Jock Elliott

'Poet laureate of the advertising business'
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The Independent Online

Never can there have been a 60th birthday present quite like it. Secretly Jock Elliott had bought the magical island of Staffa, off Mull, famous for its Fingal's Cave and associated with the composer Felix Mendelssohn, in 1986. He arranged with the Chairman of the National Trust for Scotland, the Earl of Wemyss, to phone his beloved wife Elly on her birthday morning to tell her that her husband had given her the island - on the understanding that she would give it in a short time to the National Trust for Scotland.

Four years earlier Jock Elliott, who looked like an archetypal Borders farmer (from which stock his ancestors came), had retired as chairman of Ogilvy & Mather International, only the second chairman after David Ogilvy. His wife was a considerable figure in her own right, having been Diary Secretary to John Foster Dulles, President Dwight Eisenhower's Secretary of State, and Social Secretary to Mrs Dulles. In gratitude for the Elliotts' gift, Elly Elliott was declared by the trust Steward of Staffa for life.

Born in 1921, Jock Elliott was the son of a wealthy New Yorker who suffered terribly in the crash of 1929. He told me that in 1940 out of the blue his father, John Elliott, had arranged a family meal as a celebration. When asked what was the occasion for the celebration he said: "Today I have finally paid off every creditor of my business in full who suffered in 1929." John Elliott Jnr displayed similar integrity.

In 1942 he joined the marines. His description of what he saw as a 21-year-old at Corregidor and the Batan Peninsula in the Philippines was a moving account of an American rout, coupled with great bravery against the odds. Determined to get their own back, his generation went through the Solomon Islands and Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Elliott was a man of pawky wit and slow good temper. Only on one subject did he express passion to me and that was how right President Harry Truman had been to order the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Had he not done so, not only would hundreds of thousands of Americans probably including himself have perished, but the casualties and destruction on the Japanese mainland would have been horrendous.

In 1945, on demobilisation, Elliott joined the firm of Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn (now BBDO) as a copywriter. Fifteen years later he joined his Scottish friend David Ogilvy in the firm of Ogilvy & Mather and was given charge of the lucrative account of the Shell oil company. Within five years he had succeeded Ogilvy as chairman of Ogilvy & Mather's American company. In Elliott's 10 years at the helm, the company's domestic billings increased from $84m to $252m. As chairman of Ogilvy & Mather International between 1975 and 1982, when he retired as chairman emeritus, he increased the agency's billings from $659m to $2.03bn, bringing in clients such as IBM and American Express.

Ed Ney, chairman emeritus of Young & Rubicam, who had worked with Elliott at BBDO, described his friend as "the poet laureate of the advertising business". In 1974 Elliott was elected Chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the highest accolade accorded to someone in his profession. In 1983 he was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame, a celebration which he shared with his brother Osborn Elliott, Editor-in-Chief of Newsweek.

Through particular friends in Scotland such as Douglas Hardie and Charles Fraser, Elliott became a valued member of the élite golf club of Muirfield. Based for many weeks of the year at Kinlochan, off Loch Shiel and not far from Strontian, he was a huge benefactor to Scottish causes, notably the National Trust; Culzean in particular benefited from the Elliotts' generosity. At his funeral in New York yesterday, a lone piper played a Scottish lament.

Jock Elliott was immensely proud of his collection of some 3,000 books and ephemera related to the Christmas story. Among his treasures was the copy of A Christmas Carol from which Charles Dickens did his public readings. In 2002 Elliott published Inventing Christmas: how our holiday came to be. Most of our Christmas customs, he pointed out, emerged from an "amazing" 25 years, 1823-48.

Tam Dalyell

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