Campaign Craft: Profile: How Colin Gregg fits into the crazy world of Tango

TV drama director Colin Gregg has made a mark in adland. By Jim Davies.

TV drama director Colin Gregg has made a mark in adland. By Jim

Davies.



Colin Gregg’s frantic schedule makes Steve Redgrave look like a slacker.

So pencilling in an interview with the drama-turned-commercials director

was something of a logistical nightmare. ’He can’t do it any time that

week because he’s in Hong Kong shooting.’ Well how about the day he gets

back? ’No ... he’s on a recce.’ That evening perhaps? ’He’ll be doing

wardrobe.’ The following morning? ’Auditions.’



And so the conversation went on with various producers at Eclipse,

Gregg’s commercials production company of three years’ standing. Yes, he

desperately wants to do the interview, but ...



Eventually, we arrive at a mutually acceptable solution. We agree to

meet outside his Islington terrace at 8.30am one Monday and share a cab

to the Eclipse HQ. He has to have his photograph taken at 9am and has a

meeting at 10am.



The question-and-answer session begins hesitantly on the pavement of

Upper Street as we keep one eye on the road. Gregg is reaping the

rewards for his work on ’St George’, the stirring 60-second commercial

for Blackcurrant Tango in which Ray Gardiner, ’spokesperson’ for the

drink, threatens to take on all-comers on the white cliffs of Dover.

Outlandish and original, it’s a worthy addition to the Tango canon,

which has spawned some of the most anarchic and memorable advertising of

recent years.



Scripted by the HHCL and Partners creative team, Chas Bayfield and Jim

Bolton - ’extremely clever chaps’, Gregg notes - the ad took the only

platinum at the Creative Circle Awards earlier this month and the ITV

gold award at the BTAA.



’I was really lucky to get Tango soon after I started directing

commercials,’ Gregg admits. Critical success aside, the commercial was

quite a technical achievement. It involved morphing three shots

seamlessly into one. ’It took a lot of preparation,’ he says. ’I was

using morphing as an invisible tool so you didn’t notice the joins. You

never lose sight of Ray Gardiner and it was crucial that the momentum

wasn’t lost. It was like planning the perfect relay race.’



Gregg has been directing films - mainly for television - since the late

70s, but only recently turned his hand to commercials after he received

a surprise phone call from Harry Rankin, the founder of Eclipse, who’d

been impressed with his input on the Central TV drama, the Guilty.

Rankin - a former head of Limelight Commercials - felt Gregg had the

perfect blend of filmic flair and experience with actors to cut it in

the world of advertising. A neat montage of elegantly composed shots on

his drama reel confirms the first point; an impressive raft of work with

the likes of Kenneth Branagh, Gary Oldman, Alan Bates, John Thaw, Ewan

McGregor and Liam Neeson more than adequately backs up the second.



’I had started to become very gloomy about working in television,’ Gregg

says, finally settling into the back seat of a cab. ’It reached a low

point when I lost a good job because they said my work was ’too

visual’.



Now I’m working in an industry where the opposite applies and I’m really

enjoying the discipline of having to hone the story-telling right

down.’



Gregg’s advertising showreel includes spots for Teacher’s whisky through

DMB&B, the Times through Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe and one in the

ever-popular Murphy’s ’I’m not bitter’ series through Bartle Bogle

Hegarty. His most recent commission was the second in a series for Uncle

Ben’s rice (DMB&B).



It’s hard to pigeonhole Gregg’s style: Teacher’s is a series of classy

vignettes executed in what appears to be a single shot; Uncle Ben’s is

pure slapstick; the Times a visual bombardment of images featuring

manic, quickfire editing. ’I’d say my work was performance driven,’

Gregg says.



’That seems to be the great divide in advertising. There are directors

who work well with actors and others who barely know what they are. I’m

looking for natural performances; characters who have truth to them and

aren’t caricatures.’



Originally from Exeter, Gregg trained and worked as a teacher before

moving into film-making. His early speculative efforts impressed Melvyn

Bragg, who commissioned him to direct a project on D. H. Lawrence

featuring the actor, Alan Bates. Remembrance - which Gregg executively

produced and directed - was one of the first Film on Four scripts (along

with Neil Jordan’s Angel) and led to further Channel 4 projects

including Lamb, the tale of a young priest who runs away with an

eight-year-old boy in his care.



In the 90s, Gregg went mainstream, directing a slew of highly commercial

ITV dramas including Kavanagh QC, Inspector Morse and, most recently,

the all-action series, Thief Takers.



’Commercials seemed a natural progression,’ Gregg comments as the cab

pulls into Seymour Mews, the home of Eclipse. ’The great thing is I know

bugger all about the business - it’s all so new to me.’ The cab pulls

off and we make our way to the front door. Gregg suddenly turns on his

heel and shouts: ’Stop that cab!’ And with that he’s off, haring down

the cobbled street like there’s no tomorrow. I follow, but he is nowhere

to be seen. Eventually he returns, barely out of breath, holding

something aloft. ’I left my Handicam in there,’ he explains. ’That’s

pounds 32,000 worth of kit.’