A few years ago I tried to find an old beer poster for a presentation.
Fortunately, I knew the Art Director’s name: John Knight, the agency name: TBWA and the client name: Bank’s.
I googled all the combinations, variants, even trying misspelling some of them..
Unfortunately the chaps at Google couldn’t find it.
So I trawled through all the old awards annuals, eventually finding it.
But what struck me along the way was how under represented an influential figure like John was.
His old TBWA boss, Sir John Hegarty, explained it this way: “Truly groundbreaking work never does very well at the awards, because it generally splits the juries and ends up being underrepresented. John suffered from that.”
In all areas of creativity, context is everything, what was breathtaking, innovative and controversial then, often feels familiar and ‘so what’ today.
Once a new, unique path is forged, it becomes open to the public, most using it without having a clue who discovered it.
But there’s no button on this keyboard that can help me put the following work in context, so you’ll have to take my word that it wasn’t the norm.
When I first got into Advertising, ads tended to looked like this…
And then I came across one of John’s ads.
No headline, logo, end line, product shot or pun. (They were all the rage back in the day.)
Just a single photograph that evoked another era.
It made me think a brewery from Wolverhampton was cool.
Not an easy thing to do.
I found out it was produced by an Art Director called John Knight.
He’s the cool looking one far left.
Known to friends as ‘JFK’, due to his habit of breaking up words with an ex-fuckin’-spletive.
“It used to shock people at the time, swearing wasn’t as common back then” John’s old writer, Ken Mullen.
When everyone one else was zigging, he was zagging.
He seemed to do his own thing.
He influenced a lot of people, including me.
1. His Art Direction is bespoke to each client, it’s not interchangeable.
The beer posters are made from bits of pubs, the Laura Ashley ads are made from bits of fabric, the Castrol ads are made from car parts.
2. His Art Direction makes it feel as though a human was involved in making the ad.
3. His ads don’t feel like advertising. So they engage.
Here’s the earliest ad I could find of John’s from his brief spell at Saatchi & Saatchi.
John is the most junior person credited in D&AD on this Volkswagen ad, so I assume it’s his idea?
Although John was a sweary, hard-drinking Millwall supporter, he also had a sensitive side: he was an expert on wild flowers, helped green charities before they were reffered to as ‘green charities’ and bred canaries,
So although this was produced whilst John was at JWT, it was probably a favour to a group he belonged to.
John then managed to talk a Lord (Snowdon) into shooting his Muscular Dystrophy poster for nothing.
“It ran for 14 years…every time it came down, fundraising fell” – Writer Peers Carter.
He also did design.
Not that unusual today, who isn’t a multi-discipline, 360 degree creative?
but back then Design and Advertising rarely mixed, few people did both.
His most fruitful period was whilst at TBWA, the Bank’s campaign being my personal favourite.
(I presume this parodies the, very famous at the time, Fiat ad ‘Hand built by robots’.)
“He was no believer in deadlines. I remember once on Banks’ weeks and weeks were going by without anything happening, I thought the only way to solve it would be to get everyone in the same room to find the culprit. John came in last, looked around at assembled faces and said ‘looks like I’m gonna need fuckin’ legal representation’. – Sir John Hegarty
He sweet-talked the least commercial artists of the day, David Hockney, Eduardo Paolozzi and Dame Elizabeth Frink, to knock out a few ads.
I would imagine that was a tough sell.
I would also imagine that getting their fees approved by Volvo was an even tougher sell.
But he made it happen.
A campaign for Beefeater Gin knocking Gordon’s.
The green bottled one.
Great shots by Brian Griffin, I wish I could find all the executions.
(Brian found and sent in these first two)
He was doing illustration/photography mash-ups before the term ‘mash-up‘ was released to the general public.
Here he goes head to head with Art Director Ron Brown in a arguing for the use of Illustration rather than the ubiquitous use of photography at the time.
Actually, the debate is just as relevant today.
(I’m guessing Ron got into the business at the height of the DDB revolution, at that time people would’ve been chanting ‘Down with namby pamby illustrations! Up with squared up photographs!
By the time John got into the business the DDB revolution was a decade old, using squared up photographs would’ve been like listening to Buddy Holly or having a quiff.)
In the following issue, Gerry Farrell has a pop at him about the article.
But on the plus side, they use a nice picture.
A great product placement idea, with writer Chris Martin.
For the time, these layouts for Kawasaki would’ve been very ‘out there‘.
A great shot by Bob Carlos Clarke for Singapore Airlines.
That smudge above the guy say; ‘Sorry about Thursday’.
An incredibly distinctive campaign at the time.
Apparently John lined up artist Allen Jones to illustrate the campaign, it was all ready to go when the client got cold feet, worried that the imagery may be too erotic.
In the end, illustrator Conny Jude did a great job.
“ Before we worked together at WCRS, I nearly worked with him at AMV, I was going to be hired to be paired with Brian Morrow an art director from TBWA, when at the last moment David Abbott informed me that Brian would be working with another writer instead. Brian contacted me and said ‘You should speak to John Knight, he’s the one I copy’. – Giles Keeble.
“For a writer like me it was terrific working with John, he’d take your thoughts and ideas into surprising places.
On Qantas, for example, I’d written a long copy ad about the effects of jet lag, John went down to the studio and, to echo the effects of Jet lag distorted and distressed all the type, which was fine, and then, without telling me, swapped around the first four lines of copy. It made no sense.
He then hid from me to try and avoid the possibility of me trying to change it.
When people, including me, saw what he’d done it seemed ridiculous, in retrospect it was brilliant.”
Very simple poster for Dulux Natural Woodcare using a cool, homemade font.
“The Laura Ashley ads we did with the illustrations made from their fabrics were blown up and put in the windows of all their shops and used to stop people in the streets.” – Giles Keeble.
With photographer Lucinda Lambton for McVities.
These the only things I could find from his time at Leo Burnett.
They look pretty straight forward now, but I remember seeing it at the time and thinking that they weren’t’ like any McDonald’s ads I’d ever seen; “McDonald’s must be changing“.
“He didn’t have the talent to handle his talent.
He was a good influence in the department, would have made a good lecturer. Inspirer.” Sir John Hegarty.
Nb. I knew Lorraine had been John’s partner for twenty years, I’d heard she’d inspired the Campari script which would later make her a household name.
It’s writer Terry Howard sat next door to John and would often hear Lorraine through the walls, he could never quite reconcile the elegant face with the fishwives voice.
When flicking around the internet looking for John’s work I found this headline about Lorraine’s time in ‘I’m A Celebrity Get me Out Of Here!’: ” ‘Tedward’ was a reminder of Lorraine Chase’s former, deceased partner John Knight,” says Emmerdale star.