A couple of years ago, when the television film about my brother’s death was making headlines, I had an email from a Sky News journalist, wanting to interview me. It began “Hi Graham”. The woman writing had never heard of me until two days before, and yet she was presuming to write as if we had been friends for years. I didn’t reply until eighteen months later, by which time I was no longer “interesting”, and told her I did not appreciate being addressed in such a way by a complete stranger. During the furore, I was also rung by journalists unknown to me asking “to speak to Graham”. I literally pulled the plug, and was incommunicado for days.
Not only was it, in my view, inappropriate to start a letter to me in such a way at any time, it was far less so when the topic of the proposed interview was so painful to me.
Recently, I have bought a large item for the house, making the transaction by email. Again, I was addressed by the woman at the other end with “Hi Graham”. If I had signed off in my email to her (in which I addressed her as “Dear Ms Xyz”) as “Gordon Brown”, would she have still written back “Hi Gordon”?
Emails have legal validity, just as much as printed or handwritten letters sent through the post. As such, business emails should be written in a similar style. It shows a lack of respect for the recipient to reduce the level of formality to that used between close friends.
I once received a letter at the BBC addressed to “The Head Pronunciation Honcho”. Needless to say, it came from California. I treated that as a joke, and wrote back in a similar way. Formal business mail is not to be treated so light-heartedly. I am not asking for deference, merely common politeness.