It started life as a riding school on the edge of Regent’s
Its second incarnation was as a squat. But for the past 25 years, a huge
Victorian building in NW1 has been Park Village, home of one of London’s
more civilised production companies.
In the transient and often fickle world of commercials production, Park
Village has been almost unique in maintaining its identity and still
attracting good scripts.
Peter Webb, who founded the company with Roger Woodburn and Mike Stones
in December 1973, moved into the stables as a squatter in the late
Surviving with just a paraffin lamp and a sleeping bag, Webb attracted
considerable hostility from his well-to-do neighbours. But he
perservered, gradually patching up the building and developing it into a
thriving photography studio.
When the neighbours eventually started seeing members of the Rolling
Stones and other 60s icons turning up for photography sessions or just
to hang out, they developed a respect for Webb and even orchestrated a
successful protest against council plans to pull the building down.
So when Webb, Woodburn and Stones broke away from RSA 25 years ago, the
old riding stables seemed to be the natural home for their new
production company, which was named after its address at number one Park
Hovis was the campaign that put Webb on the commercials map back in the
early 70s, and it is also the most recent ad Webb has directed. ’Hovis
is like Halley’s Comet,’ he declares. ’It comes round every so often and
always brings a sprinkling of good luck with it.’
But can such consistency and predictability be healthy in an industry
that is always on the look-out for something new and different?
A quarter of a century on, Woodburn and Webb are still the company’s two
star directors and neither has surprised anyone by doing something
Even David Seers, the 33-year-old who took over from Webb as managing
director of Park Village five years ago, has been at the company for 12
years, having started out as a runner. When he first took over, he tried
to shake things up, but the monolith that is Park Village resisted the
attempts at change.
Perhaps the most high-profile mistake was Enda McCallion, who was
brought in to inject a bit of ’hipness’ into the culture. Unfortunately,
he moved permanently to France soon after signing up with Park Village.
Mitch Walker and Maxine Tabac didn’t work out either, and Seers learned
that the Park Village brand was not as flexible as he had thought.
Seers says: ’I wanted to add different strings to our bow and add some
visual directors and some youthful energy. We had a few experiments but
they didn’t work out very well - it was like trying to put a square peg
into a round hole.’
For now, he is happy with eight directors - Webb, Woodburn, Richard
Dean, John Clive, Charlie Stebbings, Bob Spiers, Mick Rudman, who joined
this year, and the newcomer, Omid Nooshin. ’Eight is a good number for
us’ Seers says. ’There is a natural equilibrium and we can service them
well, although we keep our eye on the ball and there is always room for
Nooshin, who is just 23, was taken on straight from film school and has
already made a series of films for McDonald’s through Leo Burnett. But
he was recruited because he fits in with Park Village’s gentle,
character-based story-telling style rather than for his youth and
vitality. Seers adds: ’There is an integrity about Park Village that
agencies respect. We want agencies to look at a script and say ’that’s a
Park Village deal’.’
The core business is still based around Webb and Woodburn. Woodburn
directed the Carling Black Label ’dambusters’ film ten years ago but was
still winning awards this year for his ’lifeboat’ spot for Alka Seltzer.
And Webb made his name with his series of three films for John Smith’s -
’song & dance’, ’wrong crowd’, and ’Yorkshire love’.
Park Village has endured its fair share of breakaways over the
Simon Cheek was the top editor when he left to form Redwing, and both
Branded Films and Darling Films owe a debt to their origins at Park
But for the most part, the company has held a steady course, housed in
its splendid building which boasts a whole corridor decked out in
original William Morris tiles. It has its own studio - set in what used
to be an indoor paddock - as well as editing suites and a projection
theatre. It’s all a far cry from the early days.
Seers acknowledges: ’My job is to maintain the company. We have to
remain true to our heritage - we are not chasing rainbows.’