’I need to talk to you. Today.’ Larry Barker had already spent an
hour staring at his telephone before plucking up the courage to dial
Rooney Carruthers’ number and leave this simple message on his
Another agonising hour passed before Carruthers returned the call late
on a Saturday afternoon. Barker had more time than he wanted to think
over the past 17 years and to consider the exceptional creative
partnership he was about to terminate.
Four years as joint creative directors of WCRS, where the pair launched
Orange and gave a voice to First Direct. Four years at Bartle Bogle
Hegarty, where they created the Haagen-Dazs campaign and the legendary
Levi’s ’swimmer’ spot. And various stints at BMP, where, among other
achievements, they broke new ground with the Alliance & Leicester
campaign starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.
But a long-term crusade by BMP to lure Barker away from WCRS and
Carruthers looked as if it had borne fruit at last. ’I had decided I was
going to BMP, but I hadn’t actually signed on the line. I couldn’t take
that final step without talking to Rooney first,’ Barker says. ’I needed
to know I wouldn’t lose his friendship.’
When Carruthers eventually called back to find out what Barker wanted to
talk about, he feared someone had died, at the very least. So the news
that Barker was going to take over from Tony Cox as the creative
director of BMP DDB seemed less harsh than it might have done.
The pair talked it through for a long time and, as the reality sunk in,
Leon Jaume - a former creative at WCRS and now the deputy creative
director of Ogilvy & Mather - came up as Carruthers’ chosen replacement
Once Jaume had agreed in principle to the move, Carruthers saved Barker
the call to WCRS management by phoning the company with the Jaume
So Barker could move smoothly into his new role at BMP without leaving
any loose ends in his wake.
’Already my relationship with Rooney is more open and friendly,’ he
’For a while, I was watching him constantly to see what I thought might
happen if I went to BMP. If I had thought it would really piss him off I
wouldn’t have done it.’
There’s no doubt that Carruthers will miss his departing partner. ’He
has been my stability all these years,’ he reveals. ’We have never
stopped laughing and our disagreements never last more than a second.
But we are going to be better friends now - and we’ll be able to go on
holiday at the same time.’
Carruthers and Barker were laughing within minutes of their first
meeting in 1981, marvelling at people who serve ’irregular’ things like
parsnips with their Christmas dinner.
Although the sense of humour is intact, Barker has matured since his
early days in advertising. His dad helped him get his first job as a
teaboy at Aalders & Marchant and, for a while, Barker saw nothing wrong
with his suburban life. He got the train to work from Harrow every day
and dedicated his spare time to performing in a band, the name of which
he is ’too ashamed’ to divulge. ’It was a miserable band - a bit like
Joy Division. I nearly got fired for smiling,’ he says.
’I didn’t meet directors and photographers until I started working in
the creative department,’ he recalls. ’Then I started living a life that
demanded money and a job where you could hold your head up high. Once
I’d seen a bit of that I became ambitious.’
Music became more of a hobby, though Barker still keeps a guitar in the
office and one at his North London home, and jumps into the agency band
at every opportunity. ’They’ll have to put up with it at BMP,’ he
Painting, which he took up ten years ago, has been a major addition to
his life. He goes on an annual ’tree hugging’ week with a group of male
friends, and they take their art more seriously than you might imagine,
painting from eight in the morning until eight at night, with just an
hour for lunch.
For a while, Barker painted only fruit and veg, much to the amusement of
his peers. But his paintings were good enough to spark a few bidding
wars - Andrew Robertson, managing director of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO,
remembers Barker’s ’sad aubergine’ as a winning work.
His painting has dropped off a bit in the past couple of years, but
Barker hopes that if he hangs around the ’arty types’ like John Webster
and Mark Reddy (the head of art) at BMP, he’ll get ’fired up’ again.
Barker is moving to BMP with high hopes for his long-term prospects at
the agency and expects to be there in ten years’ time. ’BMP is up-front
and honest, and a lot of thinking goes on there,’ he declares. ’There’s
no other job I’d like better.’
It still rankles him that he and Carruthers never won a D&AD pencil, but
his desire to please awards juries is fading, and he is confident in his
ability to judge other people’s work.
This level-headed and likeable creative, whom Robertson describes as an
’easy date,’ will undoubtedly fit with BMP, his alma mater, without a
hitch. ’Change is not my brief or my desire - it’s all about maximising
what’s already there,’ Barker concedes. ’Whatever I have done, I have
done with enthusiasm and without undue concern for appearances. It’s the