Colin Millward

Creative director at the influential advertising agency Collett Dickenson Pearce
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The Independent Online

Colin Millward was the most influential creative figure in post-war British advertising.

Colin Charters Millward, advertising executive: born Hull, Yorkshire 29 August 1924; creative director, Collett Dickenson Pearce 1960-79; married 1953 Felicity Brown (two daughters); died London 5 May 2004.

Colin Millward was the most influential creative figure in post-war British advertising.

It wasn't just the quality of the work that emerged from the benign dictatorship he ran from the fourth floor of Collett Dickenson Pearce throughout the Sixties and Seventies as the agency's creative director, although this included acclaimed advertisements for Heineken, Harvey's Bristol Cream, Bird's Eye, Hovis, Benson & Hedges and Hamlet cigars.

His most lasting contribution was the ethos he created at CDP and the confidence he inspired in those he allowed to share it with him. I'm pretty sure I speak for Alan Parker, Frank Lowe, Brian Duffy, Ridley Scott, Charles Saatchi and many, many more when I say that Colin Millward taught me more than anyone I ever met. More about myself, and more about my potential; and he did it in a most unusual way.

When I was a very young account executive at CDP, a "suit", on most days I would be required to take a piece of work into his office for approval. He'd sit nibbling his nails for a while and then, in his broad Yorkshire accent he'd say, "It's not very good, is it?" And I'd say "Isn't it?" and he'd say, "No, it's not very good at all." And I'd ask "What don't you like about it?"

"You work it out, son. Take it away. Do it again. See you tomorrow."

For what felt like years, I was terrified of him. I'd leave his office and just stare at the bloody ad. Then I'd go and talk it over with a copywriter, or one of the art directors, and we'd sit and curse Millward. But 99 times out of 100 he was right, and we would come back the next day, invariably with something far better. Years later I said to him, "You know, you were a real bastard to work for. You were always hyper-critical, and I never remember you steering us in any particularly useful direction."

"No," he said. "I did something much more valuable, I taught you to bloody well think for yourself." And he had.

At the same time he had taught all of us at CDP another incredibly important lesson; one that I have never forgotten; that what is "competent", or even what's "good", can only ever be a point of departure, never a satisfactory point of arrival.

Colin Charters Millward was born in Sculcoates, on the outskirts of Hull, in 1924, and was educated at Hull Grammar School and Leeds College of Art. After Second World War service, he won a scholarship to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he remained for a year before returning to London. He joined the creative department of the advertising firm Mather & Crowther, then moved to Coleman Prentis & Varley, where he met John Pearce, who went on to co-found Collett Dickenson Pearce.

Millward joined the firm in 1960 as creative director. He drove home his commitment to talent by spending several hours every week looking at the work of young people; photographers, typographers, artists of every kind had their work assessed and criticised, and very few left without a clearer sense of the direction their work should be taking.

The standards I and everyone else at CDP set for ourselves were Colin Millward's standards. Our expectations were his expectations. What looked like our successes were, in reality, his successes, for as Frank Lowe once succinctly put it, "Colin's achievement was in putting all of our rubbish where it belonged - in the bin!"

Colin's own career began and ended as a painter, and a very fine one. Hopefully, the totality of his creative contribution will eventually be celebrated with a retrospective that will include a selection of his paintings, something he could never be persuaded to do in his lifetime.

David Puttnam