CRAFT: PROFILE/King of comedy commercials is back in business [SH] Sid Roberson is overjoyed at the chance to direct TV ads again, Jim Davies says.

Sid Roberson doesn’t want to dwell on the past. ’I nearly called off the interview because I thought it would bring back too many bad memories,’ the seasoned commercials director admits, getting comfortable in an armchair in the Groucho Club. ’I didn’t want to have to go through all that again.

Sid Roberson doesn’t want to dwell on the past. ’I nearly called

off the interview because I thought it would bring back too many bad

memories,’ the seasoned commercials director admits, getting comfortable

in an armchair in the Groucho Club. ’I didn’t want to have to go through

all that again.

It’s upsetting even now.’ So let’s at least get it over with


Roberson is, of course, referring to the demise of his production

company, Sid Roberson Films, which went into liquidation in the summer

of 1992 after some 23 years of trading. It was a bitter blow to a

dedicated professional who had cut his teeth alongside Alan Parker and

Ridley Scott in the 60s, and won practically every major award over the

years. Roberson took it extremely hard, not so much for his own sake,

but for that of his 20-odd staff, whom he regarded almost as family.

If there was any solace to be had from the whole sorry experience, it

was the way in which adland rallied round him - Paul Weiland offered him

moral and practical support, while sympathetic gestures and noises came

from the most unlikely places.

’People kept telling me I’d be all right, that I was a fighter,’

Roberson says. ’But I certainly didn’t feel like it at the time. I just

felt terrible.’

But perhaps they had a point after all. Four-and-a-half years on, the

irrepressible Roberson is right back in the thick of it and his stock

would appear to be higher than ever. He’s running his own production

company again - something he swore he’d never do - though Sid Roberson

and Partners is what you might call a ’streamlined’ operation consisting

of himself and just one full-time member of staff, with reinforcements

pulled in on a project-by-project basis.

A year after opening for business, the company is enjoying a steady flow

of scripts from what Roberson describes as the ’grown-up agencies’ - the

pick of the bunch are probably Hula-Hoops and W. H. Smith - and he is

relishing his ’second chance’.

Roberson ascribes his resurgence primarily to his directing credit on

the Fast Show, the quick-fire BBC comedy series featuring the likes of

Paul Whitehouse (with whom he had worked on an ad for Fab ice lollies),

Charlie Higson and Caroline Aherne, which picked up a slew of awards in

1996. ’It’s just a collection of jokes, basically. They are like

commercials without any products, and they are better than most because

there are no clients and no restrictions,’ Roberson says.

He has a point - you can barely sit through a commercial break these

days without one or other of the Fast Show regulars popping up:

Whitehouse extolling the virtues of milk, Aherne donning her Mrs Merton

persona to tout British Gas. The short sketch format of the Fast Show

also allowed Roberson to experiment with a variety of film styles. ’They

just let me do what I wanted. It was great.’

Brimming with a new-found confidence, Roberson put together a new

showreel consisting entirely of Fast Show sketches and dusted off his

bulging but slightly dog-eared agency contacts book. ’I didn’t want all

of my old stuff on it and I kept it down to a few minutes. I’m aware

that people in advertising have the attention span of a gnat. They’re

used to looking at films that last 30 or 40 seconds.’

Having been around the block a bit, Roberson admits he’s more likely to

be on first-name terms with established creative directors than the hot

young teams who actually commission commercials directors. The response

was warm enough - John Hegarty allegedly described it as the best comedy

reel in London - but it seemed no-one was quite ready to use Roberson’s


Then he received a call from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. He was holidaying

in Spain at the time, and realised something significant must be afoot

when the agency insisted that he return immediately. The following day

he had a meeting with the senior creatives, Paul Briginshaw and Malcolm

Duffy, who told him he was in the frame for a huge project for W. H.

Smith. Afterwards, as Roberson went down to his car, his mobile phone

rang. The job was his.

Whatever you think of the unashamedly populist Nicholas Lyndhurst

campaign - many ascribe to Gerry Moira’s Private View that ’there’s

something slightly sinister about Lyndhurst in drag’ - no-one can

quibble about its success.

Away from commercials, Roberson continues to direct TV series (recent

credits include Hamish Macbeth, with Robert Carlisle, and Harry, with

Michael Elphick) and he has just finished shooting a new comedy series

written by Simon Men Behaving Badly Nye, due to screen in April.

In his time, Roberson has served the UK ad industry in various


He’s been a typographer, an art director and a photographer (with David

Puttnam as his agent) and for a while he must have thought his time as a

director of comedy commercials was up. Fortunately, he seems to have

been given a reprieve; adland would be a poorer place without him.

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