Mike Gilmour will see that BBS’s clients get value for money, Emma Hall
After an hour with Mike Gilmour, you are left wondering.
Why are those boxing gloves dangling from the fire alarm? Who was the
woman involved in his 26,000-mile trip across the US? What did he get up
to as a film extra in Of Human Bondage?
Gilmour, the managing director of the production company, James Garrett
and Partners, is about to launch the UK arm of the prominent US
production consultancy, Bird Bonette and Stauderman (Campaign, last
For an ex-hippy, with a lively mind and many stories to tell, it is
astonishing how consistently driven and focused his career has been.
His 30 years in advertising began when he walked through the door as a
graduate trainee at Young and Rubicam, where he soon badgered his way
into the TV department.
Gilmour admits that, like most people, he is inherently lazy and was
attracted to the pressure and immediacy of making commercials because it
prevented him from indulging his indolence.
At the time, TV advertising was only ten years old, and Gilmour
immediately identified it as an area where ‘the opportunities were
From there, his progress has been steady. Gilmour worked his way up
through three other big London agencies - Leo Burnett, D’Arcy Masius
Benton and Bowles and J. Walter Thompson - before moving over to James
Garrett in 1984.
Leaving the company after 12 years is a wrench, and Gilmour acknowledges
it ‘was a nightmare decision to walk away’.
‘But, ultimately, I admit that one takes new jobs purely out of
selfishness,’ he adds.
Gilmour recognised it was time to move on. The truth was brought home to
him recently when he went to see Oliver Stone’s Nixon at the cinema and
the first five ads all looked the same to him. Although he was hip in
his youth, he is not part of the MTV generation.
But Gilmour has reached his early 50s without becoming jaded. He is not
looking backwards and is full of hope and enthusiasm for his new job.
As a production consultant, he will advise (mostly multinational)
clients about how to get the best from their agencies when making
commercials. Gilmour stresses that his job is about ensuring value, not
His qualifications for the job are impressive. ‘I’ve done it. Are you
with me? I’ve stood in fields at 4am, and been in studios at 8pm. I have
done it from the agency and the production company’s point of view.’
Gilmour has an authoritative overview of the advertising industry. He
has noticed that while creativity is forever improving, the business
side of production is disintegrating. ‘Production is about a lot more
than whether the crew gets one or two slices of bacon in their rolls -
it is about the relentless pursuit of value,’ he contends.
It’s an attitude shared by Allen Thomas, JWT’s worldwide creative
director, who remembers Gilmour as a ‘brilliant’ head of television who
transformed the agency’s TV department during the early 80s. ‘Mike made
TV production a real force,’ he says. Thomas believes that Gilmour will
be ideally suited to his new role: ‘He was always eager to get the best
creative product, at a keen price.’
Gilmour has always had a grip on the financial realities. When he was a
student at Dublin University, his need for funds led him into some
interesting holiday jobs. In between acting and editing the university
rag, he spent lucrative stints as a film extra in Ireland, worked
freelance shifts on the Irish Times and, back in London, did market
research for the Port of London Authority.
The Sunday afternoons he spent knocking on doors in Hendon taught him
how to pitch. Motivated by the dream of a trip across the US, he took
all the weekend work he was offered and learned how to charm people into
opening up to him on the topic of lawnmowers.
Jack Kerouac’s On the Road inspired Gilmour to explore the US and
Canada. Following in the footsteps of his beatnik hero, he set off alone
on a Greyhound bus, with a pasty face, long hair and an Aran sweater.
He expands: ‘It was an emotional time, and the Vietnam war was in
everyone’s minds. As the bus made its way towards the west coast, it
filled up with conscripts kitted out in military gear. They left weeping
families behind but, as we got nearer to San Diego, the soldiers were
the ones with the tears flowing.’
Another of Gilmour’s memories from the US is his first glimpse of a
drive-in movie. From the bus, he caught sight of an enormous black-and-
white screen with moving images lighting up the night sky, and was
amazed to discover that films were being shown outdoors.
He still has a great affection for the US and goes back there regularly
on business. The last time he was in Chicago, staying in the best hotel
courtesy of a chic agency, he sneaked out during a free hour to revisit
the YMCA where he had stayed in the 60s.
With the skills of a great story-teller, Gilmour is suddenly immersed in
He recalls: ‘There was a notice board in reception for new visitors. To
my horror, I was dealt with by a dyslexic receptionist, and I came down
from my room to find she had pinned up a huge sign saying ‘Welcome from
the UK to Mike Glamour’.’
The name makes him sound like a cohort of Andy Warhol and strangely
suits the image he has conjured up of his 60s youth, though it doesn’t
quite fit his 90s cigar-smoking executive alter ego.
Mark Collier, the head of TV at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, who regularly
works with James Garrett and Partners, comments: ‘Some people might say
that Gilmour is old school, and he is certainly extremely experienced.
But he is also shrewd and acknowledges that the business is changing.’
Gilmour is a respected and high-profile figure in the production
industry. He is also known for putting something back into the business.
He dedicated a lot of time to compiling the Pliatzky report, a year-long
investigation into commercials production costs that was published in
It was this that first brought him to the attention of Bird Bonette and
Stauderman when it came to London ten years ago.
Al Stauderman, the company’s president, says: ‘Mike is spoken of highly
as a statesman-like representative of his part of the production
industry who commands the admiration and respect of everyone.’
Gilmour makes it his business to show reciprocal respect for both
colleagues and rivals alike. ‘It sounds jolly posey,’ he says, ‘but you
have to be generous and congratulate your competitors. When I see good
work, I know how hard people have worked to get it to that level.’
He has the enthusiasm and optimism of a new recruit, and this energy and
ebullience will be missed by James Garrett, the chairman of James
Garrett and Partners, who says: ‘This business has moments when the
light is not shining, but it is always summer for Mike’.
From a man who is so famously gregarious and well-connected, it is
surprising to hear that he puts his sustained enthusiasm down to his
scrupulous avoidance of the Groucho Club. Gilmour explains: ‘There is an
inward-looking group of people who feed off nightmares. I am fair and
Reassuringly, Gilmour confirms the truth of his sociable reputation: ‘It
doesn’t mean that I don’t natter and it doesn’t mean that I don’t get
He is certainly famous for talking. Cecilia Garnett, the president of
the Advertising Film and Videotape Producers Association, comments: ‘He
always brought a lively mind and a lively tongue to any debate.
Outspoken people like Mike make a lot of friends and a lot of enemies
along the way.’
Garnett speaks for many when she adds: ‘We could do with a few good cost
consultants who know something about production, but I’m sad and I’ll
miss him. It’s the end of an era.’