Sandy Watson has done it all but is back for more at M&C. Emma Hall met
First she wanted to be a cinema usherette. Then a film editor, then a
producer, then a head of TV, then to have her own company.
Sandy Watson has achieved all her career aims, except the usherette bit,
which she grew out of. But she never lost the love of films she
developed as a child through weekly trips to the cinema.
Now Watson faces a fresh challenge as the head of TV at M&C Saatchi.
Talking from Madrid, where she is supposed to be having a week off
before starting the job, Watson says: ‘I’ve already gone into overdrive
thinking about all the films to be made and the people I want to hire.’
In Watson’s opinion, a TV department exists to facilitate an agency’s
creative department, and she is keen to get on with the ‘boring bits’ of
the job, setting up structures that will ensure its smooth running.
‘I will employ ambitious, enthusiastic people with good taste and
knowledge of the industry,’ she says. ‘When I’m interviewing runners, I
tell them that when I’m shouting at them and they end up crying from
overwork, to remember that I have done it too.
‘I left school at 16 and I am no genius, so if I can do it, they can.
But I am very experienced and I have worked in this business right from
Watson’s first job was as a runner at a production company. Fresh from a
spell at fashion college, she turned up for work every day dressed in a
Givenchy suit, sunglasses and high heels - not an obvious outfit for
someone who spent most of the day making sandwiches and slogging around
Soho, but it did make her stand out from her peers.
Watson moved into editing, started going on shoots, and soon became a
production assistant, even though she couldn’t use a typewriter.
From there, she got a job as a TV producer at a flourishing young
agency, PKL. ‘It inspired me - I got an understanding of advertising and
benefited from being in such a disciplined place,’ she says.
Foote Cone Belding offered her more money and the chance to work on some
big-budget shoots, so she jumped ship and was soon working with a host
of now famous directors such as Alan Parker, Adrian Lyne and Ridley
Scott (whom she married).
Watson’s initiation at FCB came when she was asked to take a script back
to a creative team for discussion. Walking down the corridor, she heard
a crash and soon afterwards, a second loud bang. She opened the door to
find a young Tim Mellors sporting a silver boiler suit and a shiny bald
It was an exciting time but not everything went smoothly. ‘I was
considered a troublemaker - difficult, demanding and opinionated. Also,
it was hard working with Ridley, because it put us under scrutiny,’
Despite this, she insists: ‘I’m a soppy pushover, and I find people
endearing.’ But she has no time for tact and admits to being an
embarrassment to her children. This is the woman who once walked into a
meeting, demanding of the assembled big-wigs: ‘Do I look ravishing? I
hope so, because I just spent pounds 175 on a face job.’
Watson did a quick spell at Collett Dickenson Pearce, and later went to
KMP where she built up the TV department by persuading big-name
directors to work on small-budget projects.
Although she was happy at KMP, she didn’t think twice when her green-
haired director friend, Nick Lewin, asked her to produce for him, and
eventually they set up their own company, Lewin and Watson, in 1985.
For ten years, it worked well. ‘Nick is one of the few people with whom
I share a common reference point - I always understood what he wanted,’
Watson says. During the company’s history, she produced some memorable
commercials for clients such as Cadbury’s Flake, the Prudential, Levi’s
She also gained a reputation as a talent scout, most notably by taking
on Vaughan and Anthea, whose credits went on to include the famous
Levi’s ‘creek’ spot.
In the end, though, Vaughan and Anthea left and Lewin decided that he
didn’t want the commitment of running a company. The duo split in
January 1996, and, after taking time out, Watson decided that the M&C
Saatchi job was right for her.
She accepted the post spontaneously, saying: ‘I am still very ambitious
and full of ideas and excitement. I’m a pain in the arse.’
Can Watson get as excited about the business as she was in the early
days with Parker, Scott, and the space suits? ‘People aren’t as drunk
and rowdy now, but the absolute passion is still there,’ she replies.