Where did you grow up?
I was actually born in Chelsea, I was then was taken to live in Ealing West London.
But from 1940 for four years, thanks to Adolf Hitler and his bombs and rockets, I was sent rather disruptively all over the place.
Long Crendon, Denbighshire and Farnborough.
But mainly I lived in Ealing, Harrow and Rayners Lane until permanently settling in Ealing.
But now that I’m really grown up I also have a studio in Primrose Hill.
Did you do National Service?
I did, I found myself in The ROAC, The Royal Army Ordnance Corps, from 1952 for two years and stationed in Loton Park Sub Depot; that’s near Shrewsbury.
I was put in charge of the ration stores and driven around Shropshire collecting the base’s meat, veg. and cream cakes.
Not particularly exciting, I think the expression is/was a cushy number.
Unlike other squaddies posted there who found themselves lugging chemical canisters about from one Nissen hut to another all day. Something to do with the Americans.
Even now I can’t find out what exactly went on at Loton Park.
I know I ate well.
Where did you go to Art College?
Ealing Technical College & School of Art, it’s now The University of West London.
Basically it was a foundation course, I was there for two years from 1947/8.
What were you hoping to be at this point?
I had no idea.
There was no guidance or even suggestions.
It was a general course; technical drawing, lettering, photography, still life drawing, wood work and so on.
So how did you end up in advertising?
After being interviewed by a disinterested print company and talking to The Daily Mirror having been introduced by my Dad, I aimlessly pounded the streets of London Town.
Strolling down Grosvenor Street I saw a brass sign: Colman Prentis & Varley Advertising.
I just walked in and eventually found myself in front of one Jack Beddington.
He took me on at £5 a week.
At the time, advertising was a bit of a crass business peopled by Martini drinking Army types wasn’t it?
Yes to a degree on the account handling side anyway but the creative staff had to be first and foremost artistic.
The writers were all well educated, well spoken and from Oxbridge. That tended to rub off.
The creatives tended to look upon the account men – they were all men at that time – as toffs who were little more than privileged gentry.
I remember Lord Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu of Beaulieu was an account man, a pleasant fellow, but he came a cropper with something to do with Boy Scouts at his castle.
I also met Sir Sacheverell Reresby Sitwell there, another account man at CPV.
Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu of Beaulieu and Sir Sacheverell Reresby Sitwell?
They don’t sound like the type of kids I grew up with.
What was your first role?
I worked in the library with Miss Davis, lettering magazine and newspaper titles.
In the bowels of the agency.
You couldn’t get lower than that.
CPV’s creative guru was Arpad Elfer.
What was like to work for?
I never actually worked with him.
I was just a junior at that time.
I was aware of his grouchy and somewhat belligerent nature.
In the lift, for example, he would make everyone go to the top, where he was going, even if they only wanted the 2nd floor.
That might be apocryphal but we all liked the idea.
Who was influencing your work at the time?
No one on my first stint there.
Even on my return from the army I had only the others in the CPV art department to look to.
I worked in Lyndsay Gutteridge’s group, who’d had worked for F H K Henrion.
Peter Stillwell and Stan Coats also helped and were inspirational tome in different ways.
Stan was an aesthete and explained a lot about girls to me.
Was the great, notoriously grouchy Colin Millward there at the same time?
He was, but all I can remember was his good looking, baby face and his fresh and unusual creative work.
A quiet broody man I recall, admired by the other group heads and the senior writers.
Why leave for W.S. Crawfords?
It was the going belief that five years was enough time to spend in one place.
I’d heard of Crawfords and knew some of their work.
Like CPV it was a designee outfit, strong on visual solutions, Arty I suppose.
At the time I didn’t realise that Varley had previously worked at Crawfords and had left under a bit of a cloud.
What was the difference between the two agencies?
There wasn’t a great difference between the two agencies come to think of it, but there was one important similarity.
CPV had been dominated by Arpad Elfer, Crawfords had Ashley Havinden, tucked up in his garret.
I never ever saw him around the studio floor.
He was busy drawing his Ashley script for the Jaeger business and working directly with a few clients.
There were good people there and the work being produced was visually ‘attractive’.
That’s where I met Michael Manton, later to start KMP and Nick Salaman, later to work at Holmes Knight Ritchie.
It wasn’t yet the great sixties, at that point we hadn’t been exposed to the brilliance being done by Madison Ave, that was all about new, bold, brilliant writing, creativity, fun, marvelous art direction and ideas.
I left Crawfords for Mather & Crowther, mainly because Peter Stillwell now worked there, we were all still rather introverted.
Some good work was being done; The ‘Go to work on an egg’ campaign and the like.
It was a lively agency.
A lot of experimentation took place and I learnt a lot there from some heavyweight writers; Fay Weldon, Mary Gowing, Maurice Smelt and the pipe smoking Julian Orde.
John Webster and I first met there and became mates, whilst there we made some experimental 8mm movies, few people have ever seen.
Neither he nor I, or anyone for that matter, were aware of anything happening in the States we were having fun and testing our own abilities against each other.
Stanhope Shelton was the creative head.
None of us thought much of him, he was invariably negative and never as far as we could see, did anything good himself.
Little TV was being produced at the time so we didn’t get to see the American commercials starting to be produced, it was still the early 60’s.
I never met David Ogilvy, the time it was just ‘Mather’s’.
Back to Grosvenor Street?
Yes, CPV wanted me back.
At the same time I got offered a job by Colin Millward , who‘d recently joined CDP.
I chose CPV, partly because the job description was ‘art director’.
John Webster left too, he went off to Pritchard Wood.
This was my third time at CPV.
I was art group head this time.
Arpad had gone.
Colin Millward had gone.
Ron Collins was there.
I first met the writers Tony Chapman and Jeremy ‘The Best Of The’ Best there.
Freddie Ball joined from Mather’s and he made me Head of At.
What accounts were you working on?
The Gas Council.Shell Petrol.
Central Office Of Information.
Army Officers Recruitment.
The Conservative Central Office, I did two campaigns for them, not that I’m particularly right-wing, but they helped win one election and lose the other.
All press, print and poster work, no telly.Why join start up Kingsley Manton Palmer?
It was the ‘five year rule’ again, time to move.
I didn’t see it at all as a risk, I knew Rosie Oxley from Mather’s who knew Brian Palmer and she suggested I go and see them.
It was the first English open plan agency, it looked fresh and new.
David Kingsley was unlike any agency owner I had ever met; intelligent, serious, friendly, charming, workmanlike and sensitive to creativity.
I liked him at once.
Michael I knew from Crawfords, he was always polite, supportive and friendly to me, but could be extremely grouchy to others.
Brian was and is the epitome of all that is polite, well-meaning and steadfast.
Brian Palmer does not have the ability to become upset, let alone lose his temper.
He produced the first TV commercial in the UK at Y&R.They aren’t really known today, but KMP were pretty revolutionary in the sixties?
KMP were alive and kicking in London at the same time the Mad Men were showing everyone how it should be done in New York. (By this time, we knew what was happening in America.)
They hired some good people and gave them their head.
It was the sixties and they ran with it.
That’s were I met Roy Carruthers and gave Terry Gilliam his first illustrating job.
Mad marvelous times.
I love the White Horse campaign, so simple, so branded.
Brian Palmer wrote the line ‘You Can Take A White Horse Anywhere’, then got three art directors to visualise the line for posters and press.
That was a nice job to do, just thinking of locations and choosing a photographer.
It was all about photography.
I mainly liked to work with Peter Webb who is still taking pictures.How was life in a swinging sixties start-up?
Kaftans, marijuana, wall to wall mini-skirts?
They were the most wonderful years.
They were fun, experimental, optimistic, selfish, indulgent, irresponsibly wonderful and climatic years.
There was an atmosphere that made doing ads a joyous thing.
I can’t recall using the term ‘hard sell’ ever and yet what we did sold.
There was nothing hard about it.
The best of all was that our clients wanted to join in and play too.
It seemed that everything we presented to them was not only approved, but approved with glee.
Yes, there were very, very long lunches.
There are wonderful stories from this time, too many and some too sensitive to reveal here. Everything seemed to smell so lovely too for some reason.
‘Sex and Drugs and Rock an‘ Roll’, yes, and love too.
Well, I never tried drugs and was more into Tamla Motown and Procol Harum.
It was 1967.
A very special time.
I love your Salvation Army work, it could run untouched tomorrow.
I read that the idea of a charity going to grubby world of ad agencies to help raise money was a controversial idea at the time?It was David Kingsley who found the Sally Ann business.
They needed £3m.
They had already raised a million themselves, the Government said it would cough up a million if the Army could raise one more million.
That’s where KMP came in.
The Army were impressed with David K. and invited the agency to create a fund-raising campaign.
David K came up with the idea to sell Salvation Bonds for a pound.
Terence Griffin wrote ‘For God’s Sake Give Us A Pound’.
The Army thought Terence’s line was a bit ungracious and heavy, it was changed to ‘For God’s Sake Care. Give Us a Pound’.
I lined up a group of photographers who worked for expenses only to cover the Sally Ann’s UK work.
That group was phenomenal; Richard Avedon, David Bailey, Duffy, Terence Donovan, Eve Arnold, etc.
Did anyone say no?
Once Donovan and Avedon had said yes, whoever else I phoned just said OK.
I even had photographers ringing saying “Why haven’t you asked me?’’
Actually, Art Kane said no.
I sent him a layout, the one that Ray Rathborne ended up shooting, the dead child, he took ages to get back to me with an answer, then I finally got one: ‘Dave…It’s just not my day for dead kids’.
The Terrence Donovan one is my favourite, nice simple shot?
It was the only frame of film that worked, for some reason Terence shot every thing else from above, it looked good but you couldn’t see that the young girl was pregnant.
I pleaded with him to take one side on, which he did, just the one, knocked it off really quickly.
What was Richard Avedon like to shoot with?
Quick, when we were shooting one of the ladies turned away from the camera, people were desperately trying to get her to turn to camera.
Avedon said ‘leave her, it’s ok’, of course, that what makes the shot.Using such terrible type must’ve been so unusual at the time?
I just wanted it to look as if The Salvation Army had ‘made’ the ads themselves.
Not a posh London agency.
I used a rubber printing outfit for the typography.
It was the first time that had been done, that’s what we seek, isn‘t it?
At the end of the campaign we had raised their million.Illustration was thrown out in favour of squared up photographs in the sixties, to emulate the classic New York ads of the period, ‘drawings’ were too reminiscent of the previous decade’s ads, but you were commissioning lots?
I’ve always liked illustration in ads.
There are some brilliant illustrators out there.
So often an illustrator can give you more that you expect.
I think most art directors and editors these days are unaware of who is out there and available, there is a wealth of untapped talent not being used.
I think a lot of people are scared or are utterly clueless about how to use and work with illustrators, the greatest pity is that no one but no in fashion uses illustration which is more stylish and far more stylish.
Look at the thirties Vogue covers.
Today it is “Who shall we get to take the picture?”What’s your favourite piece of illustration you’ve commissioned??
I’ve commissioned so much but I think it has to be Jean-Michel Folon and Milton Glaser and their illustrations for the Polydor salute the BeeGees issue of Billboard magazine in 1978. These drawings are in my ‘David’s Book’ to be published in 2016.
Whose work did you admire at the time?
Milton Glaser and The Push Pin designers.Jean Michel Folon of course.Then nearer home there was Edward Ardizzone.
Roy Carruthers.1971 you join The Television Department, what was that?
It was set up by Adrian Rowbotham ex-head of TV at JWT, Tim Emanuel and Nick Salaman. They acted as the TV department to agencies that had no TV set-up, like Saatchi at the time.
I joined to partner Nick Salaman.
They were increasingly getting press and print work with no one to do it and I wanted to be proprietorial, although I had been made a partner at the then KMP Partnership.
It just seemed as though it would, could, become big.
Adrian should write about it, it’s a good story full of memorable anecdotes.
That was were I first met Peter Shiach the owner of The Macallan in 1973 I think it was.
In 1975 you set up your own business, David Holmes & Partners. Why?
Again, sovereignty. I had the confidence to have a go.
Which clients did you work for during this period?
Various. I was asked to design an award for The London Television Advertising Awards.
I gave them a gold silver and bronze arrow.
It’s now called The Arrow Awards.
I worked for The Macallan Malt Whisky and various agencies, JWT and Greys for example.
Oh yes, I did some more fund-raising for the Salvation Army.
How did that evolve into Holmes Knight Ritchie?
I was approached by a previous work colleague who said that Dick Knight was looking for a creative partner to join him at his fairly new agency.
I wasn’t sure it was for me, the office looked crap and one of the clients was Dyno-Rod.
Dick though was persistent and said he would give me 50% of the agency even though I could only bring in The Macallan, The Salvation Army and bits and pieces.
Dick Knight is the most persuasive man I have ever met.
After a few months the agency name was changed to Holmes Knight Ritchie once Alistair joined from Greys.
In the seventies advertising seemed to look down on design, but HKR did both, possibly a 360 communication before the term was invented?
Design is important everywhere and on everything, advertising design has been my job.
The Macallan was one of the early accounts my agency won, so holds a place in my heart, but they wouldn’t shut up about you, Nick Salaman and the campaign you created.
They were worried the illustration didn’t feel ‘whisky’ enough, so we did a brown version.
That was the one that ran.
It’s a longish story. In 1973 Peter Shiach the then chairman of Macallan came to see Nick Salaman and me at The Television Dept. in Wardour St.
He said he wanted a brochure to announce to the world that The Macallan was now ready, having stocked enough, to sell worldwide. They needed to appoint distributors. Hence the ‘brochure’ to send to probables.
I gave them the artist’s portfolio style folder with loose pages. I sent Sara Midda to the distillery for a week and record everything as an artist’s journal. (The people who make whisky are artists in their way.)
That worked, they got their distributors.
It was Sara’s first job from college at St. Martins. I don’t think we ever used photography for Macallan it would have burst the magical promise of the brand.
They’ve stuck with me like glue ever since.
I’m still helping them today.How did you manage to persuade Peter Blake to work with you on The Macallan?It was Allan Shiach the Macallan Chairman who had the idea of Peter making a label for a 60 year-old Macallan.
There was only enough whisky left in the cask for 10 bottles. I helped Peter finish the label graphics.You hired and trained a young spoon whittler called Mark Reddy?
Not only a spoon whittler, a flint tapper and saxophonist.
He was already good but he got even better with us.
He left once and returned because he loved our artistic sensitivity towards the ads we put together, he was protected and encouraged.
Mark and I think alike. I would trust him with anything.You hired and trained a young cigar muncher called Neil French?
Frenchie, yes he was a great find for us.
He reckons he wasn’t much good before he joined us. That’s a lie, he was always good at what he was doing, he’s a natural ideas machine; quick, decisive and bold.
Too damn bold on one occasion while with us.
Meticulous and Assured, Neil is a one man orchestra; better than that because he will write the score and the libretto too.
I didn’t actually train him I just hovered around while he gradually caught on, and caught up and took off.
Like unchaining a Bull Dog in one respect and releasing a caged bird in another.
Neil was like having a Victoria Wood on the payroll.
If it wasn’t for Mr French I would never have spent a happy eighteen months in Singapore and still have connections there.
When I got into the business in 1985, HKR seemed like it didn’t follow the D&AD obsessed pack, it just did its own, idiosyncratic, stylish thing?
We could have put more work in but quite frankly we were too busy.
We were really, really busy and I had got my stuff in so many books in the past anyway.Sophie’s Choice time: Who’s the most creative person you’ve ever worked with?
John, John Webster.
As far as TV is concerned that is, I don’t think he did much print although we both won a poster award together once.
It takes a lot of confidence as an art director, when needing an illustrator for your work to shun the world’s illustrators and choose…yourself.
Sometimes I can’t afford others. Just have to get out the paints and do it.
There are some jobs I would never attempt, I would put on my art directors hat and know exactly who I would use.You worked with the typographer Pete Woods?
Pete is special, very special, he opened my eyes.
I miss working with him but he went off to the States I think.What did you see in the young Trevor Beattie, you made him the youngest creative director in London, at 12 years old?
We liked his risky, ballsy nerve.
At HKR the creatives were given freedom, I very seldom interfered and certainly never played the interfering busybody.
Come to think of it now, I was a sort of Arpad or Ashley, tucked away doing my things and only being there if the creatives needed help or my opinion.
Trevor was ambitious and you have to encourage that.
He didn’t intimidate me, on the contrary I had had my turn and was happy to move along the bench and give him space.
It has gone full circle for me, like a wheel within a wheel.
It’s what has to happen to all of us if we are artistic, we move along, move round, make room.
I’m not sure if it will happen exactly that way to young Beattie.Off to Singapore and life as an ex-pat?
I wasn’t sure if it was the thing to do. Frenchies idea.
The plan was to step into his shoes for two weeks while he was on holiday.
When I got there and phoned the agency – Bateys, they told me he had gone, left, resigned. It was sorted out.
They approved of me and I did two weeks.
I enjoyed it.
A complete change and it was always delightfully warm.
I was invited to stay for longer and after some umming and ahhing I did go and stayed for eighteen months working on The Singapore Tourist Promotion Board, Singapore Airlines and the relaunch of the refurbished Raffles Hotel which opened its doors again in 1991.Why switch to illustration?
You can’t linger in advertising at my age it would be unseemly.
I was invited by Brian’s Central Illustration Agency to join their listing so I did.
Once a dauber always a dauber and illustration is only a brush stroke away from painting which I did from an early age.
Even now I get work in The RA Summer Show but I may not bother any more now that paintings are judged by computer.
A bad process unless you have RA after your name which I do not.
My working life story is far too complex to detail here so I am putting a book together which will be published later this year, that’s 2016, it’s simply titled “David’s Book”.What can you tell me about Brian Grimwood?Who?
Oh you mean Bertie, my agent with the ‘thirty-for-Bertie’ arrangement.
Brian started The CIA, now managed by Benjamin Cox.
Yes we’ve been chums for ages.
We found ourselves in Singapore judging the Singapore Gong Show Advertising Awards in 1984 with Ron Mather, Jack Vaughan and Jeff Stark.
That was an adventure.
Since then we have been invited back to The Far East and beyond to give talks.
We have also been asked to design and draw Raffles Hotel posters and other material so we find ourselves back and forth to the hotel to work.
Brian has been so successful and sought after because he is so versatile. He can draw quickly, and have ideas quickly.
We did a stand up at a college once and blithely said to the assembled class we will solve your project here, now, on the blackboard.
We did, Brian drew an illustration in seconds to illustrate it to an audience of stunned students, it was a good idea.
We seem to encourage each other, Brian has an excellent built in shit detector, excuse the language.
In Singapore we are known as Cecil & Bertie when we are called to do stand-up presentations.https://youtu.be/QDqBPBHB1SQWho’s the best person you’ve ever hired?
Difficult to say, but I suppose the best person I never hired was John Hegarty.
He came in and showed me his work, but I had to turn him away, we didn’t need anyone.
Lastly, how did you come to start designing stamps?
That was thanks to David Hillman.
He was approached by The Royal Mail to design the stamps and had commissioned me previously to draw one of the Olympic stamps back in 2012 so he knew I could cut the mustard I think.
The Royal Mail was asked the same question ‘why David Holmes?’ They said, ‘partly because of his advertising background and the disciplines involved’.
It took two years to complete.
Several committees and quite a few alterations.
I could not have done it without Toby my son.
I drew all the figures an artwork as water-colour illustrations.
Toby as a digital artist moved things about from time to time to make them work to the small size.
The backgrounds in some cases are computerised to get the bright colour.
There were too many adjustments being made for me to redraw each time so Toby played an important part in the finished image.
GOOD NEWS FOR GEEKS: David launches a book and exhibition next week.
5th – 9th December
La Galleria Pall Mall
5b Pall Mall
30 Royal Opera Arcade
London SW1Y 4UY
Tel 0207 930 8069
Nb. More Holmes…
7 responses to INTERVIEW: David Holmes.
Always the best.
I worked at CPV for the Joan Bird Group. I spent hours in Ms Davies artwork library try to locate misfiled artwork that was needed for production.
Working at KMP with David he was always a perfectionist. Great designer
I worked at CPV from 64-67. They were heady days for a young man starting out. There was a lot of talent in Davids group – Ross Thompson, Anne Redvers Mutton to name but two.CPV was a great place to begin in advertising.
I was his assistant at KMP on the Salvation Army, He was great to work for/ with and I spent a lot of time meeting people like Major Nutty in the Lyceum Ballroom or getting nits out of kids’ hair in the east end. Best of all though was the shoot with Richard Alvedon. We waited for the (female) Sally Army officer to turn up . She was late and he had a shoot for Vogue lined up. He said “If the little girl doesn’t come soon, you’re gonna have to put the uniform on” I thought , “Oh god, there goes my street cred”…… Luckily, she turned up.
Hey Jennifer, you must be mad; you could’ve been shot by RICHARD AVEDON! Dx
When I look back on the design work I did for David, I realise what a total perfection he was.