CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/MIKE COURT; Party animal gives up high life for Burkitt Edwards

Karen Yates chews the fat with Mike Court about his circuitous path to Burkitts

Karen Yates chews the fat with Mike Court about his circuitous path to Burkitts

‘Hang on a minute and I’ll tell you exactly,’ Mike Court says, diving

behind the sofa on all fours. We are at his flat in Maida Vale and I’ve

just asked him when he got the call from Paul Twivy, proposing they set

up an agency together.

Court reigned as the mercurial, talented, young creative director of

that agency, Still Price Court Twivy D’Souza, one of London’s hottest

hotshops, for five years. It wasn’t his first big job in advertising and

it won’t be the last - Court started as creative director of Burkitt

Edwards Martin on Monday (Campaign, last week) - but it is the time of

his life when most pundits agree he was in his element.

Court himself is disarmingly enthusiastic about those times. But then,

he’s disarmingly enthusiastic about almost everything in advertising.

Five seconds later he reappears triumphantly, clutching his diary from

11 years ago: ‘Saturday 24 November, 1984,’ he reads, ‘got an amazing

phone call from Paul Twivy’.

Back to the present. The calls of congratulation about his new job come

flooding in as we chat. And the list reads like a Who’s Who of

advertising: Twivy himself, Malcolm Gaskin, Canna Kendall, and all in

only half an hour.

Court loves it. And what all his friends hope, according to Twivy, is

that Burkitt Edwards Martin will be the right place for him at last.

Somewhere he will find the space to use his own peculiar gifts in his

own peculiar way as he did at Still Price.

Court has made a name for himself on several fronts during his 18 years

in advertising. He is best known, perhaps, as a master of ‘intelligent,

common-touch advertising’. How many people, for example, still remember

the Red Mountain coffee ads, where a string of hapless hosts make

coffee-brewing noises to fool guests into thinking they were being

served percolated coffee? And what about that pithy endline? ‘Great

coffee without the grind.’

It was this ability to distil hours of brain-raking ideas into one

simple line, encapsulating both the tone and positioning of a product,

that sticks in the minds of Tony Malcolm and Guy Moore. Malcolm and

Moore, now joint creative directors of Collett Dickenson Pearce, worked

for Court for two years at Still Price.‘As a creative, he puts most

planners to shame,’ Moore observes.

But he did have a darker side. He and his partner of many years, Logan

Wilmont, were acknowledged as brilliant. But things were tough if Court

was in a black mood, and if Wilmont was too, well...

Twivy, who claims that he and Court had the best relationship in

advertising at Still Price, has this to say: ‘When he’s on form, he

lights up a room. But when he’s not, he hurts people.

‘He needs to be loved and cuddled and if he isn’t he becomes melancholy

and destructive.’ ‘He’s a real character,’ Malcolm adds. ‘It’s great to

see a character back in advertising.’

Which brings us to the second thing Court has a name for - being a party

animal. Someone who could be impressing a client at the bar one moment

and sending a bunch of old ladies into gales of giggles the next.

‘He can mingle with anyone,’ Twivy says. ‘He’s a social chameleon and

can be extraordinarily charming.’

And so he can. Court smiles frequently and has the gift of appearing

interested in whoever he is talking to. He’s back. The world is his

oyster. The Pinot Grigio is open, and he’s ready to talk about


Court says he had two or three different lives before even thinking of

advertising. He lied about his qualifications at the age of 16 to become

a chef. ‘They showed me an Aga and I nodded,’ he says, ‘but I couldn’t

even lift the lid on the thing.’ After that, he joined an acting troupe

in Folkestone. ‘I know every walk-on part in Agatha Christie,’ he jokes.

Finally, he went to Oxford University, emerging with ‘a very average’

2:1, to try his hand at advertising.

Hugh Burkitt, now chairman of Burkitt Edwards, offered him his first job

at Wasey Campbell-Ewald, which Court, with characteristic chutzpah,

turned down in favour of a role in Leo Burnett’s media department.

However, six weeks of poring over costs per thousand persuaded Court

he’d made a mistake and he was soon back with Wasey Campbell as a junior

account trainee. After a while he switched to the creative side and

after two-and-a-half years moved to Foote Cone and Belding, where he won

his first award - for a London Underground poster.

Court’s manner is frank and his lively conversation peppered with

enviable one-liners. He has always known it was time to move, he says,

by the time that the third Christmas card comes around. So it was after

two-and-a-half years that Court moved on to Lowe Howard-Spink and after

another two and a half that he found himself joining TBWA.

Here, the chain was broken. Only six months into the job, he got the

call from Twivy, and Still Price was born.

The agency’s start was inauspicious, with 14 people herded into a

windowless room. It was so cold that Court had to type out his first

copy, a house ad, with gloves on. The ad itself, which bore the line:

‘Who in their right minds would turn down a chance to work at Saatchis?’

won him a court order from Saatchi and Saatchi.

However, the moment was theirs. Chemistry between the five founders was

right and Still Price won a gold lion at Cannes in its first year. It

was the beginning, as Court himself describes it, of the ‘five glorious

years’, before Still Price sold out to Lintas in 1989.

I had been told to expect a larger-than-life character; moody perhaps,

but a bundle of energy and no stranger to the bottom of a glass. It’s

certainly true that he is never still. Fiddling with a cigarette,

pouring more wine, jumping up to answer the phone. But there is an

understated elegance about the man and his flat that comes as a


Almost soberly dressed in black and white, Court looks close to the man

you could take home to mother. The bottle of Pinot Grigio is nearly

finished. Now is perhaps the time to ask how the 39-year-old Court keeps

so svelte, given his twin passions of partying and going on ocean


‘Well,’ and there’s a pause for a long drag on a cigarette, ‘I hate

exercise and I hate vegetables.’ He concedes, however, that like Oscar

Wilde’s Dorian Gray, there is probably a portrait of him somewhere that

is taking all the real punishment.

To return to the present, the wad of cash he received as his share of

the Still Price sell-out meant Court could pay off his mortgage and was

under no real pressure to go back to work. Nevertheless, he spent three

years at Young and Rubicam. Court says little about those years, but

others guess they were not the happiest of his life, ending, as they

did, with a big row with Wilmont.

Jerry Judge, chief executive of Lowes, was witness to some of Court’s

darkest moments at Y&R, but still has little other than praise for him:

‘Mike thinks I didn’t like him. I didn’t particularly dislike him - he’s

a very sensitive bloke.’

Judge goes on to talk about Court’s fantastic ability to work under

pressure, but also his tendency to ‘trip over his own feet’ and to

imagine things that aren’t true and let them take over his life.

Since he left Y&R two years ago, Court has been, well, going on cruises,

and has just come back from his 67th. So, why has he decided to emerge

from retirement for Burkitt Edwards?

Because, he says, something exciting began to happen when Edwards Martin

Thornton and Burkitt Weinreich merged. Both agencies had been around for

a while, but the thing only began to take off once they joined forces,

he claims.

‘What appeals to me,’ he concludes, sounding nothing like the renowned

party animal, ‘is that they seem to be a unified bunch of nice people.’


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