At the end of a decade that has witnessed more changes in the world
of advertising production than the previous three put together, one of
the defining characteristics of the revolution is the career path of a
top director. The 1999 Chairman’s Award goes to such a man; a former
copywriter who started his working life as a door-to-door salesman.
Failing the London Transport bus conductor test was a unique rebuff to
Jeff Stark, coming at the outset of a career that then embraced the role
of assistant advertising manager of Curry’s, writing mail-order copy at
below-the-line ATA Advertising, as well as writing Bull Worker and Ann
Summers ads at Robinson Scotland Partners (not forgetting the freelance
48-page book on plastic piping and numerous pages of dirty jokes for the
soft porn magazine, Knave).
At 32, he made the decisive move to Saatchi & Saatchi as a junior
Seven years later, he resigned as deputy creative director to set up
Hedger Mitchell Stark with creative responsibility for Foster’s and
The venture was a success and the Paul Hogan Foster’s campaign was
Events gathered pace and two years later - to general astonishment and
an apocryphal, ’We missed him so much we bought the company to get him
back’ - the brothers made the fledgling agency an offer they couldn’t
refuse. So Jeff found himself back in Charlotte Street.
But this time it was different. Creative directorship can be a two-edged
sword unless, as he had discovered, you happen to own a slice of the
And although his partnership with Paul Arden produced some outstanding
work (the British Rail ’Relax’ commercial that effectively launched Tony
Kaye, for example), the job began to feel like a life sentence. The
four-year commitment couldn’t end soon enough and, after a final two
years in New York (let off, presumably, for ’good behaviour’), he was
free and wealthy enough to realise his declared ambition to quit
advertising at 45 and literally sail into retirement.
Eighteen months later, somewhere around Tonga, he realised his
Age and experience will always beat youth and enthusiasm, and London was
smart enough to welcome Jeff back with open arms. The restless drive
that had propelled him thus far wouldn’t permit a return to an agency so
he initially decided to write and direct.
The first efforts were remarkable. Campaign, with customary sensitivity,
reported in August 1991 that ’of all the artists in the film production
business, few have made as big an impression as the oldest recruit to
the industry, Jeff Stark, who is rapidly approaching 50’. His BA
’Lapland’ ad won a Silver at the British Television Advertising Awards
while his InterCity ’Relax More’ picked up a Silver Lion at Cannes.
A deceptively effortless transformation that added stunning visual
innovation to the Alan Parker/Paul Weiland model had taken only a few
months and, in 1991, he teamed up with Martha Greene to form Stark
Films. The rest is history; happily recorded in the BTAA record
The briefest conversation with Jeff confirms undiminished
The writer in him loves good ideas, spurning the obvious and the
borrowed; the director loves the challenge of turning good work into
compelling advertising. If that sounds like a cliche, it’s not one
agencies would recognise as they drink profitably at the well of his
experience. And if his thoughts turn towards a screenplay in the wake of
successful Berlin and Sundance screenings of ’Desserts’ (his recent
two-minute film starring Ewan McGregor), we shouldn’t be too
Nor should we be too concerned.
Ask a Tongan.
He’ll be back.
JEFF STARK: BTAA AWARDS
1991 Silver for British Airways and InterCity
1993 Bronze for ICI Dulux, Gold and Silver for Walls sausages
1994 Bronze for Imperial Leather, Silvers for Imperial Leather and
1995 Bronzes for Virgin Atlantic and UPS Parcels, Silver for
1998 Gold for Impulse
1999 Bronze for Impulse.