CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/UISDEAN MACLEAN; Why shrewd BACC chief is a master of diplomacy

Uisdean Maclean may be even-handed but he is no pushover.

Uisdean Maclean may be even-handed but he is no pushover.

Uisdean Maclean has yet to wear a leotard at work, but that does not

stop him from acting as though the place is some kind of private circus.

Each day, behind closed doors, the sinewy Scot wobbles along his

tightrope at the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre. Below him,

three groups of wild beasts threaten to devour the BACC’s head of

advertising clearance if he falls: his paymasters, the television

moguls; his fiercest critics, the advertising agencies; and consumers,

who snarl at the very thought of a televised nipple or tampon.

Uisdean (pronounced ‘Ooshton’, a Gallic form of Hugh) could possibly

have the trickiest job in the industry. Martin Bowley, the managing

director of Carlton UK Sales and chairman of the powerful copy committee

that oversees his judgments, summarises the pressures on Maclean: ‘He’s

handled the amount of flak he takes incredibly well. He used to be

6’4’’, but all the bashing on the head has taken its toll.’

At 45 years old, Maclean scarcely stands taller than 5’0’’. He’s modest

about his work, seeing it as essentially backroom stuff. And he likes to

keep it that way. In his neatly pressed trousers, plain blue shirt and

sensible tie, he politely declines to discuss individual cases, saying

they are bound by ‘copper-bottomed’ confidentiality agreements. He won’t

even reveal his favourite ad for fear of seeming biased. ‘I’d be

lynched,’ he laughs.

The BACC will never be publicly controversial in the way the post-

vetting Independent Television Commission and Advertising Standards

Authority are because it does not pull ads from the screen and has no

direct contact with consumers. Nevertheless, Maclean recently aired

publicly his vexation at the launch of the Radio Advertising Clearance

Centre, which will lose the BACC 20 per cent of its workload.

Last week, he issued a sharp rebuke to Philip Circus, legal affairs

director at the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (Campaign, 7

June). Circus had accused the BACC of ‘sour grapes’ for refusing to

given the RACC access to its expert consultants. Maclean explains: ‘I

always fight my corner.’

Martin Runnacles, marketing manager of BMW, confirms Maclean is a tough

cookie. As chairman of the Committee of Advertising Practice, he has

seen Maclean in action: ‘He’s not a noisy person but I have found him to

be tenacious when he wants to get a point across.’

And Maclean needs to be thick-skinned. Agency chiefs gripe about the

BACC almost as much as they eat at the Ivy. Complaints remain strictly

off the record, but Maclean, while unbruised, knows they are being made.

‘It’s always been like that in all my years in the business,’ he says.

Some hotheads complain without understanding the BACC’s purpose. ‘Some

agencies think we are there to stop ads going on-air. In fact, it’s

quite the opposite,’ Maclean explains wearily.

The BACC, which is funded by a consortium of terrestrial and satellite

TV operators, would damage broadcasters’ revenues if it refused to air

commercials. What it is there to do is to save them from fines of up to

pounds 50,000 by making sure ads conform to the ITC’s code of practice,

as laid down in the Broadcasting Act of 1990. Each year, the BACC vets

more than 32,000 scripts and 10,000 finished films.

Maclean, who watches 70 ads each morning, has been working on copy

clearance for 17 years. Before that, he worked for 3M and Avon (the

‘ding dong people’).

He enjoys observing the industry from his fourth floor office at the ITV

Network Centre, but he’s no industry groover. His counterpart at the

ITC, Frank Willis, who has worked alongside Maclean for more than a

decade, says he avoids intimacy with agency people lest it compromise

his position. ‘He may have a low profile publicly and can seem a bit

austere, but privately he’s a very funny man,’ Willis says.

Bowley agrees: ‘Uisdean would never drop his guard in front of agencies

- he’s not one to down a bottle of claret with them. But he loves ads

and can spot a smelly one a mile off.’

Maclean insists personal prejudice is put aside when the BACC makes

decisions: ‘Broadcasters don’t want to transmit stuff that banishes

viewers. But we are treading in new areas all the time.’

He relishes the challenge: ‘It’s not Wittgenstein or the judgment of

Solomon, but there’s always a new creative idea or a different issue on

your desk every morning. You get a script in and think that it looks

absolutely fantastic, but then you see there are some problems with it

and you wonder what you can do to make it better. There is always a new


Another typical complaint about the BACC, which is impossible to prove,

is that it hands out lighter judgments to big advertisers that spend

tens of millions of pounds than it does to smaller ones. Maclean’s brow

furrows and he looks stern when presented with this allegation:

‘Absolutely not. I totally refute that.’ The BACC, he argues, shows no

favouritism. It is just that some agencies are better at building a

relationship and co-operating with the BACC, he comments.

There have been questionable rulings, too. Mercury One-2-One was not

allowed to show a toilet bowl at the beginning of a commercial in which

a man who was relieving himself was unable to reach for his phone. The

Daily Telegraph was not permitted to use a news photograph of a woman

army officer nose-to-nose with a horse because it showed ‘people and

animals in close proximity’.

Last week, it emerged that Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury’s fetishistic

Apple Tango commercial was refused TV airing because it contained a

risque shot of a box of tissues. But HHCL’s managing partner, Rupert

Howell, remains a fan of Maclean: ‘He does a really good job in an

almost impossible set of circumstances. It would be easy for him to be

autocratic and dictatorial. But he’s not.’ Howell recalls Maclean’s

support when Martini’s cosmetic surgery ad fell foul of the ITC:

‘Uisdean came with us to the ITC to put our case.’

Howell’s comments are typical. Plenty of senior agency figures applaud

Maclean’s even-handedness, flexibility and diplomacy. Grant Duncan, the

managing director of GGT, says: ‘It’s a role that requires immense

diplomacy and clear thinking. Uisdean always tries to be constructive.

It is not a job that could be done by an opinionated hardman.’

Tim Delaney, Leagas Delaney’s creative director, adds: ‘If there’s a

nonsense ruling, at least it’s even-handed nonsense.’

And Patrick Collister, the Ogilvy and Mather executive creative

director, notes: ‘Uisdean probably upholds rules he finds difficult to

justify personally.’

Even the TBWA chief executive, Alasdair Ritchie, who believes the BACC

should be abolished, applauds Maclean’s discreet style: ‘He’s an

extremely shrewd man and has a sound sense of balance.’ Ritchie attacked

the BACC early this year, saying: ‘Why allow the BACC and its ilk to

dictate what we can and cannot say in ads? Maintaining advertising

standards should be the responsibility of the agency and the specific


Maclean smiles, as though he’s been cheeked by a naughty eight-year-old:

‘I don’t know if Alasdair really believes that himself.’

Maclean thinks his role is to be a tough negotiator. But he also sees

himself as a friend to agencies. He is particularly proud of his

decision to pass GGT’s Holsten Pils ‘asshole’ campaign, which starred

Denis Leary, last Christmas. By rights, the ad should have been stopped.

It depicted a drink-driver and repeatedly used an unacceptable

swearword. But Maclean believed the ad’s virtues far outweighed the bad


‘It was a bold step by both the agency and ourselves,’ he says, puffing

with pride. ‘We knew it would cause a certain level of debate and had to

weigh up how much reaction it would cause. We were going out on a limb.

The result pleased me. I really want to get things on-air.’