Adland pays tribute to the visionary Paul Arden

Arden’s peers line up to salute the legacy of a celebrated creative luminary and much-missed colleague. These are the full versions of edited tributes appearing in this week's Campaign magazine.

Paul Arden...tributes paid by former colleagues
Paul Arden...tributes paid by former colleagues

Paul Arden (1940 -2008)

Tributes to Paul Arden:

Simon Carbery - freelance creative director:

To describe Paul Arden as a one-off would be an understatement. Even in the hilariously bloated 70s and 80s, Paul's behaviour in a number of advertising agencies seemed like prima donna-ishness of a truly biblical kind. He proudly announced on many occasions that he'd been fired half a dozen times, and only the all-conquering Saatchi & Saatchi were really able to accommodate him, even then.

The difference between him and many others, though, was that while they behaved the way they did because they could, Paul behaved the way he did simply because he cared deeply about the work that left his office. Paul was never a Mad Man cliché. His excesses were quality-control driven. He always believed that advertising could, and should, be something simple, beautiful and entertaining. Something that the public who saw it would take pleasure in. And he was prepared to put his job on the line to make it happen. No one who ever saw a Paul Arden ad would ever feel sold to, or grubby. His art direction alone enhanced the spaces it appeared in. The quality of Saatchi's output had always been high, but Paul helped take it to a level of sophistication it hadn't achieved before.

Not that Paul would ever have described himself or his beliefs in such a wordy way. His famous, spluttering inability with words was the flip side of his relentlessly gifted eye. He had a tendency to wander into your office, rolling like a sailor with his slightly bow legs, puffing on a cigar, look at an idea on your desk and give you helpful directions like: "Green. It should be green." Then walk out leaving you scratching your head. Frequently he would look at something you showed him and say, after a pause: "Oh my God. It's brilliant. Brilliant." Then there'd be another pause: "No it's not. It's shit. It's shit."

Paul broke artwork over his knees to stop imperfect work appearing, locked clients out of shoots, responded to clients' complaints about their logos being too small by removing them altogether, and blew fortunes on experimental photography. The phrase I'll most remember him for is "No." He was always prepared to say "No" to anything he thought was mediocre.

Underneath the carefully cultivated eccentricity, comedy bullying and so on, he was basically a kind and generous man, very shy I think, with a naughty sense of humour and a healthy touch of cynicism. I last saw him a little while ago at a photography exhibition in London, when he was still able to come up to town. By this time his books had started to take off, and he was kind and encouraging about my own writing, giving me a number of tips about getting published that I won't reveal, but will cherish.

For those of us who were trained by him at Saatchi & Saatchi, and who worked under his hands-on regime as struggling young creative people, he was more than an inspiration. In some ways he was like a parent, and like most children I for one never thought to thank him for all he did for me.

He was quite often insane, impossible, ruthless, manipulative, scary even. He almost fired me once, and there were times when if I'd had a gun I would happily have shot him. But like so many others, I owe my career (and a reluctance to compromise) to him.

He was a unique and truly remarkable man.

Dean Turney - creative director, Six Days:

Paul was my creative director at Saatchis in the 80s. He was a very demanding CD.

Let's hope he approves God's layout.

Tim Mellors - vice-chairman and chief creative officer of Grey Group:

Paul fought for his ideas. In fact, he is the most exasperating person I have ever worked with and I constantly sparred with him and not always in the figurative sense. Once when, as usual we were working late, on British Airways I think, Toni, Paul's wife was waiting patiently to ferry us to a NABS charity boxing match. Typically we were arguing over some small detail of art direction and as it became more and more heated, it was obvious we were going to miss the big fight. We didn't. We ended up on the floor knocking seven bells out of each other with Toni saying tolerantly, "Oh Paul." as I sustained a black eye. So to say Paul would battle for his art direction was no exaggeration.

When we worked on the Alexon campaign together, having scored points by engaging great photographers like Bailey and Donovan on the campaign we decided to go for broke and try and get Avedon and Andy Warhol to do shots for us. Amazingly, they both agreed so off we went to New York where I now live and I often walk past where Avedon's studio used to be and break into a cold sweat remembering the outcome. When Iman, the model, tried on the Alexon African print collection, Avedon said he wouldn't shoot such "frowsy crap". My heart sank as our big chance to shoot with the world's greatest photographer disappeared and we looked like a couple of provincial ponces. "We'll tie them round her head." said Paul, "Just make them into a hat." Avedon was astonished at Paul's bravery and the resulting shot was one of his iconic fashion pictures. All I could burble was, "Shit Paul, we'll lose this account." We did. And the chance to work with Warhol. But we won a pencil.

Though Paul was incredibly unsentimental, he could be unbelievably kind. After a breakdown when I managed to drive my directing career into the ground, I thought I'd burnt all my bridges in the business but Paul built a bridge back into Saatchi's for me, for which I will always be grateful. But equally he could be chronically thoughtless. His buffoonish Carry On character is always lampooned in a gentle loving way but I didn't feel either gentle or loving when he turned up as my best man without the ring. Great for a sea side postcard, but not for the beginning of a new life.

His self-centredness was legendary and never hit me harder than when he, John Sharkey and myself decided to set up an agency. Long before the fashion for not having the founders' names in the title, Paul had the brilliant idea of buying Smees and John Sharkey was duly sent off to do the appropriate negotiations. Everything was going swimmingly until I saw the brochure Paul had created with long and glowing potted histories of the principals - well at least two of them. Paul's included a litany of international art direction awards, assorted eulogies to his creative directorial brilliance, which was only matched by similar biographical detail for John Sharkey, ex-schoolmaster, company director, property whiz kid and general media poohbah. The single sentence beneath my picture was, "Tim Mellor's Paul Arden's writer." "What? What? What?" he said, "Fuck off." I replied.

Andy Rott, art director, Paul Arden's group. Saatchi and Saatchi 1982-1986:

Paul Arden:


A one-off.
Sorely Missed.

Mike Wells - co-founder, Escape Partners:

I worked for Paul at Saatchi and Saatchi and was the first young art director he hired for what was to become the "Playpen", a group of young fresh faced creatives who he could train. I don't think I have ever worked for anyone who was such a perfectionist.
Many a time your mechanical (remember toes bits of board that cost thousands of pounds ) was torn up and throne back at you to re do. He pushed people to the limit and sometimes pushed them over it.
Sill it was great fun and wouldn't of missed it for the world.

Adrian Holmes - executive creative director EMEA, RKCR Y&R:

When I worked at Colman and Partners in the early 80s, the Paul stories were still echoing down the corridors years after he'd left. How he'd once dyed his hair bright green, just to get up the noses of his agency management. How (legend had it) he'd been sitting in a particularly tiresome client meeting, had got up from the boardroom table with a sigh, walked over to the window, lifted the sash and calmly urinated into the window box. I bet they'd never seen such a display of lobelia that year.

Paul loved mad, épater le bourgeois gestures like that - the suit-and-cigar bit was a huge front. Underneath, he was like a mischievous twelve-year old who's just set up a slightly dangerous practical joke and can't wait for it to go off.

Does anyone remember the time he was asked to give a keynote speech at some posters industry conference? All he did was to stand up with this huge folded piece of heavyweight paper stock and slowly unfold it with the words 'The...thing...I...love...about...posters...is...that...they're...so...BIG'. End of speech, with Paul swamped beneath acres of 16-sheet.

When I was working with him at Saatchi's, we were walking back from lunch one day, and we passed a small road works in Charlotte Street - corrugated tin shelter, chugging concrete mixer, wheelbarrow full of gravel, the whole assemblage neatly railed in with red-and-white poles. Paul stopped to look at this thoughtfully, puffing on his ever-present Havana. ‘Excuse me' he finally said to the bemused workman sitting there with his tea, ‘but is it possible to buy this?' What Paul saw wasn't Camden Council fixing a water main, but some kind of art installation that belonged in the Tate Modern.

I worked with Paul from 1986-87 - not a long time, but in some ways they were the most extraordinary years of my career. It wasn't until that point that I truly understood the meaning of the phrase 'a whim of iron'. You'd be sitting there trying to do an ad for Anchor Butter or Babycham, and suddenly he'd sit bolt upright and shout out ‘giraffes...that's it, giraffes!' It had absolutely fuck-all to do with the job in hand, but the weird thing was that in trying to steer Paul gently away from the giraffe angle, we'd trip over a really good idea that would never have occurred to us otherwise.

Paul was a brilliant original, with an incredible sense of style. He was never boring to be around - sometimes a little unnerving, in fact. But underneath the suit-and-cigar, and beneath that mischievous 12-year old, beat the heart of a genuinely nice man. Such a terrible shame it's stopped.

Alan Burles - freelance photographer:

Paul Arden was a life-changing experience.

He hired my writer Pete Camponi and I to be in his group at Saatchi & Saatchi in 1981. We started straight from art school and within a couple of days we had to show him our first ad. We put three layouts on the vast expanse of his ‘mirror' desk and then stood there nervously.

He looked at us, then down at the layouts, then back at us (it was a habit all who worked for him would come to know very well) then down at the layouts. Then he stood up as if he'd made a decision. But using his hand as a fan, he just sped out of the room saying "I've farted! I've farted!" We were completely non-plussed - and of course, still in the room! And I had another ten years to go.

Throwing curved balls, acting, taking the opposite point of view, and saying ‘no' much, much more often than he said ‘yes' was Paul just doing his day job. He also wanted to throw you, make you re-assess, wake you up.

But he always went beyond the day job, he went beyond being professional. How often do we meet or work with someone who ignores the standards other people set and work only to their own?

No wonder he was quite happy to say he'd been fired six times - and just recently to write a book saying being fired was good for you! Not many agencies could have handled him and I still say that making him creative director was one of the bravest decisions Jeremy Sinclair and the Saatchi brothers made. It was never going to be an easy ride.

But life-changing? Well, Paul taught us all the strength of ‘the idea', especially the visual idea. Not that advertising hadn't discovered ‘the idea' many years previously, but through Paul (and apologies if this sounds a little evangelical...) it became a daily, living experience.

Just recently in sleepy, middle class Petworth, at his photography gallery, Arden & Anstruther, one of the exhibitions was by a photographer who'd lived with Hell's Angels for two years. So Paul invited the Angels down on their bikes. And asked them to park their huge Harleys on the little cobbled lane right outside. And then gave these hairy, leather jacketed men champagne and white wine in lovely delicate glasses! A powerful visual and pure Paul Arden. Petworth will remember that day for a long time.

I think you could ask any of the class of 80's Saatchi and the word you'd hear most often would be ‘inspirational'. Because we all wanted to do great work, not just for ourselves, but for him. Because if we met his standards then there was no doubt we had surpassed our own. And in the flurry of emails passing between us right now, my old colleague Dean Turney has put it beautifully - I hope he doesn't mind me quoting: "Sad to hear about Paul. Let's hope he approves God's layout."

Mark Williams - director, Williams Filliams:

Paul took me on and created the "Playpen" as he called us Young Turks, in the then small and scruffy, Saatchi creative department. He then became the most powerful creative director in the world and when he got himself his first Ferrari, we bought him a sunstrip, with the words "PAUL AND TONY" (his lovely wife) written on it. Anyway, when he took me for a drive in it, he went to the effort of putting it up there, on his windscreen, in case it might hurt our feelings if he didn't. Bless his cotton socks. A great boss, who became a great friend.

Alexandra Taylor - freelance art director:

Paul Arden was like a father figure to me. I adored him. He was the best creative director l ever had the privilege to work under.

He had the ability to bring out the very best in every creative lucky enough to work for him during his legendary reign at Saatchi & Saatchi. Indeed, l don't know of a single creative who wasn't profoundly influenced by him in one way or another (Or a single person who hasn't got a 'Paul Arden' story).

He was unique. Passionate. Obsessive. Driven to excellence like no-one l have ever known, or am ever to know in my lifetime.

There are a few - a very few - about whom you can honestly say 'he made a difference'. Paul, without question, was one of them.

See Paularden.com for more tributes.