How We Met: Alan Parker & Gray Jolliffe
Sunday 16 May 1999
Gray Jolliffe, 62, cartoonist, started his career as an advertising copywriter. He has written many books, including `Apathy Made Easy' and the very successful `Wicked Willy' series. In 1997 he received the Cartoonist of the Year award in 1997. He is married with three children and lives in Oxfordshire
ALAN PARKER: Gray and I met at a small advertising agency, actually it was on the third floor of the News of the World building off Fleet Street. The agency was called Maxwell Clarke but Gray called it Maxwell Who? because it was so un-famous that when you told anyone where you worked they'd say, "Maxwell Who?"
I had just left school and was working as a junior dogsbody and Gray was a "visualiser" (they weren't called art directors then). I used to take the proofs of the ads around the agency to be signed off by each department, and Gray and the other people in the studio were far and away the most interesting and affable in the place.
Right from the beginning I was in awe of him and his extraordinary artistic ability. I used to stand for ages just watching him draw. He remains the cleverest and most all-round creative person I've ever met. A lot of people claim to be creative in my world, but Gray eclipses them all. The spare simplicity of his cartoons disguises an extraordinary ability to draw.
The agency was a pretty dour place, but Gray was so friendly; wherever he was you could hear laughter. Basically, Gray loved anybody who laughed at his jokes. It's difficult to find anyone who has a bad word to say about him. He's nice to absolutely everyone - quite the opposite of me.
Gray took me under his wing and got me a job as junior copywriter. I was in heaven. I was given a small cubicle right next to Gray's room and we would churn out a dozen ads a day. Mostly they weren't very good, but we were extraordinarily prolific. I'd write the copy and Gray would do a cartoon.
He's seven years older than me but was, and remains, much younger. I took the weight of the world on my shoulders at a very young age, while Gray has never stopped being an anarchic adolescent.
He was always keen to help me be more worldly. I remember he thought it would help me in life if I were a bit taller, so he spent ages making me a beautiful pair of stilts out of empty Cow Gum tins and had a collection box on top of the studio guillotine saying "Help Make Al a Male Model Appeal". I think he's always thought of me as driven, energetic, and argumentative but anyone would appear so compared to someone who is so laid back. The only time he gets angry is when his Magic Markers dry up.
I remember the first New Year's Eve when Gray and his wife Nikki invited me to dinner. It was the first home I visited where there was wine on the table and you had more than one knife and fork. I was still living at home in a council flat in Islington and was only just learning to call my dinner "lunch" and my tea "dinner". Gray opened my eyes to these things and to almost everything else, but never in a snobby way.
When I went for a job as a copywriter at one of the hotshot New York agencies that had just opened in London, I got it by showing the portfolio of the ads I'd done with Gray. From then on, things went quite well regarding careers, so Gray became my lucky talisman. We've spent New Year's Eve together for 32 years now: whenever I've been away filming, I've always flown back to England to spend it with Gray. He's one of those friends for life. I've heard his jokes and stories a zillion times but he still makes me laugh. He's very special and, as you get older, you realise you don't meet many people like that in a lifetime.
GRAY JOLLIFFE: Ever since I first met him in 1964, Alan has always worn baggy grey trousers held up by red braces, setting a style 20 years ahead of his time. We reckoned that, simply by jumping, he could turn right around inside those trousers without taking them off.
Al was a trainee account exec and I was a "creative", not that there was anything much to create. Al and I became friends mainly because we had a lot of laughs - we had this rapport and a tendency towards insubordination - or perhaps it was because we were so different. He was a baggily dressed bundle of energy and ambition, and I was a skinny tube of neither. But we were both impressed by the new US agencies and we wrote to them furiously, begging for jobs. We sent formal letters, silly mailings, bribes ... we tried everything and in the end it paid off.
Al's first proper copywriting job was at a trendy new American agency, which, through some lucky misunderstanding, offered him pounds 1,500 a year when he had suggested "15", meaning pounds 15 a week.
Al is an intellectual, despite his working class background, and recently astounded a television chat-show host by using the word "genre". He's also candid and forthright. He's secure, confident and always right. There are some who disagree, but they get killed early in the plot. He is sometimes cantankerous and arrogant, qualities I greatly admire. It's very important for me to be liked, but Al suffers no such handicap. He doesn't give a toss as long as the job gets done.
As far as I know, I am the only living fool Al suffers gladly. We never really get into major arguments or fights since we've always had a mutual respect - although we take the piss out of each other when those little opportunities occur.
His job is so complicated it makes my head hurt to think about it. At some point Al blossomed into an "auteur", which I think means having total control of a film. He blasted off into outer space and suddenly his face was in all the papers and on TV and I felt awfully proud to be his old buddy. I would drop his name big-time at every possible opportunity. Still do.
Our social circles overlap considerably and many of our closest friends are mutual. All our kids know each other and get on well. We always spend New Year's Eve together, either in London or LA, and I don't think we've missed one in over 30 years. It's a kind of a good luck thing for both of us. We're not superstitious, but it seems to work - fingers crossed.
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