NEWSMAKER/LARRY BARKER: Composed WCRS creative takes the helm at BMP - Larry Barker’s diplomacy helped him end a union of 17 years, Emma Hall says

’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 answerphone.

’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

for Barker.

Once Jaume had agreed in principle to the move, Carruthers saved Barker

the call to WCRS management by phoning the company with the Jaume

proposition himself.

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

BMP way.’