CRAFT: PROFILE; Why funnyman Lloyd wants to be taken seriously

John Lloyd wants a break from producing amusing ads, Jim Davies discovers

John Lloyd wants a break from producing amusing ads, Jim Davies


If there was a Queen’s Award for industriousness John Lloyd would be a

perennial contender. He has been hailed by the national press, among

other things, as ‘the Don of the television mafia’ and ‘Britain’s most

successful comedy producer’. A hugely influential behind-the-scenes

figure in the ‘alternative’ comedy boom of the 80s, the mercurial Lloyd

has produced around 400 radio shows; created and produced seminal TV

comedy series, including Not the Nine O’Clock News, Spitting Image and

Blackadder. He’s rattled out eight books, polished off a couple of movie

scripts, hosted LWT’s culture show, South of Watford, and dozens of one-

off documentaries. And that was just before breakfast.

More recently, however, Lloyd has found the time to direct more than 100

ads through the commercials arm of Limelight. ‘Until I was 35, I was a

workaholic,’ he confides, peering into the far distance with an air of

pained resignation. ‘Now I’ve got a bit more of a life; my children

actually recognise me.’

Erudite and quietly self-deprecating, as befits a graduate of Cambridge

and the BBC, Lloyd is painfully honest about his defection to

commercials direction during the late 80s. ‘Someone broke my heart,’ he

reveals. ‘Most people would have thrown themselves into their work, but

I couldn’t work any harder, so I decided to try something different.’

He grabbed his chance when Steve Hooper and Dennis Lewis (now joint

creative directors at Bartle Bogle Hegarty) pulled him in to work on the

agency’s debut campaign for Phileas Fogg crisps. ‘As a producer, I’d

seen at least half-a-dozen directors in tears on the floor throwing

tantrums. I thought it must be the most difficult job in the world. I

was so nervous I was nearly sick in the cab on the way over.’

The resulting ad, which featured a bunch of singing, sobbing Mexicans,

still takes pride of place on Lloyd’s reel. He also provided - at no

extra charge - the Pay attention! Phileas Fogg snacks from around the

world’ voiceover.

Lewis remembers the spot as being simple, but effective: ‘The camera

hardly moved, but the timing and the visual gags were impeccable. The

next time we used John he was much more confident; he’d become a film-

maker rather than a comedy director.’

Lloyd went on to direct a string of celebrated campaigns, including

Rowan Atkinson’s bumbling antics as special agent Latham for Barclaycard

(it seems inconceivable that Michael Palin was originally cast for the

part); Leslie Neilson’s pun-laden party pieces for Red Rock Cider

through GGT; Boddingtons clever debunking of adland cliches; and the

current crop of Mrs Merton ads for British Gas.

He’s also plied his trade extensively in Europe, Australia and the US,

where his New York Lottery campaign was well received. And as for

awards, his shelves groan just as loudly as Paul Weiland’s or Tony

Kaye’s. ‘Baudelaire said that ‘prizes were the invention of the devil’,’

Lloyd says. ‘It’s nice to get awards, but it’s more important to do the

best work you possibly can without screaming at too many people.’

Screaming apart, he’s adapted easily to the arcane world of advertising.

Saatchi and Saatchi’s joint creative director, Adam Kean, says: ‘He was

a breath of fresh air when he came into the industry.’ Kean used Lloyd

for a recent Norwich Union Direct campaign starring John Cleese. ‘Let’s

face it, he has something none of the rest of us have in advertising - a

Bafta for Services to British Television. He’s a legend.’

But now the legend is keen to break free of his comedy dialogue roots.

‘I’d like to do a straight perfume ad or a car ad,’ Lloyd says. ‘It’s a

strain having to be funny all the time.’

‘All comedians want to play Shakespeare,’ Lewis comments. ‘He has a

fertile mind and I’m sure he could do a lot more than comedy, but that

would be denying his real strength.’ Maybe.

However, it’s easy to overlook the craft side of Lloyd’s work; his

commercials tend to be expertly lit and immaculately styled, but the

overriding thrust of the narrative tends to pull the viewer away from

such detailing.

Though he’s justifiably proud of his early Barclaycard efforts, Lloyd

feels he is yet to peak. ‘I’ve been doing reliably good work, but I want

to do something brilliant, really off the wall. The problem is,

everything’s researched to death, everything’s had the life beaten out

of it by being over-planned, over-thought through. I think the great

things in life, all of them, whether it’s who you marry or doing a great

commercial, is all about intuition, insight and instinct.’


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