INTERVIEW: Sir Alan Parker.


Sir Alan, where did you grow up?
I grew up in Islington.
Ours were the first council flats built after the war and I moved in aged about three or four.
Ironically, the flats overlooked the street where my Dad was born and brought up.
(My Grandad was the local barber and the family were evacuated in the war when a bomb hit St Mary’s Church close to their shop. He was also the local bookie—illegal then—and so they moved closer to Newmarket.)
Growing up, my home had 1 LP, (‘Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits’) and 4 books, was your home very Artsy too?
Oddly, we had a rubbish TV set, but an enormous ‘radiogram’, which was the prized piece of furniture in the front room. It was all shiny wood veneers and knobs– so we had a lot of music.
My Dad played the perfunctory Vera Lyne stuff and my mother played David Whitfield and Alma Cogan records.
She was also reasonably good at vamping on the piano and at Christmas she would thump out Ruby Murray songs: “Softly, softly, turn the key, and open up my heart.” I can hear it now. It was dreadful.
My Dad initially worked in the transport department at the Sunday Times, (basically a greasy garage in a mews behind the main building on Gray’s Inn road.)
But when I left home, he took early redundancy and became a house painter. My mother was a seamstress/machinist. She did ‘homework’ – knocking out boxes full of stuff – every week it was something different – our very own sweatshop ­– and she hated it.
Her sewing machine was in my bedroom and she cursed every minute as she angrily stamped away on the foot treadle. It made her very unhappy.
I was the first kid in the flats to get to the grammar school, which was Dame Alice Owens at the Angel — so I was quite a hard-working studious kid.
I was given a Telefunken reel-to-reel tape recorder for passing my GCE’s and became obsessed with making short plays doing all the voices and sound effects.
My Dad wiped them all one Christmas to record Frankie Vaughan songs.
What was the first ad you remember seeing?
Dennis Compton’s Brylcreem ads — probably as he and his brother Leslie played football for Arsenal. 
Also, I won a Dennis Compton cricket bat my last year at Primary school.

Did the arrival of TV have a big effect on you?
As I mentioned, our TV set was crap. We had a curious magnifying lens strapped to the front, which supposedly made the image larger.
When commercial TV started my Dad fixed up an ITV ‘convertor box’, with an aerial on the top, which gave a continually fuzzy picture.
If a door slammed the picture would disappear into a blizzard.
As a treat, I used to go to the neighbours next door to watch Hopalong Cassidy.
The first commercials I remember on ITV were “You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent”.

And “Murray Mint, Murray Mint, the too good to hurry mint.”

What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I went for the interview at my new school at 11, I said I wanted be an architect.
No idea why, except I was always drawing designs of houses for my mother.
What was the first job you were paid for?
I had a paper round when I was fourteen.
It was freezing at 6a.m. and I spent my first few weeks wages on an anorak, which my mother lined with fake fur.
Then, at sixteen I got a Saturday job at ‘Jolly’s Cooked Meats’, Camden Town.
I was in charge of the cooked chickens and did it for two years before leaving school. I loved the theatre of it all. I wore a white apron and had a long stick with a fork on the end to stab the chicken legs and breasts in the shop window.
I was very entertaining to the customers.
How did you end up at ad agency Maxwell Clarke?
After ‘A’ levels, my Dad insisted that I went to work as he was very much against university and he set about getting me a job.
At the garage he would bribe the Sunday Times executives extra gallons of petrol to anyone who would help his son get a job in journalism.
Consequently I ended up as a filing clerk on the Hospital Equipment News.
It was purgatory.
One of the advertising reps there had a friend at a small advertising agency called Maxwell Clarke in Holborn.
I went for the job out of desperation and was hired at £7.00 a week.
I’m guessing that the folks inside an ad agency back in 1960 either; trained at Sandhurst, owned a tie from a public school, had a double-barreled surname or letters after their name?
Curiously, the agency wasn’t the usual suspects you describe.
It was a rag-bag of losers, con-men and eccentrics – very few toffs.
It’s also fair to say that it wasn’t the coolest place in the advertising universe.
How did you finagle your way from the mailroom to the creative department?
After a brief stint in the mailroom, I was assigned to ‘Copy Forwarding’, which entailed taking the ad proofs around to be signed off by each department. Consequently, I got to know everybody.
The so-called ‘creative department’ consisted of a proper working studio (with airbrush and scraperboard artists perpetually high on Cow-Gum. fumes) two copywriters and two “visualisers”.
One of the copywriters, Len Weinreich, encouraged my interest in writing by setting me imaginary advertising briefs, which I did late at night on the kitchen table.
Also, one of the visualisers, Gray Jolliffe, was a great friend to me. (Fifty years later he still is — I had lunch with him today).
At Len’s and Gray’s urging, the management invented a job, ‘Junior copywriter’, for me and I was given a tiny wooden cubicle with dappled glass partitions, a dictionary, a thesaurus, and another fiver a week.

In the coming months I proceeded to knock off dozens and dozens of (mostly small) ads.
The brown ‘job-bags’ would arrive, I’d read the brief, write an ad, scribble a visual or a cartoon, and plonk it back in the bag where it got passed on and became an ad.
It was more like working at Yo! Sushi than an ad agency.
When I was trying to break into the business I’d try to create ads like the ones I’d seen with the initials BBH, CDP or GGT underneath.
When writing ads on your parent’s kitchen table late at night, what was your criteria for a good one?

Len said to me from the beginning: “never forget who it is you’re talking to and write as you speak. Don’t preach, don’t show off and never be boring.”
I had the mantra pinned to my wall.
When did you hear about the creative revolution going on in New York?
For us, the source of good ads was always the New Yorker, which was also introduced to me by Len Weinreich.
It transformed how I approached everything.
Each new issue would be leapt on and you’d leaf through it to see the latest VW or Avis ad, which would take your breath away.

Nothing in British advertising by the then big guns: JWT, Mather & Crowther, Bensons etc, was remotely comparable to what they were doing in New York. Without knowing it, my heroes were Bob Levenson, Helmut Krone, Mary Wells, Ed McCabe, Julian Koenig and George Lois and I lapped up everything they did.
How did you go from the lukewarm Maxwell Clarke to white-hot American agency Papert Koenig Lois?
About this time DDB and PKL had opened in London.
Gray and I did a mock-up ad which we sent to DDB who were looking for staff. We tried to be very DDB by being ever-so-humble, with a photograph of the two of us, shot from above, on our knees, begging for a job.
It half worked in that I got an interview with John Withers for the vacant junior copywriter post.
Malcolm Gluck eventually got the job. He was more on John Withers’ social wavelength than me and as Gluck pointed out to me later, “John would never hire you: too many split infinitives.”
And so I wrote an ad to PKL. It was a pastiche of one of their successful Granada TV ads, “Dear PKL it’s time you met Alan Parker.”

I got an interview with the copy chief Peter Mayle who miraculously offered me a job for twice what I was making at Maxwell Clarke.
Its testosterone-heavy vibe and the number of people wandering around sporting cuts and bruises, lead to PKL New York being nicknamed ‘Stillman’s East’, (after the gym), was the London office like that too?
PKL had a legendary New York creative reputation of course and even a bit of one in London (having done some good work by Tony Palladino and Ron Holland, before they both returned to New York).

There were rumours of minor fisticuffs between the MD, Nigel Seely and Palladino, which, via the assembled creative imaginations at PKL and Seely’s facility for ‘porky pies’, eventually became a broken arm, split lip, and even, on one account I read, a dash to Middlesex hospital with Paladino bleeding from a cut throat.
How did you adapt from coming from sleepy Maxwell Clarke?
When I arrived at PKL it was a shock.

First off, the PKL I held in such high esteem was not the PKL I joined.
Weirdly, Koenig and Lois had hired a crazy guy called Joe Sacco to be the new boss in London. Problem was that Sacco hated creative advertising.
He was a loud, abrasive, New York bully who believed in hard-sell, Ted Bates kind of advertising.
He loathed DDB and probably even PKL.
We used to have interminable late night “think sessions” where the creative department sat in a large room throwing out ideas and being screamed at and lectured by Sacco.
I was twenty-one years old, mystified and unable to contribute.
I’d come from a quiet cubicle, six feet by six feet and suddenly was in a room with twenty experienced creative people shouting at one another, with Sacco yelling at me, “Kid what have you got?” I would stammer out an idea that I had scribbled on my layout pad and he’d interrupt with “No, not that kind of shit.” I was terrified.
What did you work on there?
I can’t remember how long I was there— I think months only—and can’t remember having a single ad produced.

It was a miserable experience.
To this day, I have no idea what Koenig and Lois were thinking. Why hire this nutcase Sacco?
Ever meet Koenig or Lois?
No, they never visited whilst I was there.

Apparently Koenig always visited Ascot and Newmarket, as the racetrack was his first love, but he never came near Sloane Street.
Which ads were pinned to your cork-board walls in those days?
I had no ads pinned on my cork-board. If you put something up Sacco would come in late at night and tear it down.
Why leave?
Why stay?

The best thing that happened at PKL was that I befriended the art director Paul Windsor who had been poached from CDP and was as mystified as me at the goings-on.
He already had quite a reputation and CDP wanted him back.
Consequently the two of us, as a “creative team” – the then new fashion – went for a meeting at CDP with Colin Millward and Bob Pethick and Colin hired us both straight away.
To be honest, it was Paul they wanted back, and indulged him by taking this young kid as his writer.
When Paul and I returned to PKL at Sloane Street, Peter Mayle was waiting outside the building. “Don’t go back, Sacco’s found out you’ve been to CDP”, (Peter had told him) “and has gone berserk. It’s bedlam up there.” Paul and I promptly took the train home and never went back.
Did you take any lessons from Peter Mayle with you to CDP?
Peter just kept his head down during this period.

He was almost apologetic about Sacco, as it was not what he’d signed up for either. Some time after Paul and I left, Peter eventually organised a coup with the help of Nigel Seely and ousted Sacco, who was recalled to New York and fired.
When Peter eventually gained complete control of PKL, he asked me to go back as creative director, but I had become firmly entrenched at CDP by then.
One morning in 1966, you turn up at the best agency in the country, scared?
CDP was not intimidating in the least — probably because Paul Windsor had already worked there and so he knew everybody — which made things very comfortable for me.

Also it was a very friendly, benign and calm environment. (Not threatening like PKL where Sacco would regularly throw coffee mugs at the wall.)
The creative department at CDP was the domain of one man: a dour, not overly articulate Yorkshireman: Colin Millward.

His first impressions of you, when presenting your first work to him: ‘Trying to make a name for yourself are you son?’.
What were your first impressions of him?

Although a very shy and quiet man – he never raised his voice — Colin was the undisputed boss.

No one undermined his authority.
Not Saatchi, Cramer, Salmon Godfey, Brignull, Wight, Collins, Parker, Windsor, anyone. We all bowed down to him on the fourth floor, as they did on the floor below where the account men resided.
John Pearce deferred totally to Colin’s judgement, as did Frank Lowe who took over from Pearce.
Colin said ‘this is the ad’ and if the client didn’t approve it, John Pearce promptly fired the client. (It rarely happened).
The creative department at CDP was a narrow, un-flashy corridor on the fourth floor, with small unassuming offices either side.
It was very sparse and matter of fact: very un-chic.
If you got some work into the D&AD book perhaps Colin would allow you a cork wall. But that was the only décor allowed.
All of us thought Millward’s judgement absolute.
He had immaculate aesthetic taste, but was always urging us to be braver with the ideas.
(A few of Colin Millward’s ads below.)

The art directors were in his image — usually ex-Royal College of Art, great technicians and artists – but the writers were an odd bunch of misfits (Saatchi, Salmon, Weiland, myself etc) who didn’t fit comfortably in to any box.

Colin encouraged all sorts of disparate people who he thought could stretch the conventional parameters of advertising.
His early instincts were visual, but he more and more encouraged the development of ideas.
Also he could spot a phony idea from the other end of the corridor.
He would stop by your office and see ten scribbled ideas pinned on the wall.
He’d silently look at them, shuffling from ad to ad, pull a face, dig at his nails and then leave saying, “Not easy is it?”
Invariably you’d take down the ads and start again.
It was as if he willed you to do better.
(‘Alan Parker’ by Colin Millward.)
He’s been described as the most influential British adman of all time. Why?
I suppose simply put, because under his guidance and supervision, in a very short space of time, so many people made so many brilliant ads: a body of work that has never been
”We spent years putting Harvey’s Bristol Cream on a pedestal and Parker comes along and sells it off of a barrow.” – John Pearce. At what point did you feel confident enough to write as people spoke rather than in the dry vernacular that was commonplace in advertising at the time?

To be honest I always wrote that way. It goes back to Len Weinreich’s advice: “never forget who it is you’re talking to and write as you speak. Don’t preach, don’t show off and never be boring.”
As I became more attuned to the Bob Levenson turn of phrase it influenced my writing, as did John Withers’ revolutionary work for Remington shavers in London.
He was the first to put the DDB bite into British copywriting – only with a more colloquial British vernacular — this was a real break through.
Of my Harvey’s ads, apart from ‘Iced Cream’ my favourite is “A christening is a great day for a little tot.”
The baby in the ad is my daughter—now 50, with three kids of her own.

I’ve seen quite a few ads credited you you and Ron Collins, were you a team at CDP?
No, Ron was in John Salmon’s group.
Colin never knew what to do with Ron.
He was very talented, but too lippy for his own good and not too popular.
He lived near me in Sheen and our kids went to the same school and so he and I did a tiny bit of freelance work on the train home — one for the local Sheen kids’ clinic, which got into the D&AD book.
We even made up a name of a fictional advertising agency to make us sound authentic.

We wanted something that sounded New York and ethnic. We were on the tube and Ron had a Jewish cookbook and so I opened it and, flicking through, I picked out three words, which became the agency: Kartoffel, Schnitzel and Krupnik.

Ron even did a letterhead to look like PKL, complete with thin sans serif face. We were offered a lot of work, but we didn’t exist.

Two of your BFFs were David Puttnam and Frank Lowe, ever think of starting Parker Puttnam & Windsor or Lowe Parker Windsor?
I think Puttnam always had aspirations other than start an advertising agency.

He was always re-inventing himself. He still is.
I think, as my own work developed in commercials and film, it naturally put me on a different trajectory.
In hindsight, I would have been better off financially if I’d had started an agency back then — and since sold it on a few times over, like many of my contemporaries!
You shot with all the top photographers of the day, Richard Avedon, Adrian Flowers, Peter Webb, Bob Brooks, etc, but you shot with one more than any other: Lester Bookbinder?

Being the copywriter I rarely visited his studio—my art director Paul Windsor and latterly Bob Byrne did that.
When I visited he terrified me, as he was not overly pleasant or welcoming— ‘people skills’ not being his forte — which is why he specialised in still life!
I was the rookie writer (in my early twenties) and therefore of little interest to him.
Paul Windsor loved him and the two of them would fiddle away for hours adjusting the subtle minutiae of light and composition.
Even his fellow countrymen found him abrasive.
Bob Brooks — another charmless New Yorker– was sweetness and light compared to Lester.
Colin Millward was Lester’s great champion and insisted that the CDP art directors worked with him. (Colin made the final decision on which photographers were used on each job).
Colin’s theory being that a session with Lester would cut any uppity art director down to size.
Lester lost a little of his popularity when CDP realised that they could send an art director to New York first class, work with Henry Sandbank (the current reigning king of still life photography) for three days and return with the trannnies, all for less money than Lester charged!
Lester never took to commercials, which he hated doing—too many people around — and Lester’s tense, silent sets were noticeable for their lack of bonhomie.film-1971-Make-Hovis..-hovis_Black

I’d always assumed you were one of the main tv guys at Collett’s who then smoothly transitioned to becoming a Director, but apart from the Birds Eye ‘Brief Encounter’ ad, I can’t find any of your TV in D&AD, did you write much tv there?

I worked on a lot of new business pitches (I wrote the first Hovis commercials for instance. We were awarded that account from pilot commercials we’d shot in the basement.)
The TV License evasion spots that I made at that time are in the book I think.
Colin encouraged me to write dialogue as he said I had a facility for it, which at the time was news to me.
No one was doing it at the time, as the agency was very much press orientated. He said I should concentrate on commercials and much of my writing was in that area towards the end of my time there.
I was only a copywriter for a very short period of time really.

Why were you shooting commercials in the basement?
We were all new to the world of commercials and most of us were pretty ignorant on a film set.
I asked Colin for a small budget to experiment on 16mm making pilot commercials in the basement. (CDP had this cavernous empty basement — almost like an underground car park, except they had forgotten to build an access ramp down to it.)
Alan Marshall was a producer at CDP and was previously an editor, so was instrumental in pulling everything together.
We hired in a camera operator and assistant, but usually Paul Windsor lit the commercials and someone from the production department worked the tape-recorder.
As I’d written it, they suggested that I said “action” and “cut” and very soon caught the directing bug as the commercials became more and more adventurous and ambitious.
Probably about this time we were exposed to Howard Zieff, Horn-Griner, Mike Elliot, Harold Becker etc and different New York reels.

Colin Millward fires you, sort of?
The story goes that John Pearce was showing a prospective client around CDP only to find empty desks. “Where the hell is everyone?” he said. “They’re all in the basement making a commercial with Alan” was the answer.
I remember it was our biggest production — a pre–revolutionary, ‘War and Peace’ type ball with everyone in uniforms, and long dresses, replete with medals and tiaras.
It was for Benson & Hedges Pipe Tobacco (accompanied by Jacques Loussier piano music).

The next day, Colin, John Pearce and Ronnie Dickenson called me into the boardroom. Rather enigmatically John Pearce said, “Alan, we think you should leave CDP.”
I was choked as I’d never been fired in my life.
Ronnie Dickenson explained that they wanted me to leave in order to form a commercials company and that they would give me an interest-free bank loan to get started.
Colin added that they’d make sure I had plenty of work.
Maybe I would have done it without their encouragement eventually, but they pushed me over the cliff, so to speak, into the world of commercials and film.
Did you have a plan that evolved into features or were you making it up as you went along?
No plan at all.
At almost the same time as my basement commercials David Puttnam and Charles Saatchi took me to lunch at the Kebab & humus in Charlotte Street. They said they had the idea of going into feature films and that Charles would write a script, I would write a script and Puttnam would try to raise the finance.
I did this as an extra-curriculum activity really, as it wasn’t my real area of interest at the time. I had no film industry ambitions.
First, I wrote a treatment called ‘Sophie Breams’ which was based on the Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’.
Puttnam liked it, but thought it was horribly depressing.
He then gave me seven Bee Gees songs that he’d somehow got the rights to and so I wrote ‘Melody’. The story was based on a lyric in the song ‘The First of May’ mixed with experiences of my own and Puttnam’s.
Charles’s script was called ‘The Carpet Man’ which Puttnam couldn’t get financed, however he did get the money to make ‘Melody’.
Charles promptly decided to give up the film lark and open an ad agency with his brother. Charles always was smarter than the rest of us.

One of your early Directing jobs was for an agency at the other end of the creative spectrum from CDP; Dorlands.
Paul Windsor and I left CDP — following in the footsteps of Saatchi and (Ross Cramer) who had left before us.
Like them, we formed a “creative consultancy” (Parker & Windsor), selling our creative work to whoever wanted it.
Unlike Charles and Ross we were also going to actually make the commercials.
It didn’t last long.
One of our first (and last clients) was Dorlands and we wrote the Heinz spaghetti commercials for them and I directed them.

They gave us a pretty free hand.
Soon after, Paul and I decided to go our separate ways. He hankered after a life as a photographer, which he did and I started The Alan Parker Film Co with Alan Marshall as my producer.

I remember seeing the Birds Eye Beef Burger ads as a kid, it was almost shocking to see ‘real people’ with strong regional accents in ads at the time.
Was I a bit over-sensitive as a kid or did it cause a stir at the time?

Probably we were taking a leaf out of Ken Loach’s book by casting real people outside the London area comfort zone.
No one had done it in commercials as most commercials were conveniently cast from London—particularly with kids, who were usually recruited from the established stage schools.
We went up to Leeds to cast the kids in the Beef Burgers commercials.
The scripts, written by Neil Godfrey and Tony Brignull, were not the greatest commercials ever, but the kids, with their strong Yorkshire accents, were very fresh and striking at the time.

By 1972, 30% of the tv ads in the D&AD Annual had the same credit; ‘Director: Alan Parker.’ (14 out of 42).
Were you surprised it went so well so quickly?

To be honest, we were very fortunate to get the best scripts.
Mostly from CDP.
At the time we had little competition in the kind of commercials we were making.
Ridley and Hugh Hudson did mainly “pretty” commercials and we had the market cornered for idea based, narrative and dialogue type commercials.
For a while we had the hot hand.

How did you come to work with one of the Country’s greatest/most forgotten designers; John Gorham?

I always loved John Gorham’s work.

I first met him at dinner at John McConnell’s house (he was my next door neighbour when we both lived in Fulham).
Gorham started out doing letterheads and stuff for us and then did ours and Puttnam’s film credits.

I was very proprietorial about him and hated people copying what we did.
John of course was a freelance designer and didn’t care who he worked for.
John was a great, highly influential, talent — hopelessly eccentric, but a wonderful person.
I hope he’s not forgotten, people are still copying his stuff even today.

Who was making you laugh at the time?
Monty Python, probably. And Woody Allen.

I’ve heard that your producer also edited your ads?
My producer Alan Marshall was also a great editor, but most of our commercials were actually cut by Gerry Hambling who also went on to edit all of my feature films.
He was quite brilliant.
Alan Marshall always passed his expert editor’s eye over the work, but Gerry was ‘the man’ when it came to editing.
Name three ads you like?
Of my own ads?
‘Brief Encounter’ for Birds Eye ‘Dinner for One’.
Heineken ‘Galley’ commercial
Cockburn’s port ‘Shipwreck’.
Charles Saatchi, Frank Lowe, Colin Millward, John Webster, Madonna, Bob Geldof, Mickey Rourke, Ralph Steadman, Nicholas Cage, Roger Waters, etc, etc.
You seem to gravitate towards the most strong-willed/difficult people on Earth?
I think in every walk of life you’re going to bump into strong-willed people—particularly where the work is off the ‘normal’ dial.
Colin Millward was difficult to please, but he was a softie really and you could usually win him over.
Charles Saatchi — I didn’t really work directly with him. I was very friendly with him when we were at CDP, but have rarely seen him since.
He was always enigmatic –and so much smarter than the rest of us oiks.
Frank Lowe: Curiously, before we met people said it would be a bloodbath when we did, but I have to say my collaborations with him, over forty years, have been nothing but pure pleasure.
John Webster: Yes he could be difficult. I was always scared of him and had to be on my toes. He would look at you through those steel-rimmed Gestapo spectacles and I always had the feeling that he thought he could direct the commercial better than I could.
Madonna was always nice and respectful with me. But she was a total cow with the rest of the crew. She is very smart and expects you to be as smart.
She can be a demanding selfish brat, but avoided being so around me, I must say.
Bob Geldof: He can be tough with a vicious tongue, but on The Wall he was an actor and not really in his own comfort zone, so was quite vulnerable.
I like and admire him very much.

Roger Waters was something else. Pink Floyd The Wall was the most miserable film I ever made because of him, certainly not Bob.
Mickey Rourke: I think I worked with him at just the right time. I treated him like a naughty boy and he always delivered. After ‘Angel Heart’ he became a complete basket case and apparently was not such a pleasure to work with.
Ralph Steadman? Never worked with him! I think you mean Gerald Scarfe. He wasn’t too much fun either. Not a pleasant experience. I don’t think he liked me much either.Nicholas Cage I worked with when he was quite young and inexperienced and so was easy to work with. Maybe if I’d worked with him later in his career it would be different.
To be honest, I mostly tried to avoid difficult people.
Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but I always did my homework on an actor’s behavior before casting them.

If you hear too many negatives, it’s worth giving a miss.
Films are far too hard to make anyway, without debilitating punch-ups with assholes.

If I had to guess at what kind of features you’d go on to direct by looking at your commercials showreel, (below), I’d say comedies, like an ‘Annie Hall’ or ‘Withnail & I’, but I’d have been wrong. There are many funny moments in your films, but I wouldn’t call any a comedy?
Yes, I suppose my commercials showreel is not very indicative of the films that I eventually made.

Commercials do inhabit quite a narrow landscape and so I always yearned to do different things and to escape from the confines of the strict advertising rulebook.

What advantages did your ad background give you in Hollywood?
I think it made me extra aware that every tiny moment counts.
Undoubtedly the cinematography and production design in our films owed a great deal to the experimentation we did on hundreds of commercials.
Also I think I, and particularly Ridley, were probably better equipped to deal with Hollywood because we’d run our own companies and so were perhaps more worldly and used to running our own show.
Hollywood can be very rough on sensitive talents.

What disadvantages did your ad background give you in Hollywood?
Well, as the film critic in the Financial Times once said “Alan Parker comes from advertising and so it gives us an easy stick with which to beat him.”

As I was first to make the transition from the world of commercials into feature films I think I was extra sensitive to the criticism — that in some way we weren’t ‘legitimate’ – a bunch of vulgar salesmen selling a product with flimsy intellectual credentials.
Ridley too came in for some scathing criticism in the early days.
It affected me much more than him and so I stopped making commercials all together in order to be taken seriously as a filmmaker.
Ridley had a thicker skin and shrugged it off seemingly immune to any negativity about his work and commercials — and consequently his commercials companies are still going strong after 40 years (and hence he’s richer than Croesus.)
These days, the snobbery attached to the cross-over from advertising to film has almost entirely disappeared.
The movie business has changed drastically– as has narrow, inflexible film criticism.

Why close the uber-successful Alan Parker Film Company?
Maybe I shouldn’t have.
It would be nice to be as rich as Ridley.

Working class kids took over the creative fields in the sixties, advertising, photography, acting, music, etc.
Do you think a working class kid from Islington today, actually not Islington, that’s now like Knightsbridge, do you think a working class kid from Dagenham now has more or less chance of directing feature films and getting Knighted?
I think it’s easier and tougher.
I think my generation, undoubtedly, were propelled along by the headwind created by the ‘60’s creative revolution’, which was very egalitarian and where there was a sense that anything was possible in the creative arena, irrespective of your social background.
Today, because of the technological advances, there are many more avenues available to express yourself creatively, but it seems that, more than ever, working class kids still have a hard time making progress. 

‘First kid in the flats to get to the grammar school’.
D&AD Silver.
BAFTA.
Oscar.
Knighthood.
I know what’s the most prestigious, but what meant the most at the time?
I think whatever the awards I’ve received always meant a great deal at the time. When I was in advertising I only thought about a career in advertising — until I was distracted by commercials and film.
The knighthood was different in that it’s like the ultimate ‘lifetime achievement’ award — more a gong for the long slog than a one-off job.

 

What was the last ad you saw that you liked?
Commercials? I’m a big fan of the director Dougal Wilson and love his John Lewis commercials.

Last good press ad? It would be a distant memory.
Every time I see a Banksy on a wall, I think, “Advertising used to be clever like that.”
Thanks for your time Alan.

 

A few outtakes:

 

 

4 responses to INTERVIEW: Sir Alan Parker.

  1. Dave says:

    Great interview Dave, Sir Alan sounds like a thoroughly decent chap.

  2. I thought I would have a quick look at this, an hour later I am glad I did.
    Brilliant Ads, and yes he sounds like a thoroughly nice man.

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