THURSDAY 28 APR 2022 10:31 AM


Robert Duffield, executive chairman at GreyList, talks about the power of storytelling and why only the best stories withstand the test of time.

I started out as a jobbing journalist. I worked in local newspapers, set up a teletext news service for Thames Television and ended up as an investigative producer for BBC TV and Channel 4. 

And now, in my 70th year, I am executive chairman of GreyList Trace Limited. An unexpected Coda to a life sustained by an inherited gift of curiosity. (Thanks Dad)

Before my real career even started, I had the good fortune to study social anthropology at Oxford. 

Writing and producing the script for our animation ‘Joining Up the Dots’ turned out to be a golden opportunity for me to do precisely that – to reprise my own, very lucky, journey.  

And at the heart of my story - indeed the heart of all of our stories - is the Power of Story itself.

Soon after discovering how to light fires, our ancient ancestors huddled together to tell stories.  For tens of thousands of years, stories were passed down from generation to generation.  

But NOT every story.  

Only the best tales have the power to travel forward in time. And by ‘best’ I mean the most memorable, dramatic, profound, gripping, instructive – and above all meaningful. Cultures are repositories of stories destined to be told and retold. 

Story-tellers – parents, priests, shamans, poets and scribes – sing the narratives of every frail human community that has ever clung to this troubled, turbulent and dangerous Earth.  

Every remembered story must be so rich, so jam-packed with ideas, and so amazing, they are impossible to forget.  

Above all,  the ‘Power of our Story’ is who we are. Take them away and we disappear like castles in the sand (cf Jimi Hendrix).

Buried inside every myth is a coherent jumble of opposites, which literally defines every story – Life/Death, Good/Evil, Pure/Impure, Truth/Lies, Male/Female, Strong/Weak, Beautiful/Ugly, Black/White, Clean/Dirty, Potent/Weak, War/Peace, Heaven/Hell, Guilt/Innocence, Anger/Forgiveness, Mortal/Immortal, In/Out, Wet/Dry, Smooth/Hairy, Old/Young. (You get the picture)

This symbolic logic underpins every story that has ever been told or, more recently, written down. This allegorical logic is the linguistic DNA of all drama, comedy, gossip and literature.  But herein lies rub…

It also informs every single aspect of our 21st communications industry – journalism, PR, corporate communications and especially social media. The Internet is a vast village pump of competing memes – literary, visual, audible, musical, satirical, surreal, violent and pornographic. And our semantic opposition theory literally rules the roost of messaging.

In a crowded planet, voices are easily silenced by the din. Who can shout loudest? Who can come up with a message (true or false) than can cut through the cacophony?  Attention at any cost. 

To recap - here is a brief list of messages sitting in the wings of our animation:

  1. New technology (Establishment/Revolution)
  2. Track down dirty money (Problem/Solution; Clean/Dirty)
  3. It is legal (Right/Wrong)?
  4. It is quick (Fast/Slow)?
  5. It is cost effective (Wasteful/Frugal)?
  6. GreyList is Global  (Global/Local)

The opening shot had to be Black from which the brilliance of GreyList technology emerged. We moved from White on Black to Black on White – a subtle but important shift of gear. 

So this is the Power of our Story. Let there be Light in a Dark and Dirty world.  

It will definitely catch on.