Editorial: What we can learn from adland's best of British

If you had an open chequebook and could roll back the years, who and what would you bring together to create Britain's greatest agency?

In fantasy land, you could mix and match the big players. In reality, agencies have their own methods, agendas and cultures, and clashing egos would doom any such attempt to failure.

It would be an extraordinary creative department that combined the quiet and thoughtful style of David Abbott with Charles Saatchi's chair-throwing tantrums. It would be a nightmare to try to reconcile the Saatchis' ruthless new-business strategy with the laid-back approach of Collett Dickenson Pearce, which believed more business would follow if its creative work was good enough.

But let's just suppose that you could fuse the best qualities of the five agencies that make up Campaign's best-ever list (see page 24). What a formidable aggregation would result.The swaggering self-confidence of CDP in its heyday; Boase Massimi Pollitt's determination to be best of breed; Saatchi & Saatchi's rule-breaking boldness; the principled and well-managed approach of Abbott Mead Vickers; Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury's upsetting of the industry applecart. And all of them united by an unswerving passion about the creative product.

Of course, while all these qualities are admirable, it would be almost impossible for them to co-exist. Some agencies thrive on creative tension, others believe nothing good comes from such an approach. Some want to work within the existing conventions, others seek to challenge them.

It is perhaps significant that all of Campaign's Famous Five agencies set out their stalls in gentler times. Before media became fragmented, before clients got into the habit of demanding more for considerably less.

So do these agencies' legacies still have relevance, now that the communications landscape has altered out of all recognition, forcing agencies to adapt accordingly?

The answer is undoubtedly yes. Today, it's all too easy to backtrack on your principles for short-term gain. If the Famous Five prove anything, it's the folly of always trying to cut your cloth to suit the prevailing fashion.