There was a time when one could get an excellent job in the UK without a university degree.

In fact, one could get an excellent job even without secondary school qualifications.

It was so long ago, however, that those days have vanished in the mists of time.

At the end of October 2021, I read The Telegraph‘s obituary of advertising genius Mo Drake, who died in August at the age of 93.

By today’s standards, on paper, Mo Drake would appear to be a scholastic failure and doomed to a life on the dole. Yet, he worked in advertising and gave the UK one if its best known slogans for Heinz Baked Beans: Beanz Meanz Heinz.

This advert is from the early 1960s:

During the Second World War, Drake’s schooling was interrupted to the point where he received very little of it:

He passed the 11-plus but could not take up a place at grammar school because of the outbreak of war – and in fact did not attend secondary school at all until he was 14, and even then he left after a few months.

He was born a Cockney, within the range of the Bow (church) bells:

Maurice Drake was born in working-class Bromley-by-Bow, east London, on May 20 1928 to Thomas and Sarah Jane Drake. The family moved to Ilford [Essex] when he was three.

Nothing there in 2021 spells ‘success’.

However, young Mo Drake spent a lot of time reading. As such, he absorbed the cadence of the English language and developed a way with words.

As an adolescent, he started work at a London advertising agency:

After leaving school he worked as a filing clerk for the Thames advertising agency, before National Service in the RAF.

Afterwards, he worked for a PR agency:

He then joined the PR firm Armstrong Warden, where he proved so good at drafting publicity blurb that he was appointed a full-time copywriter.

Then he worked for a time as a comedy writer. He managed to link this to his former employers which ended up catapulting him to one of the top ad agencies, Young & Rubicam:

For a short spell in the early 1950s he left the company after he and a friend, Jack Potter, began to submit jokes to Bob Monkhouse, then a BBC scriptwriter, who introduced them as joke-writers to other entertainers such as Arthur Haynes and Bruce Forsyth. In the process he provided Drake with useful contacts in the entertainment industry on whom he could call after he returned to Armstrong Warden – and at Young & Rubicam, which he joined in 1959.

That was the start of a beautiful career, involving well known celebrities such as Bruce Forsyth and Frank Muir:

Thus Bruce Forsyth agreed to front a campaign for Maxwell House coffee, while he got Frank Muir to sing “Everyone’s a Fruit and Nut Case” for Cadbury’s.

Everyone over the age of 60 remembers ‘Fruit and Nut Case’:

As the years passed, more successful adverts followed, such as the iconic ‘Just one Cornetto’ for Wall’s, which I remember well:

When the Wall’s ad came out, Mo Drake was creative director of Grey Advertising and Lintas. His team had written the ad.

When Drake — the man with no school qualifications — retired, he lectured at universities and held a regular seminar at Trinity College, Oxford. That would never happen today.

In 2003, Mo Drake disparaged today’s advertising, criticising it for concentrating too much on special effects rather than a memorable slogan, invoking another advert of his:

For years after the Murray Mints campaign came out people were going round singing ‘Murray Mints, Murray Mints, the too good to hurry mints’. You can’t imagine that happening now.

Drake’s wife predeceased him. I wish his three daughters and a son all the best in the months ahead. They must surely miss their father.

Reading about his career, I could not help but wonder whether we will ever recapture the time when someone enterprising and literate can get a good job without school qualifications.

Today, it would be impossible to work in advertising without proper connections and a university degree. If Mo Drake were a teenager in 2021, he’d never get a look in. His job application would go in the bin, accompanied by peals of laughter. More’s the pity.