of the day he was knackered and needed a pint. Or two. Chas’s wife didn’t mind. She’d written off seeing him for the three months prior to broadcast. It was worth the sacrifice. With God’s sound mix under his belt, Chas would be a made man. He’d be able to double his salary and always be in work. Future family holidays to idyllic locations were guaranteed. So, with his wife’s consent, every evening after work, Chas headed to the Blue Posts to wind down.
Chas’s dad was proud that his Yorkshire-born son enjoyed a pint or two before heading home. But the fact that his lad chose a namby-pamby premium lager over a pint of hand-pulled ale irked him. And to make matters worse for the resolute Yorkshireman, whenever funds allowed, his arty-crafty offspring would choose fizzy wine over fizzy beer. And not just any fizzy wine. Chas regarded cava and its international cousins as little better than white cider. The NW1 resident only drank champagne.
Once word got out that Chas was doing God’s sound, the relatively humble sound engineer became a Soho celebrity. Everyone wanted to talk to him – to know more about the deal – to know more about the client – to know more about the advert. Chas was sworn to secrecy about the ad. (That’s not unusual in the world of international brand advertising.) Other things he could share – anecdotes about God’s utterances, observations of the Divine Being. That kind of thing. Although The Almighty rarely showed up for a mixing session (he’d generally review MPEGs remotely), there was plenty of manna for the ravenous masses. The Blue Posts was packed every evening. The landlord had to employ bouncers to control numbers.
It didn’t take long for Chas to tell the landlord he had a taste for champagne. So every evening there was a chilled bottle waiting for the celebrated sound engineer’s arrival. For the first couple of weeks it was house champagne. Then Moët. Then Laurent Perrier rosé. And finally, following an unsubtle expression of particular preference from the sound specialist, Ruinart – with a bottle, like its illustrious quaffer, that stood out from the crowd.
Two weeks before Chas’s final celestial booking, the first broadcast slot was confirmed. Coronation Street. Prime time. Slots like that aren’t cheap – but they guarantee millions of viewers. A wiser media agency would have thought outside the box. The public was so eager to receive God’s message, it could have aired on Channel 5 and still got a huge audience.
For anyone who was anyone in Soho, the only place to watch the premier of God’s first television advert… was the Blue Posts. The landlord was onto a winner. He charged £100 a ticket and they were heavily oversubscribed. In the run-up to the big night, tickets were exchanging hands in coke-sprinkled wine bars for up to a grand.
Savannah Studios didn’t take any audio bookings for Chas on the day of the first screening. They let him revel in his glory. God’s glory – you could say. He had breakfast with clients, elevenses with clients, lunch with clients, high tea with clients and early dinner with clients. Savannah picked up the tab. With Chas’s fame, each pound spent would earn thousands in new business.
When Chas got to the Blue Posts that evening, he appeared more of a follower of Bacchus than Jehovah. But this was Soho – so nobody cared. In fact, the ticket-owning ensemble was encouraged to discover that God’s sound engineer was one of them. They wanted to meet the man who’d done God’s audio mix – not a preacher. And the only thing Chas was preaching that night was the preeminence of Ruinart.
The landlord had prepared an appropriate welcome party: Jeroboam, Rehoboam, Methuselah, Salmanasar, Balthazar, Nebuchadnezzar and Solomon were all there. Not at the bar, on the bar – lined up like wise kings queuing to see an infant Nazarene. Seven green bottles standing on a [sort-of] wall. The stage was set for a big night.
People were packed inside the Blue Posts like the world’s animals were crammed into a celebrated wooden ark 4,000 years earlier. Despite the overcrowding, every ticket holder would forever be able to boast they’d experienced the relaunch of God’s word with one its architects. The swarm of sycophants parted like the Red Sea every time Chas needed to pop to the toilet or outside for a cigarette. The moment he stopped moving, eager followers would strain to get his attention:
“Does God support a football team?”
“What does God drink?”
“What kind of trainers does God wear?”
“Does God like beards?”
Chas played his audience like ravenous fish in a home aquarium – sprinkling a little fodder here and there; then watching them swarm to the surface and gulp down titbits – swallowing every morsel, ever hungry for more. He was the man of the moment.
All went quiet when the Coronation Street theme music kicked in. An untaught Pavlovian response. The hubbub returned when the attendees realised they needed to wait for the first ad break. Several minutes of stylised acting and some soap opera clichés later, silence resumed. First ad, first break, the word of God – with a bespoke music track from a mystery composer; and top-end special effects from Framestore (the SFX house that did Gravity).
The audience was spellbound. Not literally. God was past using miracles to get his message across. He found them too divisive. One man’s miracle is another man’s suffering. TV adverts, on the other hand, don’t cause injuries. Although, as Chas and other sound professionals knew, compressing then boosting the sound makes them appear louder than the programmes they segue.
And God’s ad sounded loud. It felt as if choirs of excited angels were screaming it from the rooftop of every trendy bar and restaurant in Soho. The audio mix was magnificent. The sound effects made onscreen visuals explode inside each viewer’s head like pre-installed psychological IEDs. The balance was so deft that the voice over (Sir Anthony Hopkins, obviously), music and spot effects all sounded gloriously prominent – with not one diminishing the other. The sound raised the impact of the onscreen action from 10 out of 10… to 11. And yet the single message that God wanted to get across, stood out like a lone bugle playing the Last Post on Remembrance Day.
The landlord hit the TV off-switch the moment the ad ended. Everyone in room burst into spontaneous applause. Everyone except Chas. If you’d been there, you might have imagined he was being modest. He wasn’t. Chas remained motionless.
As the riotous cheering started to fade, the landlord banged the largest of his now empty oversize champagne bottles with a carving fork that looked like the devil’s trident. “Speech!” he insisted with infectious vigour.
The room went quiet. Chas had to respond.
“It wasn’t my mix,” he squeaked.
Every attending jaw dropped. Nobody knew what to do. The silence lasted an age. The uncomfortable peace was broken by a text alert on a fellow sound engineer’s mobile. “It’s Jo,” bleated Bez, “she’s round the 13 Cantons, she did the mix.”
The crowd departed without a word – flooding out of the Blue Posts in an eager Exodus. If they couldn’t say they were with God’s sound engineer when the heavenly advert first aired – they could at least say they bought her a drink or shook her hand.
Chas slumped onto a wooden chair at the corner of an abandoned table. The landlord started rifling about under the bar. A few yards and a billion miles separated the two until-recently friends. The landlord found something to keep himself busy. Chas was frozen in the liquid nitrogen of shame. He felt as small as a flea on a mammoth’s back; and as empty as Jesus’ tomb after the Resurrection.
He began to babble.
“She doesn’t even work in a fucking studio.”
“Home-based laptop monkey.”
“God lied to me. Or that producer. Bitch.”
“Totally fucking stitched up.”
The landlord strode over. Chas looked up at him with broken eyes. Only Northern Grit stopped those eyes drizzling tears.
“Sorry mate,” he croaked to the landlord, “God must’ve had others working on it. They’ve stitched me up.”
The pub owner was unmoved. He slapped a seven-grand champagne bill onto the table in front of Chas.
“You’ve gotta be joking,” pleaded the deflated sound man, “they led me on – I believed them.”
“Seems you’re not the chosen one after all,” snapped the landlord. And switched on the TV.