DIARY: Saatchis' old boys get Darke in the limelight after his 30-year stint

A lot of hair has got thinner and a few waistlines have done the opposite since this team shot of Charles Saatchi and the earnest young Turks of his fledgling creative department was taken.

From left to right, they are: John Hegarty, the art directors Carol Cass and Bill Atherton, Dave Wood, Saatchi and Melvin Redford, the man still living up to his reputation as a fast turnaround illustrator which won him the nickname Melvin the Wrist. Next to him is Jeremy Sinclair, Charles' first creative hiring, while the picture's dodgiest hairdo belongs to a young designer called Nick Darke (far right).

Incredibly, Darke has continued plying his craft through all the comings and goings, traumas and turmoil that dogged Saatchi & Saatchi down the years, to become the longest-serving member of the original team. As long as 30 years, to be precise.

Naturally, this feat of endurance couldn't be allowed to pass without popping a few corks. So on Tuesday night, an assortment of the agency's most famous figures from those three decades squeezed into Il Sorriso, the Italian restaurant right across the road from the Charotte Street agency, to honour one of its unsung heroes.

Darke, 54, was Saatchis' 21st employee, joining straight from college after being introduced to Charles by his wife-to-be, Doris Dibley. He's still there as the design director of the agency's Team Saatchi subsidiary.

It's all a far cry from those barnstorming early years, when Charles lorded it over the creative department, and his brother Maurice, Tim Bell and Ron Leagas were the suits. "Looking back, I see an incredible collection of people," Darke recalls wistfully. "Every one of them was a star."

Il Sorriso was deemed the most appropriate place to pay tribute to Darke's remarkable achievement. For years, the place has been the Saatchis "canteen", the ideal place to fork down a quick plate of pasta between meetings.

However, Mike Parker, who runs Team Saatchi, has been at pains to stress that this week's celebration was meant to be very much in honour of Darke, who he describes as "still gently passionate", and not a grand reunion of Charlotte Street's old farts.

"Anybody who has ever been to their old school reunion will know what I mean," he says. "We didn't want anybody jumping on somebody else's bandwagon."

Now, why should anybody believe any of those old Saatchis types are capable of something like that?


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