A good few years ago, I spent a weekend in the country with the
director Jon Greenhalgh and his wife, his brother, Howard - a director
with Godman - and Mr and Mrs Greenhalgh senior.
At one point Greenhalgh senior, an extremely likeable man, mused on the
origins of his sons’ collective creativity. ’They definitely get it from
Betty (his wife). Have you seen the way she ices cakes? It’s an art
form.’ This comment was greeted by both brothers rolling their eyes
heavenwards and staring out of the caravan window at the downpour
outside as Greenhalgh senior recounted Betty’s culinary creations.
Greenhalgh has come a long way since his damp caravanning holidays with
his folks and now that the embarrassment has faded, insists: ’You’ve got
to put that story in!’
His move last month to Stark Films as a partner/director signals his
maturation on a professional as well as personal level.
’I was offered a partnership and wanted to feel more involved in the
management and development of a production company,’ he says. The move
follows three years at Godman and the direction of notable ads such as
the award-winning Lynx campaign, the testicular cancer spot starring
Robbie Williams and the COI Nurses drive.
The move to Stark proves not only Greenhalgh’s creative talents but his
astute business brain. It is also a far cry from his humble
A fledging graphic designer, Greenhalgh lugged his portfolio around
London’s design companies after getting a first in communication and
design at Manchester Polytechnic. More interested in conceptual design
than typography, he failed to impress. ’I had an interview with
Pentagram and they told me Manchester was off the map. The partner
explained that he had the ideas and I would have to execute them. Anyway
I didn’t ’look’ like a designer - I wore a duffel coat. But they all
said I was more suited to advertising.’
Consequently, Halifax-born-and-bred Greenhalgh joined Wethey Scott
Pocock as an art director in the mid-80s to become the ad industry’s own
Gracie Fields. He stayed as the agency evolved into DMB&B and met his
copywriter partner, Kes Gray.
The pair caught the eye of Alfredo Marcantonio at WCRS Mathews
Marcantonio and joined the agency. While there they produced Carling
Black Label’s ’dambusters’. The ad secured three silvers, a gold and a
black pencil at D&AD. ’We were courted by every agency,’ Greenhalgh
says, and they were promoted to the WCRS board. A year later they left
to join the ill-fated UK office of Chiat Day as a senior team under Ken
Hoggins and Chris O’Shea.
But before Greenhalgh and Gray joined, the creative management had
resigned and the pair became London’s youngest creative directors.
Although they produced notable work for First Direct and the Midland
Bank, Greenhalgh admits his heart wasn’t in it. ’I’d realised that I
wanted to direct.
As it was the recession, creative work required so much research that I
lost enthusiasm.’ So they went to BMP DDB as a creative team and
Greenhalgh worked towards getting a reel together. With his brother,
Greenhalgh and Gray produced the low-budget (and banned) ’bus sandwich’
for Volkswagen, which beat Lowe Howard-Spink’s ’supermodels’ for
Vauxhall to the coveted gold at Cannes in 1993. ’Frank Lowe went barmy,’
Greenhalgh says. ’And he said that it didn’t even have a proper media
In a final attempt to do another ’dambusters’, the pair moved to Saatchi
& Saatchi. Because of the confusion following the Charlotte Street
exodus, Greenhalgh saw his opportunity to direct the big one - ’Sir
Edmund Hillary’ for BT. ’The creative team were in Australia and
couldn’t get back into the country because of visa problems. So I told
them I could get them back only if I directed the ad.’
Finally he made the break and joined RSA which was managed by Jo
’I went from earning pounds 140,000 to nothing. I sold the car, sold the
house and was shit scared, especially as we’d just had a baby. Everyone
thought I was dull because I kept my head down. It was inspiring to be
so scared and Jo invested in me and made sure I kept shooting. After a
year, I had earned the same as I had at DMB&B seven years earlier.’
When Jo Godman split from RSA, Greenhalgh left with her and Vaughan
Arnell to launch Godman.
As a former creative director, Greenhalgh is careful not to overstep the
mark with teams who commission him. ’I like to work with teams who want
to push the idea as far as it can go. Basically, I’m a builder -
although my waistband covers my bum - as I like to take a concept and
build on the idea. I’d like to have a go at features but I have to go
beyond a short film format first.’
’He would be ideal for features as he gets on well with people and knows
how to coax a good performance,’ the HHCL & Partners copywriter Jonathan
Burley says. He worked with Greenhalgh on WCRS’s Mecca ’bingo’
The Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO copywriter Diane Leaver says: ’He
understands the way ads must be cut and the discipline that’s required.
While many directors are style over content, Jon loves ideas. Stark will
be good for him as he will be supported by Stark and Reeves who are
Top of Greenhalgh’s agenda is strong scripts. ’For the past year I’ve
been very choosy about scripts as I only wanted to do work that could go
on the reel,’ he says. ’It’s difficult to do as there aren’t that many
good scripts around and there are so many capable directors. I’d like to
see more scripts with dialogue and can’t understand why dialogue writing
has virtually disappeared.’
Greenhalgh admires Daniel Kleinman, whose most recent spots include work
for Audi, Road Safety (seatbelts) and Mother’s ’wasted away’ for Pot
’I’d be a very happy man with those on my reel.’
Nice to see that, despite his success, Greenhalgh is as modest as ever.