There were all sorts of reasons why I chose advertising as a way to keep roof tiles over my head. None were particularly coherent. Most of the ‘push’ reasons were because my dad had – sort of – been there and because I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
But there were some genuine ‘pull’ reasons too. There were advertisements that we talked about as a family at home. Or that my friends mentioned as cool and admirable.
“It’s frothy, man,” mimicked my brother and several friends, when assuming the persona of the Cresta Bear. I’d learn about John Webster, the patron saint of hilariously loveable, breakthrough animals that spoke or sang their way into popular culture, years later. He gave birth to both the Cresta and Hofmeister Bears, John Smith’s pogo-ing dog, the Kia Ora birds, the rabbit-rabbit of Chaz’n’Dave’s Courage Bitter’s plink plonk nostalgia and so many others.
“Just the weather for dark glasses”, stated Guinness, with two dimpled pints of the stuff pouting seductively at us on hot summer days from High Wycombe’s poster sites. We drank in the promise, from rackety bicycles, on exhausting rides up and down Buckinghamshire hills. The ‘Dark’ poster campaign, from J Walter Thompson, was a brilliant series that had my friends enthralled. We would chase down each new addition to the fold. “Summer pints. And some are bottled,” had my brother and I repeating the headline to each other in wordplay wonderment.
There was another train of advertising that I didn’t discuss with people I knew. Stuff that I saw, perhaps a few years later, as a student, that was enthralling. Smart, assumptive, quotable, it was brilliantly memorable. I didn’t, with the insecurity of nineteen-year-old youth, want to confess my undying admiration for an advertisement to my peers. But I loved it.
I didn’t know that the examples that I cherished, that stayed with me and that I admired, came from a very small stable of talents. Broadly speaking, the advertising agencies responsible were Collett Dickinson Pearce, TBWA, Boase Massimi Pollitt and, as I first dipped a toe into the exciting advertising world, Bartle Bogle Hegarty.
The individuals involved were even fewer and farther between. One pair were not only prolific, they were maddenly unforgettable. It wasn’t until 1986 that I fully appreciated who they were.
Graham Watson and Mike Cozens. Art director and copywriter. Professional Yorkshireman and Jack-the-Lad-sarf-Lundenner. Corkscrew haired, avuncular, one-eyed artistic genius and suave, tennis playing, James-Caan-as-Sonny-in-The Godfather-with-a-cockney-twang words person. Together, they were unreachably brilliant.
Lego’s ‘Kipper’ was, for two decades or more, the industry’s favourite ever TV commercial. The voice over isn’t actually Tommy Cooper, because Tommy Cooper’s agent advised Mike and Graham, “For Christ’s sake, don’t use Tommy. He can’t read and he’ll totally screw it up. Use Mike Reid instead.” So they did. And it worked. It was recognised as the year’s best commercial by every awards ceremony that mattered.
When John Hegarty lured Mike and Graham to Bartle Bogle Hegarty, they began work on both Audi and Levi’s. Given what was to come later, “There are rivets…and there are Levi’s rivets” doesn’t glow quite as brightly in the rear view mirror as some of the later ads. At the time it appeared, ‘though, they set up Clint Eastwood’s ‘The Gauntlet’ and similar movies around the UK with an epic cinema ad swagger that stayed with us squits in the audience far longer than the main feature’s storyline.
They produced loads of extraordinary work both together and separately during their careers, none more iconic than the Benson and Hedges surreal imagery that transcended advertising and didn’t just ape art, but became it.
Audi was in a different class altogether. While John Hegarty had hoovered up the words ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ from the front of the Ingolstadt factory for advertising use, Mike and Graham played with the notion and married it to Geoffrey Palmer’s voice. To this day, I still don’t know who should really be credited with casting him. Given how many hours, if not days, I spent with him in radio studios in the years that followed, testing his indefatigable patience, I really should do. The Cozens and Watson Audi commercials that resulted still stand up today. The cars, perhaps understandably, less so.
My personal favourite, at the time, viewed from outside the stockade of the business altogether, was ‘Shopping’. It was seldom mentioned in the same breath as ‘Glider’ or, particularly, ‘Villa’ (many peoples’ highpoint) but something in the tone nailed it for me. That gloriously understated superiority of tone made for a smile out loud.
Mike and Graham were never less than incredibly generous when I crept in to BBH four years after it was formed. Graham had been the man who showed our portfolio to John Hegarty in the first place. I owe him my first writing job. Within a few months, I’d taken a tabby kitten of him, called Spider, and a lot of helpful advice. I went away on a BBH art’s club outing with him and others for a week to a sodden Tuscany. He was an unpredictable uncle who never stopped inventing, drawing and mangling several thoughts into perilously navigated sentences. “The Citroen Deja-Vue,” for example, just one of hundreds of memorable Watsonisms. Now in Sydney, Australia, his painting continues as strongly as his Yorkshire accent.
Mike was less extrovert but an easy presence when you made it over the drawbridge. His turn of phrase – and ability to fire out the best (and sadly unrepeatable) insults – were the soundtrack of a clutch of Soho lunch spots and evening sessions outside the Dock and Duck in Frith Street. His was the first leaving do after I joined BBH when he went off to try directing commercials. His goodbye present was the real back seat from a bus, on wheels, in faded, worn fabric. It represented a place he’d made all his recreational own on BBH party days out. A few months later, he returned to the agency to continue writing. I’m not sure what happened to the bus seat.
[For advertising historians, Mike’s interview on Dave Dye’s brilliant blog tells a fuller professional story: https://davedye.com/2016/01/29/mike-cozens-interview/ ]
There were other pairings of art director and copywriters at the time who have been justly and properly celebrated over the years. Godfrey and Brignull. Waldie and Lovelock. (Waldie and several people, come to think of it, Mike included.) Horton and Foster. Tilby and Leeves. Delaney and Dunn. Webster and Budgen (a brief, brilliant association). Hegarty and Nokes. Abbott and Brown. I could go on. And on. And on, to include Trott and Smith…
But, all said, in Watson and Cozens, there was never a pair who made it look so easy – or so much fun.