Where were you brought up John?
Before I answer that question are you sure about this interview?
I don’t give short answers and have a tendency to go on a bit!
Ask my family!
Yeah, I’ve heard that.
I was born and bred in a Surrey village called Hersham.
Birth place of Julie Andrews and Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69.
What was the first ad you remember?
It wasn’t until I was 13 that I remember seeing an advert that I actually read.
It was in a pile of magazines that my mum had bought home from her job as a cleaner in a posh house.
The magazine was destined for the grate to help get the fire going, but because it was American I thought it might contain pictures of film stars, so I flicked through this magazine called The New Yorker and discovered it was full of writing and cartoons.
I didn’t understand the humour.
There were a lot of ads for cars using sleek photos, always with a woman either in a bikini or an evening dress, or standing next to a bloke in hunting gear, standing either side of a Cadillac, Pontiac, or some other car.
I then came across a VW ad; a black and white picture of Beetle shot from the rear view, it had a chalk marks around the rear window.
The headline read ‘The Italian designer suggested one changed’.
Up until then I had thought that VW’s were ugly fuckers, and who’d want to own one?
But the fact and Italian designer suggested that all they had to do was make the back window bigger made me think “What do I know?”
Were you an art school kid?
Not even a consideration.
Even if I could’ve got into one I couldn’t have gone, I had to get a job as my dad wasn’t too well and unable to work.
So how did you end up in advertising?
I don’t really know, accident might be a good word for it.
My ambition was to be an international athlete and a sign-writer.
Athlete/sign-writer? Good mix.
Why a signwriter?
As a child I used to love watching those blokes up ladders painting shop names, being a bit of an attention seeker I thought that’s the job for me.
Also, I was encouraged by Mr Rowland, a benevolent art teacher at my school, he used to give me lettering assignments to compensate for my inability to draw.
Then a careers officer advised me that the advent of cut out letters in plastic and neon signs meant there wasn’t much call for sign-writers who went up ladders anymore.
The only local place that offered apprenticeships in sign-writing was BAC/VICKERS, they made aeroplanes like the Viscount and VC10.
It just so happened that they had a place available, I filled in an application form and got the job.
Two pound twelve and six a week. (£2.60).
What was life as signwriter like?
At BAC it wasn’t good.
There was sign-writing to be done, but most of the jobs done by my department involved spray painting the planes, inside and out.
Being an apprentice I spent most of the time preparing the surfaces for spraying, and as I was a skinny fuck in those days, I was sent up into the tail of the planes to dab the rivets because the other painters couldn’t reach.
Only occasionally would I get an opportunity to practice sign-writing.
Alf, a man in a beret who’s job was painting the name of the plane near the forward door of the aircraft, would let me paint a second coat on top of lettering he’s laid down, then he’d finish it off with a top coat.
It taught me how to hold a brush and mole stick.
The best part of the week was the day release course when I’d go to Guildford Art School for a painting and decorating course.
It was at the art school that I first realised that the factory life was not for me.
The college was full of them.
The only women one ever saw at the factory was pushing the tea trolley.
What happened next?
He was a member of my athletic club and knew I was an apprentice sign-writer, one day he told me there was a similar job called a ‘lettering artist’, and that these ‘lettering artists’ worked in places called ‘studios’, usually in London.
It turned out that he was one before he dropped out to become a hippy.
I also saw the cover of THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, another magazine my mum bought home, the cover showed a man sitting at a drawing board lettering the word ‘POST’.
The combination of ‘lettering artist’, ‘Studio’ and the Norman Rockwell illustration rewired my ambition to be a lettering artist and not a sign-writer.
So you got a job as a Lettering Artist?
Well, always the fantasist, I put together a little set up in the corner of my bedroom, replicating the Rockwell scene.
I used to sit there with my sleeves rolled up in the freezing cold, pretending I was the bloke in the illustration, what a dope.
With the help of Wally, who’d showed me some samples of his work, I put together a little portfolio. One Saturday morning I took it along to the local Youth Employment Office and told a man smoking a pipe that I wanted to be a lettering artist.
He didn’t have a clue what it was, but said he’d make enquiries.
A week later he’d arranged an interview for me as a studio junior in a package design company.
I took a sickie off from the factory, put on a jacket and tie and made my way to up to Tandy Halford and Mills in Dover Street, Mayfair.
A lovely man called Cyril Poore interviewed me.
Did you get the job?
I did, but as a pot-boy and messenger.
I had to get in half and hour before all the lettering artists to change the water in their water pots, then spend the rest of the day running messages around London.
Not much lettering then, did you mind?
You’ve got to be fucking joking, it was a fantastic place.
In the interview Mr Poore had taken me on a guided tour of the company and apart from the posh reception and lovely offices, the place was full of girls in mini skirts.
I was nearly in a dead faint half the time, but the clincher was the studio, it blew me away, it was full of people sitting at drawing boards silently lettering away.
It was a beautiful sight, the Norman Rockwell scene but for real, only ten times over.
The lettering artists at THM were the best in town, one of them, Derek Benee, could tick in 6pt Universe caps that looked like it was type set.
He was so good he even did early test paintings for Pop artist Bridget Riley, to see if her op-art ideas worked.
But no matter how much I tried, it was deemed by those who knew better that I didn’t have ‘it’, so I was sent into the finished art studio, given a white coat and got taught how to prepare finished art for printing. I was being trained to be a high quality paste-up artist.
You asked me not to forget to ask you about David Bowie, so John, what’s all this about David Bowie?
Thought you’d never ask.
One of the other finished artists in a white coats was a bloke called Brian Balcombe, he was in one of Bowie’s early bands, one day he asked me if I wanted to join his band mates in The Society Of The Prevention of Cruelty To Long-Haired Men, as I was sporting a decent mop at the time.
Then one lunch time this bloke with two different coloured eyes turned up at the office and was introduced by Brian to me as his mate Dave, we shook hands and had a little chat and he fucked off.
He never asked me to join though, apparently my hair wasn’t long enough.
Did you leave or were you pushed?
I was advised to move on by another finished artist, a lovely man called John Turton, who thought I had skills in other areas, like graphics.
So I was sent by THM to evening classes in graphic design at St Martins College, I’d bring my stuff in the next day and show the designers.
They weren’t unkind but weren’t very encouraging either.
But John Turton lined me up with an interview as a finished artist working for ex-THM designer called John McConnell.
Sadly the interview was cancelled as his wife had had a baby a bit earlier than expected.
But good old John Turton, God love him, was so determined for me to move on that he made me answer an ad in Ad Weekly, a kind of Campaign before Campaign.
It was for a paste-up artist in an advertising agency called John Collings and he thought I’d be better suited to agency life.
What did you know of John Collings?
Fuck all, in fact I didn’t even know what an advertising agency was, I just pretended I knew, John Turton was such a knowledgable and supportive bloke that I thought working in an ad agency must be okay, so I took a book full of my lettering work along and got offered a job.John Collings isn’t a big name with the teenagers today, what was it like?
It wasn’t a big name in those days either.
It was a small agency made up of two halves, one did the posh ads for accounts such as El Al and Sekonda watches, the other half did postal and direct response ads, for things like muscle-building contraptions and rubber knickers that claimed they helped you lose weight around your arse, the kind of ads that appeared in the back-end of the Daily Mirror and Daily Sketch on a Saturday.
I presume you weren’t in the posh bit?
No. I worked under a man called Ken Clifton, the agency’s only art director.
Ken could do anything needed for direct response advertising, he could draw and was a good lettering artist.
His starbursts were masterpieces.
Ken taught me how to do type mark-ups, he turned me on to typography.
He was good fun and a nice bloke.
What were the poshos in the other bit doing?
The posh ads were written by a free lancer called Denis Hackett, whose day job was the editor of NOVA magazine, they were designed by Derek Birdsall the legendary graphic designer.
Derek had his own man in to do his art work, so I never got the opportunity to work on the so-called good stuff.
Still, I was happy enough working there as I had a good view out the window into Soho Square and as long as I could get away early to train at my athletic club, life was okay until I got ill.
I got glandular fever and was off work for two months.
When I came back it was all change.
The direct response client was in a bit of trouble financially and was spending less so that side of agency business was diminishing and that was the end for poor old Ken Clifton.
For a time I thought that it was for me too but there was a ‘last in first out’ policy so others got the chop before I did and there was also a change afoot in the agency as all the proper ads were to be done in-house by a new art director bloke called John Hegarty.
Name rings a bell, what was this John bloke better than Ken.
The others in the paste-up studio were a little hostile about John, one of them even nicknamed him ‘The part-time flour grader’ because was so pale.
But being a first class crawler I got on with him.
He was fantastic and very kind to me and before I say anymore, if I owe anyone big time, it’s Sir John Hegarty.
For the want of a better phrase, John showed me the way.
Not long after I got back from being ill, John invited me into his office for a chat about the future.
John had prefaced the meeting by saying that one of the management had said I was an ‘enthusiastic hard worker’ and that I should know what was going on in the company.
As I hadn’t been in John’s office it was a surprise to see the ads he had pinned to his wall, among them was the VW ad I first seen as a 13-year-old.
I told him I’d seen the ad before and he said he’d had that tear sheet for years, he’d kept it since art school, he went on to tell me that the VW ads were done by an American agency called DDB and that they were responsible for other great work.
This is the feel good story of the year, what else did he say?
The plans for the future of the agency, he told me that two friends from his days at Benton & Bowles were joining from CDP, and together they were going to turn the place around.
His friends were Ross Cramer and Charles Saatchi.
At that moment I’d never heard of DDB or CDP, let alone hid mates Ross and Charlie, but John made it all sound so exciting that I wanted to be part of it, whatever ‘it’ was.What were they like?
I only exchanged about a dozen words with Charlie in all the time, he was so reserved, but Ross was very funny and it was from him that I discovered that piss-taking was an art form.
To me, it seemed like Ross was the brains of the two, because Charlie never said a word.
They did some great work together, but none of it ran.
What were they like?
I only exchanged about a dozen words with Charlie in all the time, he was so reserved, but Ross was very funny and it was from him that I discovered that piss taking was an art form.
What about that John bloke?
I found him very reassuring and he gave me hope.
When I declared that I had no drawing ability and asked whether that would be an obstacle to me being an art director, John said that the art of good advertising is not down to being an artist but having a good imagination.
At that very moment I grabbed that notion and have held on to it ever since.
The conversation also helped me to refocus my ambitions, as my girlfriend had just dumped me and The Head Coach on the Olympic Potential Course had advised me that I had no future as an international triple jumper; my legs were too short!
So over the next few weeks John enlightened me more about advertising, telling me about other great New York agencies like PKL, Wells Rich Greene and Delehanty Kurnit & Geller.
He bought to my attention names like Helmut Krone, Bob Gage, Bill Taubin, Len Sirowitz, Bert Steinhouser and George Lois.
He introduced me artists like of Seymour Chwast and Milton Glazer of the Push Pin studio and to maybe the greatest type designer ever, Herb Lubalin.
He also gave me his back copies of an American magazine called Art Direction, the first magazine I ever paid a subscription to, pure advertising porn, and as John had also made me his assistant I subscribed to another mag called Ad Assistant. I was that keen.
What was the first ad you worked on?
The first I ad I put together was a four-inch double for Eugene.It was their anniversary and John said I could design and put it together.
It was nothing special but it was a first thing that was all mine.
Then John then gave me another anniversary ad to do, but this time to write.
It was for Sekonda, the Russian watch maker.
I wrote a headline which went something like ‘Congratulations from your top British agent’ which at the time wasn’t too bad a thought as the cold war was still going on. Never ran though.
But most of the time was spent cutting and pasting up ads.How did you get into DDB?
Well, it seems every time I was away from John Collings something changed.
I went on holiday for a fortnight and when I came back John told me he was leaving to join Ross and Charlie in a start-up; Cramer Saatchi.
I was crestfallen, but needn’t have been as John had arranged an interview for me with an old college friend of his called Doug Maxwell, Head of Art at DDB.
I got the job in the Bullpen, (American name for the paste-up studio), and at the same time Doug made me his assistant.
What was the DDB like?
The offices had just been done up and were very modern, for the time, and the girls were beautiful, and the men were tall dark and handsome, bar Malcolm Gluck, a gay writer at FCB used to say he got a hard-on every time he walked past the DDB building.
How was the Bullpen?
Like a town square; everything revolved around it, all the art directors offices looked out on to it.
There was such pride in the work that even the account men would come and watch the ads being put together. The job was fantastic.
There was no photo-setting at that time so all the type was set in metal, headlines were cut up to make the spacing look right, body copy was cut up to get rid on unwanted gaps between letters. Copy was changed if it was felt that there was too much space in lines.
It was finicky but satisfying.
That’s how I learnt how to be an Art Director.
Got a picture of the studio team which includes the UK’s greatest art director Neil Godfrey.What accounts did you work on?
First things I put together were for a Lufthansa campaign that David Abbott had written, I always liked them but David told me latterly, even when they got in the D&AD annual that year, that he hated the art direction, done by an American AD who had just gone back to the States.
They were lovely ads and all got into the D&AD annual.
Doug had been working with David Abbott on LWT which had just won the franchise for weekend TV, so I got to put some of them together.How did you claw your way out of the Bullpen?
Did you say crawl?…I think being a very enthusiastic secretary for the DDB football team might have been an advantage, it was mostly managed by the Creative Department and as I organised all the fixtures I got to spend a lot of time in their company.
It was a good team as it happens, we had an ex-Spurs Junior called David Bryce was a winger. Our captain was Martyn Walsh, the one who doesn’t get enough credit for the ‘Labour isn’t working’ poster, Tony Brignull was our centre half and a dirty bastard and on occasion, David Abbott played in goal, David Brown, the writer of the famous Ridley Scott directed Hovis film where the lad pushes his bike up the hill to Dvojak, was a dead ringer for Georgie Best, not only in hair style but how he played. He was brilliant.
I was an effective right-winger because as a club sprinter I was clocking 11.01 for the hundred metres, which was very useful on those small pitches up at Hyde Park, all agency left backs were fat fucks so I pissed past them.
We did quiet well and even got to the Ad Agency Cup Final, only to be defeated by Royds.
My memories of the occasion are that the Isthmian league team Hendon’s pitch was too big for a bunch of blokes used to those postage stamps up at Regents Park, both teams were fucked by half time and that the medals were presented by the legendary cricketer and Arsenal winger Denis Compton.
Who was pissed.
How was David Abbott?
David was the Copy Chief when I arrived, but it wasn’t long after he was made Creative Director, as the previous one, John Withers, had just gone back to the U.S.
The great thing about David was that he gave everyone one a chance, so all the assistants were given the opportunity to have a go at doing an ad.
What was the first ad you created?
I was put together with a lovely writer called Mike Doyle, a plastic Paddy like myself, to do an ad for Lufthansa.
It was to appear in the Travel Trade Gazette feature a lady at the airline who specialised in organising flight arrangements. Not a spectacular brief, and in the end not a spectacular ad, but it was an opportunity.
So for the first time ever I sat in an office with someone, feet up on a desk, talked shite and did an ad.
It was the first real ad and I got to work with a real photographer and art directed it myself.
It was because of that ad that I was made a Junior Art Director, I moved out of the Bullpen and into an office. Well, half an office, it was a space with a desk, a phone and a half a wall around it, a cubicle.What else did you work on?
The first dealer campaign for Volkswagen, I was put with an Australian writer called Terry Bunton.Two points: It’s the wrong font, it should be Futura and VW ads are supposed to be black on white, not white on black?
Dawson Yeoman and Arthur Taylor a campaign that was binned by Bill Bernbach.
Arthur came through the ranks at DDB New York, he was assistant the great Bert Steinhauser and had a fondness for bold looking art direction.
So his and Dawson’s ads bore no relation to the Helmut Krone look.
As you say, it was the reverse; giant headlines set in Standard Extra Boll with Rockwell medium copy. See, can still remember it!
Mr Bernbach did not like it.
This all happened a bit late for Terry and I, we’d already done the dealer ads in that look and they were out there in the showrooms.
I have a fond memory of the time as Peter Mead, the ‘M’ in AMV, was the account man on VW took Terry and myself out as a ‘Thank you’, to the famous 60’s Mario and Franco’s ‘Terrazza’, the equivalent of The Ivy these days.
Another reason I remember well is because it’s was the first time I’d eaten spaghetti that hadn’t come out of a tin.
Writer David Brown and I discovered that a designer at Rolls Royce drove a Beetle.
But he wouldn’t appear in our ad because he thought it might not go down to well with his bosses.
What ads influenced you at the time?
All the ads were sent once a month from the New York office.
It was like Christmas, but every four weeks.
We’d all stand around the big cutting table as the studio manager Keith Craddock would unravel the ads from the tube.
I can remember to this day when the ‘Rat ad’ by Bert Steinhauser and Chuck Kollewe was unfurled. That was a moment!
Why leave for PKL?
Things changed, at first for the good as I’d climbed up the greasy pole to become a proper art director, given a proper office and proper accounts to work on like Atlas Copco, Bankers Trust, Northern Irish Tourist Board, Tern Shirts and VW. I was lucky in those days with writers, I struck up a good working relationships with two in particular, Terry Bunton and David Brown.
David and I did a lot of ads for VW, but one of our first ads together would’ve been the first thing I got in the D&AD annual, for the Banker’s Trust, but the creative secretary cocked-up with the entry forms and it was credited to another art director.
This disappointment was followed when David Abbott, who’d become Managing Director as well as CD of the agency, dramatically left to set up French Gold Abbott.
To replace him DDB bought an agency called Gallagher Smail, their ethos wasn’t quite the same as the DDB I’d grown to love under David.
Gallagher Smail were originally a breakaway from Mather & Crowther, (later O&M), and were more like a JWT, Y&R or McCanns in spirit.
That said, in hindsight they had some good creatives and among them was your hero Paul Arden.
What was PKL like?
The agency I joined was actually BBDO, as they had not long bought PKL.
The future author of ‘A year in Provence’, Peter Mayle, was the Creative Director.
The place was a hoot, I’ve never laughed so much in my life.
There was some great characters in residence, very funny people.
Legendary agency wit Rick Cook was there.
The creative department was nick named ‘Peter Mayle’s Toy Box.’
The Christmas ‘do’s’ were legendary.
They were called Tupperware Parties, everyone in town wanted an invitation, we were such inverted snobs we made sure that the ones who really wanted to come didn’t get one!
What about the work?
Like after all mergers, the work was patchy but going in the right direction with Tim Delaney and his art director Desmond Serjeant leading the way, they did some great work on Sony and exquisite work for the wine vituallers; Grant of St James.
I went to work with a writer called Madeleine Thornhill for a time but she left to become a picture framer so, I was put to work with a very young Paul Weiland.
Did you and Paul do anything good together?
We wrote and made one commercial for Adams Cheeses titled ‘Pantomime Cow’ that was reviewed in Ad Weekly with just seven words: ‘This commercial is too awful for words’. It was.
Your writer was a lanky chap called Tim, how was Mr Delaney?
Well you know what he’s like! I was put to work with Tim by Peter Mayle after Desmond Serjeant went off to work with David Abbott at FGA, because he said I wasn’t scared of the skinny fucker.We also worked on the Body Language Bra account.
Maybe the best account I’ve ever worked on!
The client used to brief us by way of private fashion shows on a specially built cat walk.
Models of all shapes and sizes would parade up and down in bras and corsets.
Tim and I would sit there watching, holding our breaths and barely containing our trousers while the client, with a straight face, would discuss the finer points of how lift and separate bras worked.
Schoolboy hysteria used to break out in the cab on the way back to the agency.
Not that the visits went to waste, we put together a campaign for an under-bra for ladies who were not over bosomed.
Tim’s line on the ad below could still run now and not sound too shabby.
One of the best ever copywriters in town, the grumpy fucker.
Was he scary then?
Maybe to some he could be a little intimidating.
As you know our Brendan, (Tim’s second name), is very sure of his opinions, especially about ads and politics, and if you can believe it, even more so in early 70’s.
He was very quick to share with them with people whether they wanted to hear them or not.
In fact his nickname was the ‘Blushing Bully’ on account that he used to go red when he got really going.Did you two get on?
Oh yeah. I learnt a lot from Tim, he’s a very classy and erudite man considering he’s of the same bog Irish class as I am, we had a laugh most of the time, but on occasions he was a little critical about my layout skills, which apparently he did with all his art directors.
It got to me one day and I went into his office with the sole purpose of hanging him out the window by his skinny ankles, but before I could lay my hands on him I burst into tears.
Told him what I was going to do and he just laughed, but I have to say after that he was as good as gold. For a fortnight!
The ad above was a stand-in which we ran while we waiting for John Gorham to finish his illustrations.
The one below was done after John finally got the illustrations to me.
Mr Delaney was at his best on Sony, we did an ad that showed a family watching a giant flat screen TV , hanging over the fire-place.
In 1975! That was his vision not the clients.
How far thinking was that?
I was even in the room when he thought of using John Cleese to write the award-winning Sony radio commercials.
We didn’t work together that long.
At the time there were management changes in the agency, Peter Mayle had left to go to BBDO New York to facilitate his exit from advertising, so he could write books.
Before he went he made Tim the creative director, which was great for him and the agency but in the long run, but was not a lot a fun for me as had to spend a lot of late nights in the office and working Saturdays, as during the day Tim was in meetings.
PKL morphs into BBDO and you get a new writer; John Kelley, did you click straight away?
Yes, something did click.
I’ve been very fortunate with nearly all the writers I’ve worked with as they all have been ego free. John was, and is, the most easy-going and uncomplicated man to be with.
He just got on with it.
There was never any competition to get to idea first, even though John usually did, but if I’d had a better one he’d cast any thoughts he had aside.
We’d got together when John’s art director, John Horton, had gone on a big BP shoot in Australia, leaving him without someone to work with, and as Tim was so busy being a CD we were put together to work on a pitch for Skol lager.Which ad got you two noticed?
There wasn’t one.
How did you come to be at CDP then?
Because of John Kelley.
He and John Horton had done an animated campaign for Mace food stores, with talking prices.
It was wonderful.
Frank Lowe’s wife at the time had produced it at BBDO, and had obviously told him about the campaign, he loved it so asked John to join CDP, John then asked me if I’d go with him.
I thought about for a millionth of a second and said yes. Got lucky there old boy!
That all said I still had to go through an interview process with the CDP’s Head of Art, the U.K’s best ever art director, Neil Godfrey.
I must have past muster with him as he didn’t object to my appointment.
Arguably, CDP had the best creative department in the country, were you intimidated?
Nervous more that intimated, because there was no hiding place at CDP.
You couldn’t blame your shortcomings on anybody.
Not the account men or women.
Not the planners, who were more friends than foes.
Most of important of all; not the clients, who’d placed their business with the agency for the same reason we worked there; they wanted to make good ads.
Even the media department good, run by the amazing Mike Yershon.
He would haunt the floor of the creative department seeking out ads or commercials so he could show them off in the best possible way to the public.
One of your first ads at CDP, based on the cunning insight that when scientists left their laboratories for a dinner party they didn’t want to have to lug around their heavy ballpoint pens.
Tell me about the ever so slightly sexist Palio ad?We thought it was just a bit of fun at the time, but understandably it would be considered very un-PC today.
It upset a few people back then too, a postcard was soon circulating that showed the poster in situ with graffiti written on ‘If this was a man it would get it’s face slapped’.
Why on earth did this win a silver at D&AD?
Terry Lovelock, ‘Mr Heineken refreshes the parts etc’, originally penned a headline that read “I’m Lena, Fry me”, it was a spoof of the National Airline campaign.
Problem was that the sausage wasn’t actually leaner, so the line was change to ‘Meaty’.
Now why did it win? I don’t know? Blame the D&AD poster jury at time.
Might’ve been because they got the gag and the shot, by Ed White, is maybe the best picture of a sausage ever to have graced a poster site.
AN ANECDOTE: I was a so-called expert witness in a court case where the widow of an up and coming photographer Peter Barbieri was suing the City of Westminster and the Gas Board for negligence.
One late evening Peter ran over the pot hole while on his motorbike causing him to be thrown over the handle bars with fatal consequences.
During my testimony I had to show my credentials and the D&AD annual with the Wall’s poster in it was used to confirm that I had some standing in the ad business.
The book was handed to the presiding judge who took a long look at the ad, shook his head and commented that the banger looked a “Mighty fine sausage’’.
I’m pleased to report that eventually both Westminster council and the Gas Board admitted their guilt, the judge awarded substantial damages Mrs Barbieri.
Now that’s worth a silver don’t you think?
Presumably you presented your work to notorious creative curmudgeon Colin Millward?
No, as Colin had retired by the time we’d got there, John Salmon was the CD.
I didn’t think Colin was scary until he pulled me up sharp one evening, we were in New York for a Heineken voiceover session with Victor Borge.
He and Frank Lowe, (who always attended the Borge V/O sessions), were in town en-route to Arizona for the B&H ‘Swimming pool’ shoot.
We all went out for pre-dinner cocktails at a bar on the top of the Twin Towers in New York.
While sipping a Gin Martini I gave some flippant reply to Frank when he enquired about how the casting was going on another job, Colin very sternly reminded me that I should give a proper answer as I was paid enough to do so.
That was after spending the entire afternoon with him visiting art galleries.
Up and until then I thought him and I were best mates.
You worked on the early Heineken stuff?
To keep the client onside so the business came along to the fledging Lowe Howard Spink, Frank briefed us to give the poster campaign a more continental feel in both concept and graphics, so Tony Kaye and I sat down to meet the challenge.
Thus the flags and no ‘Heineken refreshes the parts that other beers cannot reach.’
It’s safe to say that as soon as the client signed on the dotted line the flags were soon taken down and the ideas returned to that on home turf.This rough was shown to the Greek client, he went absolutely mad as those guards on ceremony were considered sacred.
The photograph below was taken by the great photographer Elliott Erwitt as it was based on a picture he’d taken for the French Tourist board in the 60’s.
While at CDP, you and John Kelly competed with Paul Weiland & Dave Horry on who could have the most ads on air at any one time. Who won?
As far as John and I were concerned we just got on with our own work, not worrying what the others were doing.
Also David and Paul were old friends from the past so we took as much pride in their work as they did.
We all won our fair share of gongs and some did better than others.
For the record, Horry and Weiland would take first prize as they both have black pencils in their satchels.
You had the brief to follow-up one of the best ads ever?
You mean the Benson and Hedges sequel film that no ones ever heard of?
Not quite a poisoned chalice but maybe a cup of cold tea.. but that said, on reflection it’s a good film and it’s journey to the screen is indicative on how brilliant the agency worked.
John Salmon asked us to have a go as other teams were struggling to come up with another film as good as ‘Swimming Pool’.
We were happy to have a go but thought we wouldn’t crack it either.
To be quite frank, the B&H campaign wasn’t our sort of thing, we always thought it was the domain of the arty-farty teams in the agency.
It’s a great ad.
Thanks to an art director called Rob Morris.
Rob had put together a B&H poster that was to run in three parts.
First one showed a safe laying on the sea floor all chained up.
Second poster had it open, full of B&H gold boxes.
Third poster just showed the empty safe.
That thought stuck with us, so we worked out a script that showed scuba divers go down to a sunken ship and discovering a hold full of B&H packs.
All this was to take place in green-blue waters just off some coral reef somewhere exotic.
Our fantasy was be sitting on a beach somewhere while a crew shot the film then surfaced to show us the results on the video play back.
We’d nod ‘Yes’, the carry on sipping our Pina Coladas or whatever was on offer.
That script was put to one side so we could work on other ideas.
One was an homage to all the posters where we showed all the previous work, can’t remember the detail, but it was titled ‘Surreal St’.
Anyway we showed them to John Salmon, he took to the one with the pack in the sunken ship, but suggested that the film should look more industrial and take place in somewhere in the North Sea, more like a BBC2 documentary.
After a rewrite we showed it to the account director on B&H, John Spearmen, who suggested would it be a nicer idea if the film took place at night to look even more dramatic.
Why Hugh Hudson not Ridley Scott?
You see in those days Ridley was considered by the agency as a bit of a glossy director, Hugh was considered more of a ‘film maker’, even though Ridley had just made a feature film; ‘The Duelist’.
When the commercial was due to be in pre-production Hugh was in post production with ‘Chariots of Fire’, and he didn’t want to leave London as the premiere of the film was coming up, so he suggested our ad was shot by the Tower of London with Tower Bridge in the back ground.
Hugh also suggested we made the pack 40 feet tall. See what happens when you get top quality people on the job, easy peasy.
By the way Hugh won the silver for best direction for the film so it couldn’t have been that bad.
You became an album designer for a while?
Only when working on EMI 20 ‘Golden Greats’ assignments.
The album design came with the brief.
Most likely the best work I ever done as an individual.
Is that all the covers you did for EMI?
I was asked to coordinate with Gerald Scarfe on The Pink’s ‘The Wall’ album sleeve.
I found Scarfe as a bloke a bit of a disappointment, despite his quite hard arsed satirical cartoons he seemed a bit wimpy and through out the process, he seemed to get bullied by Roger Walters, who I believe was, and still is, a bit of a twat.
I finally got dumped from the project after delivering the dummy of the album to the band’s manager one Saturday morning.
I then had to deal with the record company not wanting to pay the bills of all the suppliers I’d got involved in the project.
Have had an intense dislike of anything Pink Floyd ever since. Wankers.
Then on to publishing?
Only in a small time way.
Alfredo Marcantonio joined CDP.
I had known Marc as a client on VW when I worked at DDB. He’d always wanted to be a writer and eventually came to CDP to work with Rob Morris.
At a lunchtime Creative Circle awards ‘do’ he told me he had the idea for the book and asked me if I was interested in doing it with him.
A great experience.
As David Abbott was a co-author, Marc and I got to meet Bill Bernbach and shake his tiny little hand and have a chat.
By the way the book now in its 5th edition and available through our website http://www.greatvwads.com Buy now while stocks last!
I noticed you’ve got a sticker on the books saying ‘The ads that made the mad men Mad.’ Has the series helped book sales?
What about the sausage book?
Yes, I’ve been working on ‘Max The Flying Sausage Dog’ with Richard Kelley and the celebrated children’s book Illustrator Arthur Robbins since 2006.
It’s been classic Kelley relationship. No egos just hard work and collaboration.
We started off naively by getting Arthur to do the illustrations and put a dummy together not realising that’s not how it’s done, as I found out after a meeting with an editor at one of the country’s leading publishers, he said “I find a story I like, and work closely with the author and when I think the text is right I choose a suitable illustrator, then I brief a designer to put a dummy together”.
Thought that comment was a one-off but it was a mantra from publishers there after.
That said we did come close with one big one but the deal was so awful we decided we’d self-publish.
That was two years ago and we are now on our third book and proving, that through social media, you can sell books.
And not to miss a selling opportunity readers, for those with young sprogs it available at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Max-The-Flying-Sausage-Dog/dp/099103645X
Buy now while stocks last!
You’d be surprised how young some of my followers are.
I’m sure if their mums buy them copies they’ll love ‘Max The Flying Sausage Dog’.
What’s your favourite piece of work from your days at CDP?
Well, apart from the EMI covers and the films that went with them, we also did a campaign launching the tabloid size of the Daily Express.
The paper had the rights to the auto biography of the eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes and wanted to use excerpts for the launch.
We wrote trailer type commercials, which at the time were considered ‘fresh’, wonderfully shot by Alan Parker.
We did a Heineken commercial called ‘Tennis’ based on the Pong game that was all the rage in pubs at the time.
There was also a Fiat commercial we made called ‘Train’ that I think is the best film John and I wrote together.
Very nice story about a man, along with his family, is seeing his mum off home on a train and as it pulls out of the station its realised her suitcase is still on the platform, there then followed a chase across the Tuscan country side to catch up with the train at the next station.
Beautifully cast and filmed by Michaeal Seresin.
Ok, so…everything you did then…that was your favourite?
CDP blows up and you leave to join Lowe Howard-Spink as a founding partner and Head of Art?
It didn’t blow up, a group of us set fire to it.
Frank Lowe was not in a good place at the agency because of a problem with the taxman, he was no longer in charge and wanted to be his own boss, so he and Geoff Howard-Spink set up their own place, they invited John Kelley and I to join them as Creative Director and Head of Art.
Seemed like a good idea at the time.
This poster was most the most original poster idea both John and I did for Heineken.I commissioned Phil Jude to take the picture, he was one of Lester Bookbinder’s most trusted assistants and a great photographer in his own right.
Despite Phil’s warning that what I was asking for might look a little insipid, I insisted that he took the shot as I wanted, as I was worried the ‘i’ might be missed in the logo.
It wasn’t until the proof came in I discovered he was right, it was insipid.
I went to Frank, I admitted that I’d fucked up, he just said go away and re-shoot it.
This time I let Phil do it his way.
Insipid it ain’t!Did you do any good work there? If I am honest we didn’t do anything on the level when we were at CDP.
We did do quite a nice film for Fiat that got in the annual, and a Bird’s Eye film, it’s now the only commercial that John and I did together that the public, of a certain age, seem to remember.
When sometimes asked by the occasional oldie, who I haven’t met before,“So what would you have done anything I’ve seen on telly all those years ago?”, I say the Heineken ‘Tennis’, Fiat ‘Train’ and the B&H film.
The response is usually blank, but when I start to sing the opening lines to the jingle we wrote for Birds Eye Steakhouse Grills, it was sung by a group of workmen in the back of a transit van in the ad “Will it be chips or jacket spuds, Salad or Frozen peas… Will it be mushrooms, fried onion rings. we’ll have to wait and see…Hope it’s chips, it’s chips, we hope it’s chips, it’s chips, we hope it’s chips, it’s chips”, their faces light up!
The fuckers sometimes even join in and sing the chorus.
When I see it now it seems like a bit of fun, but at the time our chums thought it was naff, when visiting Soho eating establishments, so called friends would start singing silently under their breaths “Hope it’s chips, it’s chips. We hope it’s chips, it’s chips”.
It was John and I’s resignation script from Lowe and Howard-Spink, we presented it to Frank at the same time we resigned.
We were told after leaving that the ad was so successful that the client wanted more of the same from the agency, which Frank didn’t want to do as he hated the film.
The business moved on shortly after and I think we were never forgiven.
What was Frank like?
I can categorically state that in my humble opinion Frank Lowe was the best account man ever in British advertising.
As a director I’ve met a lot so-called good ones in pre-production meetings.
None of them in the same league.
If there was fear factor at CDP, getting an ad past Frank was more important than anything else, that included getting one approved by John Salmon, who again, in my opinion, was the best creative director of the lot too.
Frank didn’t have a creative thought in his head but he knew a good ad or script when he saw one and broke his arse selling it.
I could go on with his virtues as an adman but it would take all day.
He’s worthy of another blog post Dave, but with those who knew him better.
Why Abbott Mead Vickers?
To be quite honest I don’t think we suited the job of bosses.
We were a little disappointed we had to deal with contractual arrangements with Frank and Geoff, so it all felt a little flat for John and I, and this dissatisfaction must have got to David’s Abbott’s ears as he gave us a call.
So we jumped ship again.Was the AMV David different from the DDB David?
No, exactly the same. Same man, same suits, same haircut, same modus operandi and he still sang out of tune. I loved the place but not the job anymore.
Planners…they were in the works. ‘A planner in the works’.
Makes me laugh!
What’s wrong with planners?
Whats right with them!
For some reason, albeit rather naively, I couldn’t deal with the level of interference of planning in the creative process at AMV.
It hadn’t been that important in all the previous agencies I’d worked in.
Up until then, John and I had worked on the basis of “Get the brief. Do the ad. Get it approved by the client. Make it. Move on’.
Personally, I couldn’t deal with the planning or for that matter Joe public having a say in the work.
This churlish and old-fashioned view led to me losing the old mojo for making ads.
Despite working with John Kelley, one of the best creative talents in the U.K, my heart wasn’t in it anymore, which coincided with Paul Weiland asking me to join him at his production company.
So off I went to be a director.
Thanks John, it’s been wordy, and a pleasure.
Nb. For those who want to O.D. on O’D: A bit more John.
His big break.
His short film.
5 responses to INTERVIEW: John O’Driscoll.
I can still sing that Bird’s Eye song, and so can everyone my age and older.
That’s worth more than all the Pencils.
Wonderful stuff (again) Dave.
He was an early hero of mine after picking my work at the Post Office Student Awards, then having a few drinks when I was at Leagas Delaney. He always popped by at lunchtime and I remember (just) fondly the stories at the Lamb & Flag, where he, Peter Gibb and Jemmy Gray propped up the bar. I think they even had engraved bar tabs set into the public bar… Later further banter and anecdotes with John Kelley when he was my CD on Cisco at Ogilvy. Great work from a lovely man. Thanks.
I’m Brian Balcombe’s daughter and I’d love to know more!
O’D is one of the treasures of advertising. And a leading member of the ‘Murphia’.
Came across this site by accident. I took was the bloke who took over John O’Driscoll’s place within Tandy, Halford & Mills, Dover S’t, London.
I worked there for around five years or so, in the Artist’s Studio as trainee/messenger just like John did. Later, he moved into a different department. Some years later I’d had enough of the place. Some time after I noticed that T,H&Mills seemed to have vanished from Dover S’t, not sure why – but I imagine they must have gone bust or something.