To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the British Television
Advertising Awards, Peter Bigg, the indefatigable organiser of the
event, floated the scheme of inviting the chairmen of each of the juries
since 1976 to meet to select their ten or so all-time greats out of all
the gold winners, including this year’s.
This was obviously an absurd, even crackpot, notion. Some of the
chairmen, especially from the earliest years, were bound to have passed
on to The Great Agency in The Sky (where every client has VW’s taste and
Procter & Gamble’s budget), or be untraceably counting their wads from
lucrative sell-offs while languidly sunning themselves on Caribbean
But no! Research proved that every last chairman remained defiantly
extant - there must be something in the air in creative departments -
and were mostly still working in advertising. Furthermore, they all
loved the idea and wanted to take part.
In the event, on one of last month’s nastiest days, 18 of the most
hallowed names in the creative lexicon made it without much discernible
difficulty up the stairs to Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s elegant boardroom,
amid the largely incurious gaze of BBH’s seemingly 16-year-old staff. In
date order of their chairmanship, they were: Ronnie Kirkwood (1977), Len
Weinreich (1978), Chris Wilkins (1981), Richard Barker (1982), Andrew
Rutherford (1984), John Webster (1985), Alfredo Marcantonio (1987), Dave
Trott (1988), Barbara Nokes (1989), John Salmon (1990), Tony Cox (1991),
John Hegarty (1993), Jeremy Sinclair (1994), Adrian Holmes (1995),
Andrew Cracknell (1997), James Lowther (1998), Patrick Collister (1999)
and Robert Campbell (2000).
The ones unable to come were Barry Day (1976), Norman Berry (1979), Bill
Taylor (1980), Allen Thomas (1983), Don Arlett (1986), Paul Arden (1992)
and Tim Delaney (1996).
Martin Boase, the founder of BMP, presided urbanely (of course) but
briskly over the debate as chairman of the BTAA organisation, and Peter
Levelle, who dreamed up the awards all those years ago, kept a benign
eye on the proceedings. Yours truly was engaged, at no expense whatever,
to write it up. Peter Bigg did all the work. Twenty-five years’ worth of
gold winners - 175 commercials - were screened; the silvers were
With such a gathering, mutiny was not only inevitable but eagerly
It began with a mass refusal to pick the best of the best only from the
golds. Rather satisfyingly, in the true creative tradition, this
produced the outstanding inconsistency of the day: Levi’s ’Laundrette’
scored the joint highest marks even though in its year (1986) it had
rated only a silver, having been overshadowed by the ’Russia’ commercial
for the same brand.
Despite an earnest appeal by Boase at the outset, the jury members also
declined to confine themselves to voting for just ten of the commercials
shown or listed. The number they eventually arrived at was the decidedly
unnewsworthy 16. (Can you see The Sun screaming: ’Ad stars name the top
16 commercials of 25 years’?)
But what a fantastic 16. From the daring and imaginative complexity of
the Benson & Hedges ’Swimming Pool’, to the deceptive simplicity and
utter persuasiveness of ’Points of View,’ all focused single-mindedly on
a brilliant idea and (even in the oldest commercials) well-nigh flawless
None of them looked dated. The hilarious ones ( for instance, Carling
’Dambusters’, Heineken ’Majorca’, Hamlet ’Photobooth’, John Smith’s ’Two
Words’, Lego ’Kipper’) still raised loud laughs among these notoriously
The principal agency honours were shared by Collett Dickenson Pearce and
BMP, each of which was represented four times in the 16. No other agency
scored more than once.
And what of the debate itself? Your reporter, a veteran of such Campaign
headlines as ’Masius staff flee gun terror’ (yes, honestly) and ’Agency
chairman in street brawl’, fully expected to be able to add ’Creative
casualty toll mounts’ to his tally, but it was all dreadfully
Mutual respect and admiration ruled the day, occasionally even to a
rather touching extent.
One shadow, however, did loom: the fear of being categorised as old
farts if the chosen commercials were mostly from the year dot. It’s
undeniable that there’s scant representation of recent work.
There is only one from this year (Guinness ’Surfer’), and the 90s scored
only three (Carling ’Dambusters’ 1990, Tango ’Orangeman’ 1992 and The
Economist ’Kissinger’ 1997).
The golden age of British advertising was evidently the 80s, with no
fewer than ten examples on the list. Looking back on such classic
campaigns as John Smith’s, Hamlet, Benson & Hedges and Heineken, it’s
hard to disagree.
Perhaps the truth is that the 80s were the golden age of British
clients; let’s hope the first decade of the new millennium will produce
a revival of the breed of confident and adventurous marketing directors
who trust their agencies.