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