Tight spot.

About a year and a half after landing at BBH, I was working with Martin Galton.

We couldn’t have been more different as people.  An arranged art director/copywriter marriage thanks to John Hegarty, we’d been plonked with each other.  Martin wasn’t sure he wanted to work with anybody, let alone me, having secured his job as a lone wolf with a speculative Asda campaign that just happened – brilliantly – to chime with the stuff that had won BBH the pitch.  I wasn’t at all sure that my position was safe as a solo writer. My first art director partner, David Meldrum, had departed and I would have happily worked with a green mamba, if it meant I could stay.  I was still plagued by paranoia, having turn-coated from account executive, albeit a useless one, to copywriter.  There was precious little evidence from my geography degree that I deserved the title.

We battled with lots of grubby, hand-to-hand press work for Asda.  Our dreams were to have a go at the more sexy accounts. Reputations were being built up in the neighbouring offices – offices! – by the creative pairs behind Levi’s, Audi, Whitbread and Dr White’s campaigns, all the envy of the advertising business. Instead, flogging various products for the Leeds based supermarket was our staple diet, week in, week out. My job was to generate a headline for Asda’s tabloid press ads,  black and white galleries of nine separate, illustrated products with a price by each. These were of the ‘More dash, less cash’ variety.  One week, Martin went off to a shoot for a wrapped loaf of sliced bread, one of the items to be featured.  Once photographed, it would be converted into a black and white, halftone illustration.  Tabloid newspaper printing being what it was, halftones crudely but effectively simplified the image to avoid an end result more smudged brass rubbing than identifiable object.

Martin came back next day both amused and bemused.  The photographer, a young man, newly arrived from South Africa, had taken nearly six hours just to shoot the loaf. It was his first ever commissioned advertising work in London.   Looking at the black and white transparency, the picture seemed OK to me, but it was still, well, just bread, with a few slices flopping out from one end of the packet. What a lot of fuss. I agreed with Martin. It smacked of overkill.

The photographer’s name was Nadav Kander.

Fast forwarding, Nadav’s capture of Donald Trump for the front cover of Time’s Man Of The Year 2016 is hailed as one of the most brilliantly seditious portraits ever taken.  His capture of Obama in 2012 still sings out from the countless thousands taken before or since.  Be it people, landscape, abstract or object,  he is both peerless and fabulous. You’d hate him if he wasn’t such a charming bloke. I bet he took the same care over Trump as he did over our loaf of bread.                           https://www.nadavkander.com/


The day came when Martin and I were able to jump over the Asda wall.  We were given a brief for Pretty Polly.  The hosiery company was about to launch a line of stockings.  We hurled ourselves at the chance.  In the brash, hard, synth-dominated decade that was the Eighties, there was a lot of evidence that audiences craved a softer, more forgiving culture. Back To The Future was doing great box office. BBH was already turning heads with Levis’ advertising, ads that spoke of the gentler and simpler 1950s.  John Hegarty and Barbara Nokes had recently delivered the Nick Kamen ‘Laundrette’ commercial to the world. Together with director Roger Lyons, they presented a less aggressive male attraction, wrapped with charm, in a nostalgic tinge. It worked like wildfire.

For Pretty Polly’s launch of Nylons as a press campaign, Martin and I went retro too. John Hegarty allowed us to develop a vintage, paperback novel approach, putting pastiche gumshoe detective story or romantic fiction covers on the back of magazines. Two examples are shown above.  The backgrounds were shot for real in New York. “Authenticity” was the justification in that pre-Photoshop era. We chose the best photographer we knew: Nadav. For a few, sleepless days, Martin and he froze in various Manhattan locations. Despite buying some electric socks, both still suffered near frostbite.  Back in England, I was allowed to attend the studio shoot where we’d actually have somebody wearing the stockings, as a sop to me for staying at home and ‘doing the writing’.

Our model was Jilly Johnson.  Famous for the being the first person to appear naked in the Times newspaper, she was a glamour supermodel of her era. (In 2018, she still is.)  For the ‘Crooked Path’ composition, against Brooklyn Bridge, she had a wind machine howling at her with full force. At one, unlikely moment, her dress actually blew clean over her head, leaving her stark naked in the gale, apart from her nylons and heels, laughing her head off.  As she wandered over to the other side of the studio to scoop up the dress, Martin and I stared fixedly at the floor.  Nadav didn’t blink.  I remember the floorboards by my feet in the Britannia Row studio from that moment with extraordinary clarity.

Shortly after the campaign broke, Pretty Polly decided they wanted more, so we were instructed to think of a TV commercial.  The story of Wallace Carothers, the inventor of nylon, presented itself as a possible vehicle.  There was some discussion about taste. Genius that he was, Carothers was also plagued by depression and, tragically, took his own life very young.  In the end, we went with it and John S Clarke directed.  Shamefully, I can’t remember the name of the very beautiful star, but the retrospective piece was filmed over two very long days in Twickenham Studios.  Martin and I spent most of the time sitting by the vast, open door, giggling with our producers, Philippa Crane and Lucy Marsden.  It was a hoot.


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