ADVERTISING’S OSCAR WILDE.
An appreciation of the work of Geoffrey Seymour.
By Mike Everett.
It is one of the great ironies of the advertising business that one of its most talented writers is better remembered for his salary than his work. When he joined Saatchi & Saatchi in 1982, Geoff Seymour was paid £100,000 a year, a sum of money that soon became known in advertising circles as a ‘Seymour’. It may have been as an eye-watering amount at the time but, to pinch L’Oreal’s famous end line, he was worth it. In the 14 years leading up to 1982 he had been responsible for some of the most ground breaking and original work ever seen on the TV screens of Britain.
As Sir Alan Parker has said, “Geoff was quite brilliant. He was one of the best thinkers of his generation of ad men and responsible for some seminal work, which helped revolutionise British and world advertising. I have to say my memories of working with him were completely pleasurable – invigorating, anarchic and fun”. If that endorsement wasn’t enough, what about this from Sir Ridley Scott: “Anything that Geoff Seymour wrote I very
much paid attention to because he was kind of special. The main draw to direct Hovis was working with Seymour”. So what was this work?
Let’s start by going back to 1968. A twenty-one year old Geoff Seymour is handed a brief to write a TV campaign for Bird’s Eye Dinners for One by Frank Lowe. ‘Let’s do some famous work’ Frank tells Geoff. Frank remembers that Geoff was unfazed by this exaltation and soon did something that Frank clearly remembers about Geoff. “He had a great facility for writing good lines, which I often thought of as based on the strategy we agreed, before he wrote the actual commercial”.
In the case of Dinners for One, Geoff fretted that the product name would work to its disadvantage; that the name might suggest that it was a product for sad bastards, who live alone with no mates. Geoff got round this by writing the line ‘especially good for those who aren’t used to being on their own’. He brought the line to life with scripts that spoofed two feature films, Desert Song and Brief Encounter. Alan Parker shot them in glorious black and white. If you were to ask Alan Parker today which of the many commercials he directed is his favourite he would tell you Brief Encounter.
Another irony that concerns Geoff Seymour is that he is credited with writing many commercials that he didn’t. In his obituary in the Guardian, for example, he is cited as the author of the famous Hovis Bike Ride commercial. He is not. David Brown wrote the script for that commercial. However, Geoff did write the end line ‘As good for you today as it’s always been’ and wrote two commercials that preceded the Bike Ride commercial, Seaside and Northern. In other words, he wrote the campaign, a far harder task than the writing follow on commercials, no matter how good they might be, as David Brown would surely concede.
The Guardian also credits Geoff with writing ‘It makes a dishonest woman of you’ for Bird’s Eye pies. Not so. Tony Kenrick and Vernon Howe wrote that campaign. Likewise, ‘When you’ve got to make it something fast’ for Bird’s Eye Beef Burgers was also written by Tony Kenrick and Vernon Howe, not Geoff. Not only are these credits inaccurate, they belie the vast amount of work that Geoff actually did for Bird’s Eye.
After his success on Dinners for One, Frank Lowe kept feeding Geoff Bird’s Eye briefs. A couple of notable examples are More for Bird’s Eye Deserts, an Oliver Twist spoof, and Princess for another range of Bird’s Eye deserts known as Hidden Centres. There were many more.
Geoff also wrote the campaign line for Nescafé, ‘If you’re serving coffee, better make sure it’s Nescafé’, together with a number of commercials to accompany it. In 1972 he was asked to create a campaign for an ersatz sports car that Ford was launching, the Capri. His slogan for this campaign ‘The car you always promised yourself’ was far more elegant than the car it advertised.
Talking of elegance, there is one commercial that Geoff wrote that illustrates his apparently effortless ability to parody the British class system, Lifeboat, for Cockburn’s Port. This sixty-second one act play was shot by Alan Parker in Malta using the tank that had been constructed for the sea sequences in Ben- Hur. To sublime comedic effect it shows the survivors of a shipwreck being more concerned with their after dinner drink and the pronunciation of its name than their immediate and highly inconvenient plight.
He was no slouch when it came to writing print advertising, either. An early example of Geoff’s prowess in print is an ad for the Ronson electric toothbrush. It shows a set of dentures in a glass of water with the headline ‘How long will you be able to call your teeth your own?’ He also wrote ads and posters for Whitbread Tankard beer using the line ‘Tankard helps you excel, after one you’ll do anything well’. The posters were in the style of circus advertising, as were the commercials that Geoff wrote to promote Whitbread Trophy.
All this work, of course, was done at Collett, Dickenson and Pearce, just as it was entering its creative heyday. Geoff was a significant contributor to CDP’s creative success – and boy, did he know it. He was often to be seen flouncing around the corridors of the agency with an insouciant swagger, his flowing locks leading him to look like a latter day Oscar Wilde.
Under Frank Lowe’s patronage he was made deputy-creative director, a promotion that before long led to trouble. He mounted an unsuccessful bid to usurp John Salmon from the role of overall creative director. This move and Geoff’s increasingly errant behaviour started to disrupt the smooth running of the agency. So Frank Lowe convened a board meeting to discuss how to deal with Geoff. Colin Millward, CDP’s original creative director was present at this meeting. After listening to Frank talk for a while about the difficulties Geoff was causing, Colin spoke. “Well as far as I can see, Frank, he’s your monster. You created him so you have to destroy him”. That was the end of Geoff Seymour at CDP.
Well, if he couldn’t run the creative department of one agency, he could jolly well run the creative department of another. Thus, Geoff moved to Royds as creative director, charged with re-invigorating the agency’s staid creative product. Looked at whichever way, this was a mistake, both for Royds and for Geoff. He soon went elsewhere.
In partnership with art director Peter Cherry (also ex-CDP) and account man, Dick Hedger, Geoff set up Cherry, Hedger, Seymour. This proved to be a more productive time for Geoff. He resumed his practice of formulating the strategy by writing the strapline first. For Morland’s Sheepskin Coats he coined ‘When luxury becomes a necessity’ and under the banner ‘Allow us to spoil you’, he created a campaign for Air India. Another end line written by Geoff at Cherry, Hedger, Seymour was one that later survived transition through several other ad agencies: ‘Made in Scotland from girders’ for Irn Bru, a fizzy drink enjoyed north of the border.
But perhaps the best regarded of his straplines is ‘Temptation beyond endurance’ for Planter’s Peanuts. In combination with art director Glen Clarke, and using illustrator Patrick Hughes, Geoff created a poster showing a huge shadow reaching out to steal a peanut from the man whose shadow it was. This poster went on to win the 1982 D&AD Silver Award for a 4-sheet.
A further notable campaign that Geoff created during this period was for Foster’s Lager, featuring Paul Hogan reprising his Crocodile Dundee character as a galumphing, unsophisticated Aussie trampling over British traditions. These extremely funny commercials were signed off with a devilishly simple but clever strapline, ‘Foster’s, the Australian for lager’.
Time moved on and so did Geoff. His old boss from CDP days, Frank Lowe asked him to join the agency he’d just set up with Geoff Howard-Spink. It was while he was here that Geoff came up with the end line for the Stella Artois campaign, ‘Reassuringly expensive’, although at first he didn’t know that he’d come up with it. Frank Lowe fished the line out of piece of body copy that Geoff had crafted for a Stella print ad. Unfortunately, this serendipitous discovery has given rise to another misattribution concerning Geoff Seymour. He did not originate the Stella Artois campaign, only the end line. The credit for creating the campaign and its strategy falls to David Watkinson and Bob Isherwood at Collett, Dickenson and Pearce eight years earlier.
As well as gifting the Stella Artois end line to Frank’s agency, Geoff Seymour did a memorable Heineken commercial with Alan Waldie, Windermere based on Wordsworth’s famous Daffodil poem. Despite these successes, his time at Lowe Howard-Spink was far from turbulence-free. Many members of the creative department resented the way Geoff had been parachuted in by Frank Lowe. This caused tensions, that along with other matters related to the share allocation at LHS, eventually led to the resignation of the founding creative directors, John Kelley and John O’Driscoll. Not surprisingly therefore, Geoff’s tenure at LHS was short-lived. He moved to Saatchi & Saatchi and the famous £100,000 a year salary.
When he joined Saatchi, Geoff stipulated in his contract that he would never work on the agency’s Procter and Gamble business. He feared that working on such a client would contaminate his creative flair. Instead he was put to work on Saatchi’s British Airways account. Geoff’s method of working – writing the strapline to inform the strategy – once again came into play. Buried in some research that he was given to read was the fact that British Airways carried a greater number of passengers than any other airline on earth. Geoff took this fact and turned it into a phrase that has since passed into common memory, ‘The world’s favourite airline’. That line alone probably went a long way to paying Geoff’s salary for the first year.
But before long, Geoff’s feet began to itch again. He decided to become a commercials director, setting up Geoffrey Seymour Films. This was never entirely successful. Some might say that this was due to the fact that Geoff had upset so many of his potential clients that they were unlikely to favour him with work. It’s true to say that Geoff could be acerbic and had got on the wrong side of quite a number of people. However, it’s also a fact that Geoff had entered a crowded and competitive market. There were plenty of more accomplished directors around. Geoff was a long way down the pecking order, so he ended up doing most of his film work abroad, far from the plum London scripts. Increasingly, though, Geoff was falling victim to ill health.
In 1997 he was diagnosed with a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and later was discovered to have a brain tumor. This led to his untimely death in December 2009 at the age of 61. It is a final irony in his story that it was his brain, one of advertising’s finest and most original, that ended up killing him.
COLLETT DICKENSON PEARCE.
Benson & Hedges.
Cockburn’s Special Reserve.
CHERRY HEDGER & SEYMOUR.
Keep Britain Tidy.
SAATCHI & SAATCHI.
15 responses to Hands Up Who’s Heard Of GEOFFREY SEYMOUR?
I first met Geoff (RIP) when he turned up at our first day as mature students at the London College of printing. He was dressed in a Jaeger suit and had a Pentax camera slung across his chest. He was cut from a very different cloth to be sure. We were both at CDP at the same time also.
Welling up here, Mike.
Geoff gave me my first tv brief and then offered me a place in his group.
Later, I was summoned down to Frank’s office and assumed I was for the chop. But no, it was to tell me Geoff had left the building for good.
I’m afraid my first reaction was “phew”. But I always regret how little time I had reporting to such a charismatic guy with such a creatively generous spirit.
Does that picture still hang in the Chelsea Arts Club? A panorama of the place, at first glance deserted. But no, look there in the shadows – it’s the lad himself.
There, now I am blubbing, damn you.
What a talent. Some beautiful work there, and all very different.
And hey Dave, didn’t you discover the metal name plate for ‘Geoffrey Seymour Films’ that you’ve included here? On a boarded-up building, halfway down Poland Street? And didn’t you take the time to unscrew it and return it to his family? Or did I imagine that last bit?
Hey Mike, good memory, I did spot it, in Poland Street, and suggested to a couple of people who I thought may be in contact with his kids they should go down there and unscrew it.
In retrospect I should’ve done it myself and posted it to them, (it’s now gone, no doubt in a landfill site somewhere up the Thames Estuary). Dx
To put you straight-Mr Seymour wrote the Planters Campaign strapline but had nothing to do with the shadow poster, other being respectively credited for it by me. The cocktail commercial was written by myself and Neil Fazakerley when the then creative director Tony Muranka was leaving, before Jeff Stark moved in after i
left. Further, i introduced Paul Hogam to the agency for fosters with some spec scripts written with the brilliant Alan Tilby.
Unfortinately i never met the Mr Seymour whilst at Cherry Hedger Seymour was in transition. He was a genius and man of great style who probably also inspired the surreal B&H “great” Waldie Campaign. His genius was too short but amazing. Glenn “thingy” Clarke xx
thanks for clearing up the credits.
a) What do you mean Geoff was probably behind Alan Waldie’s surreal B&H campaign?
b) I love that Planter’s poster, do you have any copies?
Did you get my reply Dave?
No Glenn? My email is email@example.com. DX
Sorry, my portfolio and Planters 4 sheet poster copies got stolen in 98, so i have no press originals from which to print or give you. Its all on video.
In no way did i mean Mr Seymour was behind Mr Alan Waldie’s “birdcage” campaign, but that his B&H ad featured (with the “pack in the grass” ), may have reflected a slight surreal visual shift on the account by internal CDP remit.
(A CDP account man had told me back then that cigarette advertising was to be banned).
Mr Waldie subsequently, pushed it
to fantastic and artistic extremes. The account guys had to sell it. Brilliant!
(The definitive act when business perfectly masqueraded as Art).
All CDP creatives inspired each other,. I even conceived and drew up B&H/Silk Cut executions. One was a bendy cigarette coming out of the B&H Gold paint tube, as well as gold cap tooth in a black girls sensuous mouth. These were presented, accepted and stored in the CDP library archive. Later, Nigel Rose, got an award for one, (without even giving me a conceptual credit). Bless him.
In fact, its how i got hired at Aalders and Marchant as an AD, by intro of the amazing John O’Driscoll to Leevsy. I did some great stuff there like Le Creuset, then went onto KMP, Cherry Hedger Seymour, Brignul Bacall, Delaney’s etc then with a stint in Della Femina Travisano , USA)
The rest is history.
The stuff in your loft and others, is a great piece of historical advertising curation. Their entertaining, insightful and real. What i like personally, is that most are direct from the horses mouth. They feature some truly pioneering admen, some who were great congenial characters.
Well done and thanks.
Not to depreciate in any way Mr Seymour’s genius and great work, he was credited for the D&AD award for the Planters peanut “shadow” poster, in respect to his innovative creation of the Campaign’s headline “ Temptation beyond Endurance” In fact he had nothing whatsoever to do with this poster which i drew and art directed Hughes to do.
Further he had no involvement nor oversight in the “cocktail glass” planters commercial, which was conceived by myself and Neil Fazakerley. This was after the most talented and great guy, CD Tony Muranka left and the agency was later taken over. In this interim period, i introduced Paul Hogen to the agency, so as to obtain the Fosters account, also with various scripts, posters and storyboards, one with the great Alan Tilby working freelance. It is sad that Mr Seymour is no longer with us as if alive he would also confirm these true facts- bless his soul.
One of the saddest things I ever saw on the internet was Campaign’s fulsome tribute to Geoff Seymour that contained a comment from one of his daughters a week or so after it was uploaded. It stated that the family from his first marriage had only found out about their father’s death from that online article.
It’s easy to forget that if you’re not in the club or flavour of the month, then the advertising industry can be such a shitty and unforgiving business.
How eloquent. I remember a certain creative director and agency did not want me to take off two days to see my dying mother.
For the record Geoff did not write ‘Ford Capri: the car you always promised yourself.’
The line was written by the team Roy Herbert / David Squires who were in the John Salmon / Arthur Parsons group. In June 1968 I started at CDP as Roy’s assistant on the Capri launch. I was sitting in the office with them when they wrote the line.
Geoff arrived at CDP soon after me and we did one ad for Salton Hotray, ‘Do you have to apologise to your guests when they are late?’, shot by Adrian Flowers, D&AD 1970.
At that time Geoff worked mainly with Clive Holmes who was AD on the Ronson Automatic Toothbrush ad.
Thanks Bob, Can’t remember where I read that? A few places I think?
Thanks for the info.
(I don’t suppose you have any of the work mentioned? Or any other CDP stuff, come to that?)
The advertising which launched the Ford Capri only had a few elements from CDP’s original campaign.
The Ford account was divided into two parts, CDP had the UK business, JWT had the European business and probably the rest of the world.
Both agencies made creative and media presentations and CDP won.
CDP creative work was to be placed by JWT across Europe. However size mattered, even in those days and the reverse finally happened with CDP placing JWT work which had elements from the CDP photographic shoot and of course the line ‘The car you always promised yourself ‘.
Somewhere I have (or had) a copy of the original CDP presentation document with all the ads and copy.
The last ad for the Capri Mk1 was for the Capri Special which I did with John Salmon. The line, ‘You can get a Capri Special if you’re quick.’ The photographer Bruce Brown. The ad appeared in the Daily Express, broadsheet and I have a copy together with a dye transfer of the image. The style I set for the Capri Special ad Neil Godfrey used as a springboard for the Fiat campaign.
In amongst my stuff there are other CDP ads.