ME AND MY HERO: PART 1 ADVERTISING - Emma Hall asks six advertising stars to name their heroes of the century

Despite their long and successful careers, it’s not hard to imagine the men on these pages - Martin Sorrell (WPP’s founder), Maurice Saatchi (co-founder of the Saatchi dynasty), David Abbott (co-founder of Abbott Mead Vickers), Jeremy Bullmore (creative leader of JWT’s golden era), Frank Lowe (founder of Lowe Howard-Spink) and John Webster (creative muse of BMP) - as young men starting out in the world.

Despite their long and successful careers, it’s not hard to imagine

the men on these pages - Martin Sorrell (WPP’s founder), Maurice Saatchi

(co-founder of the Saatchi dynasty), David Abbott (co-founder of Abbott

Mead Vickers), Jeremy Bullmore (creative leader of JWT’s golden era),

Frank Lowe (founder of Lowe Howard-Spink) and John Webster (creative

muse of BMP) - as young men starting out in the world.

You can just see them in their first jobs, looking keenly to mentors for

guidance and inspiration. These would-be leaders, who eventually soared

to hero-status themselves, are all ready to admit how they benefited

from role models who helped them to fulfil their potential.

’It’s a natural trait to have a hero,’ Mark Wnek, the executive creative

director of Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, says. ’It’s like those 60-year-old

blokes who are still styling their thinning hair into Elvis quiffs.’

Chris Powell, the chairman of BMP DDB, proves something of an exception

when he insists that heroes, like stamp collecting, went out in the 50s.

’We are formed by a myriad of influences,’ he says.

However, most successful people who are approached on the subject of

heroes are quick to nominate a figure who has influenced their outlook

on life for the better. There’s something rather romantic, especially at

this stage in their careers, about tapping into the youthful enthusiasm

of boyhood hero-worship.

Curiously among the names cited, that of Bill Bernbach is missing -

probably because he’s a hero to almost everyone in the business, and

nobody felt the need to name him as their advertising hero of the

century individually.

It goes without saying that he inspired a whole generation of youthful

high-flyers to turn to advertising as a career.

From among the next generation of advertising success stories, Wnek

enthuses about Michael Caine and Charles Saatchi. While Rupert Howell,

the chairman of HHCL & Partners, has no hesitation in citing Peter

Gabriel as a hero because he is a ’creative innovator who proved that

not all public schoolboys are pinstriped toffs’.

Next week: media figures on their heroes.


The day I met Michael Heseltine was when he was being chauffeured down

Bond Street in his limousine. He noticed a pile of tattered sackcloth

lying in the gutter, wrapped in string, which looked like a human


He told the driver to stop. He took pity on the hopeless creature and

said to me: ’Come with me, my boy. I’ll try and make something of you.’

And that’s how I was taken under his wing.

He gave me an office in a cupboard, a grand title, and set me on my


When I think of Michael, I think of the galvanising effect he had on me

and a whole generation of people. He taught us that ’nothing is

impossible’: that you should ’never say die’.

If anyone had half the inspirational effect on young people that Michael

had on me then that person could count themselves as having done

something very good in the world.

His company was and is a very special company.

I think of it as a model of the pragmatic virtues - hardheaded, prudent,

practical - but somehow combined with the romance of business life at

its best.


By 1968, I’d been a creative director at JWT for about four years,

spending most of my time trying to inspire others to have advertising

ideas and then evaluating, modifying and presenting them. Every day, I

was painfully aware of my lack of mental scaffolding: of any working

model of how ideas could be generated, evaluated and explained. Then a

friend, a doctor, lent me The Art of the Soluble by PB Medawar.

For months it lay unread. I told myself that scientific methodology had

nothing to offer those of us trying to think of new adverts for Oxo


It was only after I’d accepted an invitation to give a talk on

creativity that, in deadline desperation, I turned to the book. It was

wonderfully entertaining,unexpectedly familiar and hugely useful.

Later, Bernard Levin expressed his astonishment that a book called

Induction and Intuition in Scientific Thought could have held him

engrossed. That, too, was by Medawar - and it held me, too. Just about

everything he ever wrote is gathered together in Pluto’s Republic

(Oxford University Press, 1982). Sir Peter Medawar OM, winner of the

Nobel Prize for Medicine, is undoubtedly the person who inspired me


From advertising itself, my equally unhesitating choice is James Webb

Young, author of How to Become an Advertising Man (Advertising

Publications Inc, 1963).


My hero is my dad.

He came from a relatively unprivileged background and he left school

when he was 13. He was immensely good at music and acting and he loved

Shakespeare - he could recite great chunks.

Family circumstances meant that he couldn’t take up the music

scholarship he was offered. In those days a son was an earning unit. But

he wasn’t bitter - he was a happy man and always regarded himself as

extremely fortunate.

In the 60s, he built a chain of 750 radio and electrical stores. Retail

is a seven-days-a-week job. On Saturdays he looked in on the shops and

on Sundays I’d see or listen to him talking to regional sales


His whole life was business-orientated, although I was influenced to go

into business by his acquaintances rather than by him.

My father was a constant friend, supporter and adviser. I could talk to

him about anything. We would speak probably every day and when I was

working hard he’d be an extremely good grandfather to my sons. We were

always geographically close and the family got together frequently.

He was immensely patient. He always had time and he was calm and


He taught me hard work, dedication and loyalty.


Bob Levenson never had his name over the door at DDB New York, but he

was the reason I walked through those doors in July 1966. He was the

copywriter I admired above all others. I knew reams of his copy by heart

and even today, 34 years later, I can recite the opening lines of many

of his ads.

In the 60s, when I worked in his group, Bob presided like an affable

young schoolteacher. He wore a tweed jacket and smoked a pipe. He combed

his hair and shined his shoes and bought his secretary flowers on her

birthday. If his ads hadn’t been on the wall, you’d never have known he

was a paid-up revolutionary - a top gun in the DDB raiding party that

changed the face of advertising forever.

His copy was always exquisite. It had a natural grace, wit and humanity,

but if it felt effortless that doesn’t mean it was. Bob believed that

persuasion was based on evidence and no-one worked harder to understand

a product or client. Bob gave each of his clients their own voice, but

it was always the voice of sweet reason.

Do I have a favourite Levenson ad? Of course - and it may be the best ad

of all time. A multi-coloured VW Beetle is parked elegantly on a plain

page. Above it are ranged these lean sentences:

The green fender came off a ’58.

The blue hood came off a ’59.

The beige fender came off a ’64.

The turquoise door came off a ’62.

Most VW parts are interchangeable from one year to the next.

That’s why parts are so easy to get.

Heroic art direction, heroic writing. There isn’t even a logo.


In my late teens, I saw Jour de Fete, a film in which a French village

postman attempts to modernise his delivery service a la US. It was

hilarious and charming, and was made by a man called Jacques Tati with

whom I felt an immediate empathy.

It struck such a chord that I saw all of his subsequent films, based

around the theme of man struggling to come to terms with his


He opened my eyes to the potency of observational humour. Looking at the

world through Tati’s eyes, I discovered a host of amusing things happen

around us every day if only we care to look.

He taught me that humour and irritation for most people come not from

large dramatic situations but from normal ups and downs of life.

Only the other day, I was following in my car a man in a plastic mac on

a moped. His mac was billowed out by the headwind and from the back he

looked like a balloon on wheels. Stopping at the traffic lights, he

deflated to a sort of saggy, creased condom. When the lights turned to

green, he accelerated and, ’pfft!’, exploded immediately again into a

tight balloon. Pure Tati.


It took me only a few weeks after joining CDP to realise that while John

Pearce was the front man, the power and the soul of the agency rested

with Colin.

Working with him was the most important experience of my career. I

learned one thing above all others: reject those things that are quite

good. In the area of the ’adequate’, the pressures to say yes are very

great. The account man has to be told if it is not good enough. The

client must be asked to be patient. And, most difficult of all, the

creative people must try again.

It was in this thankless area that Colin excelled. For all the fury at

his attitude, clients had ads that worked, and account men had happy

clients. Creatives forgot everything as they collected yet another D&AD


He was not a diplomat. But to a generation of people like Charles

Saatchi, Alan Parker, David Puttnam and many more, he was an



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