So, in 1964 I went to the London College of Printing to do graphic design, and I had a wonderful teacher there called John Gillard, who showed me some of the advertising work being done at the time for the Volkswagen Beetle. I hadn't really thought about going into advertising at all, but when I looked at this work it was as if a light had been thrown into a darkened room, and I decided that was what I wanted to do. I started working with John unofficially on ideas in the pub opposite.
When I left college I got a job in an agency called Benton and Bowles, which is now part of the DMB&B network. But I had to wait two months before I could start, and in the meantime was offered a job at a magazine, on the design side, called Town Magazine - a forerunner to current men's style magazines. I'd thought somehow that working for a style magazine would be quite nice and cosy, and that advertising would be the hard, cut-and-thrust industry, but instead, I found people at Town were screaming, shouting and stabbing each other in the back. I found that advertising, by comparison, was full of wonderful people, who were interested in what you were doing. And, when I'd been at Benton and Bowles for a few weeks, the then creative director, Jack Stanley, came into my office and told me he'd hired a young copywriter to work with me - I was an art director - by the name of Charles Saatchi. And I thought: "Just my luck - I bet he's almost certainly Italian, lives at home with his mum and can't spell."
I was right on the latter two fronts, but we hit it off immediately. But soon Charlie got snapped up by another, more senior art director called Ross Cramer, to work on bigger projects. They went off to CDP, and I carried on at Benton and Bowles, gradually realising that it was not the best agency in the world and constantly reminding them of the fact. In the end, they just said that I should maybe seek my future elsewhere, which I suppose was a nice way of being fired.
So I joined a small agency in Soho called John Collings and Partners to work on the account for El Al, the Israeli airline, which we won lots of awards on. But John Collings then moved to Camden Town, which didn't seem to me to be the direction to go in. But in 1967, Ross and Charlie, who had left CDP by this point to set up their own consultancy, Cramer Saatchi, asked me to go and join them. And in 1970, when Charlie decided to turn the consultancy into an agency - Saatchi and Saatchi - he asked me to join as a junior partner, while Ross left to direct commercials. I helped build the agency up, getting to be deputy creative director, and did some terrific anti-smoking ads that I was really proud of.
In 1973 I left to set up the London office of a European agency called TBWA. There, we brought back the Ovalteenies, and for Johnson and Johnson we created a wonderful cartoon character called Johnson Junior to advertise cotton buds - "for those important little places". But I suppose the most famous work I've done has been since setting up BBH, which I left TBWA to do in 1982 - Levi's and Audi's "Vorsprung Durch Technik" being the most notable of those campaigns. With our Levi's campaign in particular, I think we had an enormous impact upon fashion, attitudes, styling, and the way people do things.
I'm more of a teacher now, encouraging, throwing ideas in and moving things forward. Had I been a painter, I might have been reasonably successful, and have had the odd show. But the great thing about advertising is that I get the chance to put a thought on a 48-sheet poster, plastered up all over the country. Of course, there are limitations, but once you understand them and can make them work for you then I think it's very exciting. I do think advertising is the art gallery for the common man.
People will often say, "Is advertising art?" and I say that advertising is persuasion, and persuasion is an artn
Interview by Scott HughesReuse content