Close-Up: Tribute - RIP Colin Millward, CDP's maverick creative genius

John Salmon highlights the contribution to advertising Colin Millward made at CDP As far as I know, Colin Millward never made a speech or wrote an article for the trade press, but he did talk to Campaign on one occasion.

He always spoke quietly and said little, but what he did say had great effect. He built an agency with an unrivalled creative reputation. His impact on the advertising business was enormous and enduring.

During World War II, he served in the RAF as a pilot. When he was released, he went to art school and ended up in Paris studying painting. His first job in advertising was with Mather & Crowther. It ran an ad for a position in its media department. Colin replied, saying he was well versed in the use of all kinds of media: water colour, oil, tempera and so on. It hired him, but for the creative department, not the media department.

In 1960, Colin joined the recently formed Collett Dickenson Pearce. John Pearce said he brought him over from CPV, where they had worked together, "to look after the ads". In a fair world, Colin's name would have been up there with the other founders over the door. Perhaps his potential wasn't fully realised. Or maybe art directors (or "visualisers", as they were called at the time) who got their hands dirty were still considered artisans and somehow not quite presentable. I once heard Pearce say he wanted the agency to be like a bank. And it's quite possible that Colin's aversion to being in the limelight may have had something to do with it.

He was not given to self-promotion and this has led to him being given far less credit than was his due in the light of his contribution to the business.

Both Colin and John had amazingly inventive but totally different minds.

Inevitably, there was tension in their relationship. But it was a vastly productive tension. A cynic suggested it was all about John persuading clients to pay the outrageous sums charged by the famous photographers Colin insisted on using. In reality, John supported Colin's uncompromising pursuit of perfection regardless of any other consideration.

Colin initiated the practice in this country of sitting art directors and copywriters together in teams and giving them equal responsibility for their output. This produced far better results than the traditional arrangement with writers and art directors working in separate departments and soon it became standard practice in the industry.

Working for Colin, writers and art directors discovered that they were more talented than they ever thought they could be. The buzz produced by this realisation resulted in an atmosphere where everything was possible.

Colin worked alongside the creative people, cajoling, demonstrating how to improve layouts, grumbling about anything he saw that was dull or predictable and pushing everyone to excel. He didn't provide solutions. He made us think harder than we'd ever done before. He made enormous demands on his people and on himself, he could be a savage critic and he was sparing with praise. But beneath his sometimes austere and uncompromising exterior lurked an ever-present dry sense of humour. I once remarked to him that it was curious how many of our art directors were from Yorkshire (afterwards, it occurred to me that he might have thought I was accusing him of nepotism).

He replied: "There's such enormous fallout of industrial grime in Yorkshire you can draw on any horizontal surface. Art directors abound."

With the enormous amount of time and effort that went into the work, the agency couldn't afford to offer the clients a choice of advertising.

And it couldn't afford to have work turned down. It had to be right the first time. There was tremendous pressure on the account people to sell the work and they scored a remarkably high success rate. Personally, I don't think he ever said it, but Colin was quoted as saying to an account man on his way to a client presentation: "If you don't sell it, don't come back." But Colin gave them a hard time if something was rejected.

Not only did the creative people outdo themselves, they saw the work they were proud of published or running on TV and this made CDP a magnet for talented people.

In late 1976, Colin hired me to run a creative group with Arthur Parsons.

The other groups were lead by outstanding people such as Alan Parker, Paul Windsor, Charles Saatchi and Ross Cramer. When they moved on to bigger and even better things, they were replaced by a new wave of talent attracted by the prospect of working for Colin.

He made the creative department the hub around which the agency revolved.

The quality of the work was paramount. Nothing he hadn't approved got out of the door. Everyone in the place took an interest in the work. Account handlers, media people, even the commissionaire had opinions about the work and voiced them.

As the 70s moved on, new agencies started up that were to give CDP a run for its money. Colin's agency was the one to beat in the race for awards and new business. The intense rivalry that developed forced standards ever higher and made British advertising respected throughout the world.

Its heyday lasted into the 80s and just about made it through the 90s.

In 1962, Colin was one of the people who helped the designers and art directors resolve their differences and agree on a constitution. D&AD was born. In 1976, he was the first recipient of the President's Award, presented to him by the president for the year, Alan Parker, one of Colin's most outstanding proteges.

The people who were with Colin in the early years when he forged the principles that would guide the agency throughout its existence revered him. And those who came later came to love and respect him. He will be greatly missed by all. But he could be a bastard if you tried to get away with second best.

John Salmon worked at CDP from 1967 to 2000. He was the creative director from 1969 to 1981.


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