Great satirical admen never die, they just peter out

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The Independent Online
Tributes were pouring in over the weekend after the sudden departure of Maurice "Pete" Saatchi, the man who is often described as the father of satirical English advertising.

"There was nobody quite like him." "There were lots of people a bit like him, but nobody quite the same as him." "He said some amazingly funny things, none of which I can now remember." "I didn't know he was still alive ..."

Yes, these were just some of the tributes paid to Maurice "Pete" Saatchi, the man who over the weekend was often being described as the godfather of satirical English advertising.

But who exactly was he, this genius of the one-liner, the master of the quotable quote, the man who changed the face of humour in advertising, the wordsmith who came up with such all-time gems as "Labour Isn't Working"?

And who were the colleagues without whom his cultural revolution would have been unthinkable?

It seems only yesterday that satirical English advertising was dragged out of pre-history by the four young men collectively known as "Beyond the Advert". There were four Saatchis, originally. There was Dudley Saatchi, Jonathan Saatchi, Alan Saatchi and Maurice "Pete" Saatchi. They were all brilliant. But the most brilliant of all was Maurice "Pete" Saatchi. Everyone agrees about that.

"No doubt about that," says Dudley Saatchi, speaking on the phone from Hollywood, where he now plays the piano for his own agency. "We were all brilliant, but when it came to brilliance, there was only one of us who was really brilliant. I think it was Pete. Yes, I'm pretty sure it was Pete. It certainly wasn't me. And it wasn't any of the others. So it must have been Pete."

Until the arrival of the team known as "Beyond the Advert", English satirical advertising could hardly be said to exist. It was the Dark Ages in the Fifties, as satire historian AD Wilson remembers.

"It seems hard to imagine now, but advertising humour in the Fifties was so bland it hurt. They had one-liners and catchphrases like `Guinness is Good for You' and `Whiter than White' and `An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away'. And people paid good moneyfor this! Nowadays we can't see what they saw in it, but it must have been the best there was at the time. Then suddenly along came the Beyond the Advert team, with their cruel biting lines such as `Labour Isn't Working', and it was never quite the sameagain. And Pete was always the brains behind it all."

Quite soon they went their separate ways, each one to make his own mark. Jonathan Saatchi was to start his priceless collection of rare, unknown operas. Alan Saatchi, the north-country brother, went into children's stories in a big way. Dudley Saatchi, who was never quite the equal of the others and was therefore known affectionately as Dud, ended up in Hollywood after forming a new agency with Pete for a while called "Dud and Pete", but it was never what Pete wanted to do, in AD Wilson's opinion.

"If Maurice `Pete' Saatchi is remembered for anything, it will be for having founded the magazine Private E. Private E, of course, stands for Private Expense Account Holder, and week after week `Pete' used to make the most extraordinary expense account claims in Private E. Very few of them stood up, but they were all hilarious without exception. `Pete' was also a major shareholder in the magazine and undoubtedly it could never have survived without his support."

The odd thing about Maurice "Pete" Saatchi is that although everyone says what a brilliant satirical advertiser he was, nobody can remember anything he ever said except `Labour Isn't Working'. And not many people can now remember why he said that. Even the other three Saatchi brothers, (Ronnie, Reggie and Boothby) now have some difficulty recalling how the remark came about.

"We were probably all pissed at the time," says Reggie.

"I think it was when we were trying to get the Labour Party out and the Tories in," says Ronnie.

"That's right - and we happened to notice that unemployment figures were pretty high. So we came up with this sarcastic line about Labour not working. It was a smash hit!"

"Funny thing was," mused Boothby, "that when the Tories came in, the unemployment figures got worse and worse and even now they're a lot higher than what they were under Labour. So I'm amazed that nobody has ever sued us for misrepresentation or defamation!"

If they did, rest assured that Maurice "Pete" Saatchi would have had something to say about it. Towards the end of things, he was perhaps a sorry figure, but his departure will leave the world a duller, if a better place.