Close-up: Newsmaker/Rooney Carruthers - Creative live wire prepares to take a cultural leap/Rooney Carruthers is off to the US to face his toughest challenge, Emma Hall says

It’s a long way from Wormwood Scrubs to Golden Gate Bridge, but Rooney Carruthers - who was born in the prison hospital after his mum was caught short at a nearby party - has bounded across the divide with typical gusto.

It’s a long way from Wormwood Scrubs to Golden Gate Bridge, but

Rooney Carruthers - who was born in the prison hospital after his mum

was caught short at a nearby party - has bounded across the divide with

typical gusto.

Carruthers, the joint creative director of WCRS, accepted the job of

executive creative director of Foote, Cone & Belding San Francisco on a

gut instinct.

He hit it off instantly with Geoff Thompson, the agency’s worldwide

creative director. Fortuitously, they met soon after Carruthers had

undergone something of a career revelation during a shoot in Los Angeles

last summer.

’It was a perfect trip, but I was bored,’ Carruthers says. ’I spent most

of the two weeks in my hotel room. That was when I knew I had to leave


It is hard to imagine Carruthers suffering from ennui. He is a boyish

bundle of enthusiasm who, on the day of our interview, has already

written three ads by 2.30pm - even though he is flying to San Francisco

the following day.

Despite more than 20 years in the business, Carruthers seems as fresh

and excitable as a fledgling art director on his first placement at

Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Except that he’s going to be in charge of the

creative department at one of the US’s most famous and troubled

agencies. FCB is still struggling to restore its reputation after the

loss of its flagship Levi Strauss account in January 1998.

’There’s nothing better than being scared. I’m shitting myself,’ he

admits. ’There’s the whole culture thing. Some of the clients are


There’s the fear of failure - I don’t want to come back with my tail

between my legs. When I saw the reel I thought, ’what the hell do you

want me for?’’

Beneath this modesty and natural apprehension is a man who knows his own

worth. With Larry Barker, now the creative director of BMP DDB, he

created the famous ’swimmer’ spot for Levi’s and broke the mould for

many clients, particularly Haagen Dazs and Orange.

’I could sell pork pies in a synagogue,’ Carruthers boasts, getting

carried away. It’s just as well FCB is sending him on a ’political

correctness’ course before he is unleashed on the US.

Carruthers has mounted and filed all his favourite work. One of his

first press ads, for Camden Council, was pick of the week in Campaign,

he tells me proudly. His first work with Barker, for an off-licence,

made it into the D&AD annual. There’s a framed letter from the WCRS

chairman, Robin Wight, formally offering the job of joint creative

directors to Carruthers and Barker.

Wight and Carruthers have a rapport. ’Robin is brilliant at filtering

ideas and information, he’s electric,’ Carruthers says. ’I hope he

doesn’t go mad in old age.’

Wight says: ’We are temperamentally similar. We like things that are new

and fresh. Neither of us is at our best when polishing - we like to


John Hegarty, the executive creative director of BBH, regards enthusiasm

as a key ingredient for US success. He says: ’Rooney will find it very


Hegarty makes this point because US culture is evolving constantly.

Carruthers’ talent for the visual will serve him well. ’We are in a

visual culture - ideas have to cross so many borders,’ he says.

He also warns that the British can’t rely on their own reputations,

however good, when trying to make it in the US. This is not to say he

underestimates Carruthers’ worth. ’Rooney and Larry understand how to

put across ideas in a profound way,’ he remembers from their time at


One of advertising’s most famous and creatively successful partnerships

came to an end when Barker left WCRS for BMP two years ago. Together

they had earned a reputation for fast living, developed particularly

while at DDB Needham in the late 80s.

A merger with BMP was looming on the horizon so there was a lot of


Faithful to their creative director, Tony Cox, the duo coined the motto:

’Nothing on the box ’til we hear about Cox.’ So instead of writing ads

they spent all their time in the pub and other dens of iniquity.

’It was fabulous but it was killing us,’ Carruthers recalls. Six months

after the merger they were poached by Hegarty. ’The boys became men,’

Carruthers proclaims. ’We didn’t expect to get the job because of our

naughty reputations, but we were quick workers and every day was

fantastic. At BBH I got stylish and really learned how to art


Carruthers’ polished style has aroused speculation that he might become

a director. ’I wouldn’t like the solitude - I love having people around

me. Agencies are such a laugh,’ he says.

After a brilliant spell at BBH, the duo accepted an offer from the

troubled WCRS in February 1993.

Orange, First Direct, Caffrey’s, Worthington, BMW, Tate & Lyle: their

contribution to the rebirth of WCRS was priceless. FCB will be hoping

for more of the same magic from Carruthers in San Francisco.

According to a former FCB San Francisco senior executive, Carruthers

will have the ’absolute support’ of the entire agency. But Hegarty

warns: ’He has a very big task. It is an agency in search of meaning and

it needs management as well as creative leadership. There is a danger

that the fate of the entire agency will fall on Rooney’s shoulders when,

in fact, it is everybody’s responsibility.’

This is where Carruthers’ enthusiasm will come in handy. ’He has passion

to such a degree that it will shock a lot of them and they’ll fall in

love with that. For Rooney, it’s about every day being interesting,’

Barker says.

Although he is looking forward to San Francisco, Carruthers can’t help

but look back. In London, he is a popular figure and he knows he has

been ’well protected’ by all his industry friends. ’I’ll miss the

production companies,’ he begins, before reeling off a roll-call of

thanks, like an Oscar-winner acknowledging everyone who has made this

moment possible.


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