Brian Davis: Bernard Barnett remembers the former Campaign editor

Brian Davis, the former Campaign editor and writer whose death aged 55 was reported last week, was the world’s worst-organised person in every aspect of his life bar one, writes Bernard Barnett.

Characteristically, his editorship lasted precisely one week, around Christmas 1984. He took the chair, sifted through the mountain of paper on his desk, brooded over it for a few days, then decided it wasn’t for him.

The exception to the chaos that perpetually surrounded him was his

writing.

Between the crash-bang-wallop of its news pages and the job ads,

Campaign has been fortunate through the years in publishing wonderfully fine writing from the likes of Jeremy Bullmore, Chris Wilkins, Peter Mayle, Gerry Moira and Michael Manton. I don’t think any of them would dispute that Brian was the finest of them all.

Brian’s authorship of an item was instantly detectable, whether it was a

diary paragraph or a 2,000-word feature. A sublime choice of words and

imagery, and his quizzical and often unexpected way of putting them

together, were his trademark. Only Brian could devote the first half of

an article on California advertising to star-spotting in a Hollywood

hotel lobby and make it relevant to an understanding of the local ad

scene. He could be deadly serious or screamingly funny, offering pure

enjoyment in either mode.

Because of its flowing elegance, you could read a Davis piece in about

half the time it took to read somebody else’s. And then, usually, you

went back and read it again. Infuriatingly for the rest of us plodders,

he never did much rewriting or polishing; as with Mozart (not too

fanciful a comparison), the composition sprang fully formed on to the

page.

The enigma of Brian’s life is how someone who brought perfect discipline

to his writing managed to foul up everything else. Possibly the gift was

so all-consuming there was nothing left over, but he was also

continually dogged by catastrophe.

His editorship of Creative Review (1982-84) was outstanding principally

because another highly talented writer, Jenny Manton, devoted herself to

organising the magazine so that Brian’s flair could have free rein.

Her tragic early death was a blow from which he never truly

recovered.

Compounding that, his family circumstances were also difficult and

enervating.

While his last years were marked by poverty and distress, I prefer to

remember the glorious times when he never missed a deadline and you

savoured the moment he handed in his copy.

After he became a Campaign reporter in 1970, he spent his career writing

mostly about advertising and film-making - movies as well as commercials

- for a variety of magazines and newspapers. He was never cynical,

always fair, and often profound. I count it a great honour to have

worked with him.

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