Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Jamie writes: Dear Jeremy, as an ex-graduate trainee at JWT, I frequently heard it said that 40 Berkeley Square was staffed by retired Guardsmen during the 50s and 60s. Is there any truth in this?

And if there is, which regiment of the Guards exactly and why did they all mob up at JWT? I asked Lord Puttnam the same questions and he didn't know. I thought you might.

A: Dear Jamie, many thanks. I wonder why you thought Lord Puttnam might know the answers to your questions? He's much too young and never, sadly, worked for J Walter Thompson. We did, however, have a few peers of our own. Harry, Lord Tennyson, direct descendent of the poet, was one. Trainee brand managers were far from certain how to approach him but Harry, as always gracious, did his best to put them at their ease. Henry Bentinck, television producer, was a Count of the Holy Roman Empire and later the Earl of Portland. He produced the first Mr Kipling commercials.

What you may have forgotten, Jamie, is that, between 1939 and 1945, Britain was involved in quite a big war. Many of those who survived returned to advertising in senior positions. Our chairman had been awarded the Military Cross and so had our head of copy. Colonel Varley ran Colman Prentice & Varley, an extremely stylish agency that later spawned Collett Dickenson Pearce. So when bright but disillusioned post-war soldiers (not retired, Jamie; still young) were looking around for congenial jobs, they were generally welcomed by senior management. And very able most of them were, and smartly dressed. Bowler hats and rolled umbrellas would hang in their corner offices.

I can't tell you from which regiments they all came; some from the Brigade of Guards, certainly (The Earl of Portland had himself served in the Coldstream Guards) but many others came from cavalry regiments. (Having worked all night on a new-business presentation, a weary art director heard the clip-clop of horses' hooves trotting up Berkeley Square at dawn. "Hullo?" he said. "The suits are up early this morning.")

It's my strong belief that today's agency world would be a great deal more interesting were it to contain a lot more peers and ex-officers.

Q: WCRS launched on a platform of "non-unproductive middle-men" and Mother did something similar a few decades later. Both now employ what look suspiciously like account people. Is this Darwin at work?

A: This is the question that Jamie (see above) really should have put to David Puttnam. As I noticed quite early in my agency life, the common factor across excellent creative work for different clients was just as frequently the account director as it was the creative director. And then I noticed that the same was often true for feature films. The only member of a film-making team who might be thought "unproductive" was actually called the producer - and the common factor across excellent movies was as often the producer as the director.

The basic error is to believe that, just because individuals are unproductive, they don't produce anything. It's the fundamental role of account handlers to distil a single coherent something from all the incoherent contributions made by all of those other productive members of the team: creative director, planner, writer, media man, art director, producer, web designer, typographer and the creative client. And to do so on time and to do so on strategy and to do so on budget and to do so beautifully.

No new agency has ever taken off and flown without at least one such unproductive person in a senior position. Puttnam did it in both advertising and films. It's much the most difficult job in advertising and much the least recognised. That's why, every five years, somebody tries to do without it. And why, after a year or two, they revert. Sometimes, of course, they change the name of the function to disguise their folly; but the function remains. And so it always will.

Q: Should the Advertising Association change its name?

A: The wonderful thing about the word advertising is that, unlike the advertising elite, the great uneducated British public know exactly what it means. It means any bit of sales promotion or publicity. It means digital and bus sides and shelf-wobblers and skywriting. It means PR and product placement, banner ads and packaging. It means posters and sponsored football strip and DM and prize draws. In this confusing new world of platforms and channels and technologies, what luck to own such an all-embracing word.

So, yes: I expect they'll abandon it.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4683.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.