9 May 2024

Welcome to the terrordome : 2006 : Enders Analysis at Denton Wilde Sapte, City of London

 The first of April proved not such an innocuous date on which to have started my new job. Within weeks, I began to wonder if I was the fool to take on a position as ‘media analyst’ that I had never known existed, let alone submitted a job application. The previous year, I had been minding my own business, providing a steady stream of stories as uncredited news editor to weekly print publication ‘The Radio Magazine’, when an e-mail arrived from (unknown to me) Claire Enders asking if I wanted to write an analysis of Britain’s largest commercial radio owner ‘GCap Media plc’. Having tabulated radio industry data for myself since 1980, I was happy to pen six pages demonstrating that this group had already hit the rocks, ending my report:

“Someone should have done [GCap chief executive Ralph] Bernard a big favour and bought him a sign that Christmas to hang in his office that said: ‘It’s all about the content, stupid!’”

Published by ‘Enders Analysis’ that November, I was left to presume the response to my critical analysis had been positive because I was asked if I desired a full-time office position writing similar reports about the media industries. My employment would replace radio industry veteran Phil Riley who had anonymously freelanced occasional radio reports for the company until then. It was an offer too good to refuse as the salary for working in a comfy central London office was considerably greater than my pay from American public corporation ‘Metromedia International Inc’ had been a decade earlier for having schlepped around Russia, Hungary, Latvia, Berlin and Prague for several years. Persuasion proved unnecessary as funds were required for my daughter attending a London university.

Having agreed the April start date, the prior month I started to receive emails from Enders Analysis requesting my help with radio industry information it needed for a tribunal case it had taken on. I thought this was rather cheeky but, not wanting to appear unenthusiastic about the job I had yet to start, I responded helpfully. Then I received a further message from Claire Enders asking me to drive to the office for a library of legal documents concerning the tribunal to take home, read and analyse. I had to apologise that this task was not possible … but only much later did I realise this request as a harbinger of things to come.

Why my refusal? Firstly, I was still employed full-time (in addition to my freelance work for ‘The Radio Magazine’) by ‘Laser Broadcasting Ltd’, managing applications to regulator Ofcom for local commercial radio licences, a job from which I had given notice but which did not terminate until the end of March. Secondly, my rented semi-detached London home lacked a spare room in which to store a document library. Finally, I did not own a vehicle, let alone one large enough to transport thousands of documents. Only months later, once the tribunal was in session and its documents could be seen filling an entire wall of a courtroom did I realise an assumption might have been made earlier that I too resided in some inherited multi-bedroom castle, country pile or stately home … and owned a truck.

Come April, I started work in Enders Analysis’ cramped Mayfair office but was soon assigned full-time to the tribunal project which occupied me until the end of that year. During those long months, I continued to follow radio industry developments in order to write weekly news stories for ‘The Radio Magazine’ though, disappointingly, there was no opportunity for me to pen a single radio analysis for publication by my new employer. I joined a subset of Enders’s dozen staff deployed to work on the tribunal case from conference room 9.16 at the City offices of law firm ‘Denton Wilde Sapte’ (established 1785) that was representing Enders’ client in the tribunal. For several months, I hardly visited the Mayfair office, instead commuting to the lawyers on a direct rail route from home.

I had been diverted into this project once Claire Enders discovered I understood the complex system of payments made by UK commercial radio stations for playing music within their programmes, as well as the multiple agreements that had applied since the broadcast sector’s launch in 1973. At ‘Metro Radio’ in Newcastle, my work responsibilities had included ensuring accurate reports were submitted regularly to music royalty collection agencies PPL, PRS and MCPS. A decade later, planning the launch of ‘KISS FM’ in London, I had created the entire music reporting system and hired personnel to collate and submit the required paperwork in an era before usage could be tracked digitally.

The Denton Wilde Sapte lawyers with whom we worked were courteous, professional and demanding because they needed to understand how these systems functioned both theoretically and in reality. I was the only person there with experience of having been responsible for their administration or of having worked in commercial radio, requiring me to respond to multiple queries and to analyse radio industry data and documentation that I had collected during the previous two decades of my career. Those lawyers would have been earning more in a single day than I was being paid in a month, sending me emails at all hours of the day and night requesting data, but there was never any friction as they had been steeped in ‘client service’.

Although the Enders team in the conference room were contributing to a common project, it quickly became apparent that ‘teamwork’ was a somewhat alien concept. Had there been a ubiquitous whiteboard in that room, it might have shown the clear hierarchy between Claire Enders and each employee, but nothing between members of our group. Not only was there no apparent camaraderie but, at times, it appeared that some colleagues believed they were in competition with each other for the attention and approval of their boss. It felt like some kind of video wargame where the objective is to crush your opponent, where the individual is ‘king’ and where ‘collaboration’ has been outlawed. This atmosphere was worsened by Enders’ tendency to bark orders verbally to her staff, rather than negotiate tasks with them to guarantee they remained ‘onside’.

Until then, I had not realised that projects in which I had been involved and previous jobs I had performed had all required productive teamwork, without which they would have failed. Whether it was a student newspaper, a student union, a commercial radio station, a community radio station or a magazine, all had forced those of us involved to discuss, agree and focus jointly on common objectives to be achieved. Yes, I had come across the odd team member who had not prioritised the group’s success above their own. Yes, I could cite examples of projects I watched fail because of the selfishness of a manager who had pursued purely egotistical objectives. However, this was the first occasion that I felt like a complete outsider to my ‘colleagues’ who seemed happy functioning as individuals.

Whilst enjoying the work I was being asked to do because it tapped into my specialist knowledge, I disliked the working environment into which I had been dropped. Everyone else present seemed to view it as perfectly normal. I did not. I could not complain. I was the ‘new boy’ amongst men who viewed themselves differently from me, something they had communicated on my first day, interrogating as to which private school I had attended three decades earlier. Er, none. Now, each morning, I was having to steel myself to go to the office. I had never had a job at which I hated arriving as much as this one. It was a struggle to get through the day. At lunchtime, a local sandwich shop would provide respite to sit alone in a less febrile environment.

At the end of the day, I would rush down to ‘City Thameslink’ railway station in the basement of the law firm’s tower block, sit on an uncomfortable wooden bench on the southbound platform and cry, sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for half an hour. Trains regularly came and went, though I stayed put until I knew I could make the journey home, crammed like sardines against fellow commuters, without sobbing uncontrollably. Sat there in that barely lit underground world, nobody approached to ask if I was okay, a forty-eight-year-old suited man in tears. Perhaps other commuters felt the same way about their workplaces but dared not let their emotions escape. Perhaps they assumed I had just lost my job. Whatever it was, I was always left alone on that bench.

I needed to arrive home in one piece. Occasionally, on the final leg, I would walk the route from the station down my suburban street with tears on my cheeks, but these had to be wiped away before I entered the front door. Nobody needed to know what I felt. There were bills to pay. We hoped to purchase our first home. I would get up at six each weekday morning and check ‘Google News’ for radio stories before heading to work. Often, I would not return home until late evening, after which I would eat and go to bed. I spent Sunday writing up news stories for submission to ‘The Radio Magazine’ on Monday morning. It did not feel much of a life but I convinced myself it must be better than the years I had spent unemployed.

It was a huge personal disappointment to feel this way about my new job. The office environment at Denton Wilde Sapte was pristine and its staff were courteous. Their ‘tea lady’ pushed a glimmering trolley around the office suites, freely offering an expanse of snacks such as salmon sandwiches and hot drinks ‘silver service’ style on exquisite porcelain crockery with immaculately polished cutlery. Many evenings after work, the firm hosted drinks receptions to celebrate a ‘win’ or an internal promotion or to welcome a new client. As portrayed in American television legal dramas, a short speech by one of the firm’s partners would be followed by wine and delicate snacks offered generously to all present on the floor, including us visitors. Some evenings, I would partake and sit on the building’s fire escape staircase, sipping my drink and looking down on London landmarks like St Paul’s Cathedral’s illuminated dome. It might have seemed an idyllic existence “but I know that this will never be mine.”

During the tribunal’s early stages, Claire Enders expressed concern that our number was insufficient to sort the huge volume of legal documents into a coherent filing system we could then reference. I thought I was being helpful by suggesting that her personal assistant could be drafted in to provide an additional pair of hands. Next moment, I was ordered to meet the assistant at London’s Victoria railway station and bring her to the lawyers’ office by Tube. Strangely, the assistant only ever worked for Enders from her own home in Brighton and, meeting me for the first time, appeared unhappy to be suddenly relocated to London for several days. I was henceforth blamed for this inconvenience, ensuring our relationship remained frosty during the years I had to communicate with her.

Why this assistant could not have travelled by Tube from Victoria to 1 Fleet Place on her own initiative I had no comprehension. A pattern later became apparent whereby Claire Enders seemed to regard us analysts as her London ‘help’ who could be dispatched at the drop of a hat for errands such as picking up prescriptions from her doctor or buying a birthday present for her daughter. Was our status that much different from her parallel household staff in Scotland who could be ordered to collect and drive her home to the family seat? Evidently, we were all 'Parker’s, ready to be summoned by a tinkling bell. “Yes, m’lady?”

Working at the lawyers’ office one Friday, I sent an email to Enders Analysis colleague Ian Maude, asking him to write something for submission to our boss by an urgent deadline we had been given. Over the weekend, having received no response from him, I presumed this task was in hand. Until … Monday morning when Claire Enders stormed into our conference room and immediately tore a strip of me in front of the others for not having informed Maude to complete this work. Once the shouting ended, she stormed out without even asking my version of events or giving me space to respond. I realised how easy the ‘new boy’ must have been to blame for my colleague having missed our deadline.

Later that day, Maude unusually suggested the two of us go for “a drink” after work, implying he wished to recompense my betrayal. I refused. I was still furious. Never before in any job had I been addressed so disrespectfully by a boss for a wrong that was not even mine. Never before had I felt what it must be like to be employed in servitude to the privileged elite. During the following months, Maude regularly repeated his invitation. I always refused. I had learnt that it was ‘every man for himself’ in this workplace.

Months later, after another sub-group of Enders Analysis staff had completed a different project for ‘HMV Records’, it was suggested we go for a celebratory drink after work. Although by now I was wary of some of my co-workers, I felt it would appear anti-social to refuse. We stood together outside a busy bar in a pedestrianised alleyway off Park Lane. Ian Maude offered to buy the first round. I requested a ‘Bacardi & Coke’. When it arrived, my first sip tasted strange. I had favoured this drink since 1976 when the girls in my summer job workplace ‘Associated Examining Board’ had taken me one lunchtime to a huge darkened basement bar in Aldershot and insisted I drink the same as them at our trestle table. Three decades later, stood in Mayfair, after my second sip had made me unexpectedly dizzy, I realised my drink had likely been spiked.

“Some will eat and drink with you …”

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