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
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.’