Beginning in April 1960, when John Collett’s firm was acquired by Ronnie Dickenson and John Pearce, their new advertising agency CDP (Collett Dickenson Pearce) grew rapidly, so much so that within a decade it had become one of the most successful in the world, rivalling the best of Madison Avenue. Witty, sharp, and with an adventurous use of images and fonts, CDP proved an exciting new addition to a British advertising scene that had become staid during the 1950’s. Sharing a background in publishing (both had worked for Hulton Press), Pearce and Dickenson were alive to new possibilities in advertising. The winds of change, coming mainly from America, were epitomised in the work of DDB [Doyle Dane Bernbach] and summed up in David Ogilvy’s irreverent but insightful book Confessions of an Advertising Man. Initially occupying offices near Tottenham Court Road, under the creative directorship of Yorkshireman Colin Millward, CDP threw itself with gusto into campaigns for billboards and the new colour supplements published by The Observer and The Sunday Times. This was later accompanied by a string of award-winning television commercials. Typical was the 1964 ad “What the Duchess Saw”, made for Whitbread Pale Ale at a time when tolerance of class distinctions and social inequities was at a low ebb, and British middle-class consumer society was on the rise. The agency’s taglines were to become everyday phrases; ‘Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet’, Fiats were ‘handbuilt by robots’ while Heineken ‘refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach.’ Richard Foster and John Horton devised campaigns for Parker pen, while Ron Collins was responsible for the ‘We knew how before you-know-who’ for Rawlings Tonic Water. In 1969 Millward began to look after CDP’s international work while John Salmon took over as creative director in London. Three years later, account director Frank Lowe replaced John Pearce as managing director. Following the example of DDB, art directors and copywriters at CDP were united into teams. Alan Parker and Ross Cramer led teams that included Alan Waldie, Paul Windsor and others. The client list grew rapidly, with Ford, Bird’s Eye, Land Rover, Harvey’s Bristol Cream, Parker pens, Fiat, Pretty Polly and Ronson all seeking the firm’s magic touch. Such was the level of self-confidence, if a client rejected a concept, it might well be the client who was shown the door. John Pearce, himself a heavy smoker, characterised the firm’s initial clients as ‘fags, fashion and booze’. Seeing the “What the Duchess Saw” ad induced David Puttnam to apply for a job at CDP; he worked there for five years, and compared it to a top university education: “with good reason I believed I was working for the best agency in the world. Most of the work we were doing was both different and good; and we were winning awards and gaining recognition left, right and centre.” Among the actors who appeared in CDP commercials were Joan Collins, Leonard Rossiter, Alan Whicker, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Sid James and Jean Shrimpton. Puttnam and other executives at CDP worked with copywriters, art directors and photographers. Among the former, Tony Brignull and Neil Godfrey, specialising in poster and press work, were regularly feted at the annual Design & Art Directors (D&AD) award ceremonies, while among the latter, photographer Adrian Flowers regularly featured prominently. With talents such as Mike Everett, and tv commercials for Heineken, Hovis and Cinzano being directed by Ridley Scott and Alan Parker, the ads created by CDP were, and are, consistently rated among the best ever made. The creative teams cheerfully hi-jacked Surrealism and other art movements, employing them in the pursuit of pure capitalist gains.
Much of the firm’s success was due to the adroit boardroom skills of John Spearman, who, although he grew up in Dublin, is from a family with strong West Cork connections. After graduating from TCD, Spearman worked for Lintas, the in-house advertising firm at Unilever, before joining CDP in 1972. Account director for the 1977-78 EMI “Diana Ross and the Supremes” ad that won several television awards, Spearman remained with the firm for seventeen years, ending up as chairman, and, along with Frank Lowe, was a main driver of the firm’s success. In New York, Spearman made a presentation at a Loebs board meeting, informing them that the behemoth advertising agencies of Madison Avenue were doomed; it was nimble firms like CDP that had their finger on the pulse. Shortly afterwards, Loeb bought thirty percent of CDP.
In retrospect not all of the agency’s work was ethical. Frozen peas were one thing, but CDP campaigns enabled the tobacco giant Gallaher to double sales of its cigarettes, at a time when the dangers of smoking were becoming public knowledge. With cigarette advertising progressively restricted, initially from television, then print media, CDP created campaigns for Gallaher that were subtle, allusive and often surreal. Even if it was not identified, consumers understood the product being advertised: Hamlet, Benson & Hedges and Silk Cut. Dead-pan and humorous, the Hamlet ads played on peoples’ responses to stressful situations. There was a hidden sub-text, this stress being associated with increasing affluence and social change. Devised by Alan Waldie and Mike Cozens, the Benson & Hedges campaigns were legendary. Adrian Flowers worked on many of these, devising and photographing elaborate sets. Although illogical and irrational, the ads doubled the sales of Benson & Hedges, and in 1978 Waldie was awarded the D&AD Gold Award. Flowers’ photographic shoots included a brightly-lit doorway in a hotel corridor, a cigarette pack standing amidst Stonehenge orthostats, a jig-saw puzzle, and a box containing cufflinks, ornate lighter and a cigarette pack, labelled ‘props for Elyot Chase in Private Lives’.
Another Flowers sets featured tickertape machines, a weighing scales with a packet of B&H outweighing other cigarette packs.
Flowers also photographed a half-open coffin of an Egyptian pharaoh, the gold of the tomb echoing the gold-coloured packaging of the cigarettes. It was launched on the same day that a hugely popular Tutankhamun exhibition opened at the British Museum.
Notwithstanding days and even weeks of effort, some of Flowers’ work was not used. “An early Benson & Hedges ad called for a survey to find the perfect golf course. Arthur Parsons sent me to look at one on Majorca and another in Eire. Alan Waldie mentioned a course at Greenwich that proved to be the most suitable. The picture was to show the pack nestling in the long grass in the extreme foreground within putting distance of the green. The title was ‘Lost’, which as we all know is something that too often happens to gold balls and gold cigarette cases.”
Although a technical triumph, with everything in perfect focus, the photograph was turned down, as Gallahers felt it represented their product as litter. Alan Waldie was also art director for a series of Harvey Bristol Cream ads, also involving elaborate photographic sets.
Many of the Benson & Hedges sets were built by Shirt Sleeve Studio, an enterprise set up by American-born surrealist artist Nancy Fouts and her husband Malcolm Fowler. The duo’s work was featured in an exhibition at the Angela Flowers gallery in 1970, and two decades later they founded the Fouts and Fowler Gallery. Richard Dearing at CDP directed a series of ads for Silk Cut, the resulting 8 x 10” colour transparencies being among the most impressive ever produced by the Flowers studio.
Flowers photographed Birds Eye products (for Carol Nelson, Ray Gundersen and Arthur ‘Art’ Parsons at CDP), and National Panasonic televisions. Art Parsons and Richard Dearing directed a series of Post Office ad campaigns, with photography by Flowers, who also worked on campaigns for Olympus cameras.
Other famous names who worked for the agency included Robin Wight, Don McCullin, Gray Joliffe, John Wood, John Hegarty, Charles Saatchi and Hugh Hudson, the latter going on to direct Chariots of Fire, a film produced by David Puttnam. After the departure of some of its most creative talents—Scott and Parker both went on to become well-known film directors, while Puttnam established himself as a leading film producer—the high energy levels at CDP began to flag. In 1981, Frank Lowe and Geoffrey Howard-Spink left to set up their own agency. The company then went through a number of changes, including being taken over by Dentsu, the Japanese marketing agency responsible for Toyota, and in 2001, under chairman Chris McLeod, was re-branded cdp-travissully.
Selected CDP jobs:
Benson & Hedges (Golf Course 35mm) 7102 a/d Alan Waldie
Harveys Bristol Cream portrait 7115 29.3.72 a/d Alan Waldie
Birds Eye frozen desserts 7133 11.4.72 a/d Arthur Parsons/Alan Waldie
Numerous Birds Eye products – 1972 – a/d Parsons/Waldie/Gundersen/Carol NelsonBenson & Hedges ornithologist 7143 19.4.72: Mike Taylor/Alan Waldie/R. Knapp
GPO – ‘The quick and the dead’ (roses) 7155 7.5.72: Judi Smith
Benson & Hedges International 7166 12.5.72: Arthur Parsons
Harveys Bristol Cream 7182 25.5.72 a/d Alan Waldie
National Panasonic TV 7386 30.3.73 a/d Ted Eckman
Silk Cut 7006 7.12.71 a/d Arthur Parsons
Nescafe 7212 2.7.72 a/d Arthur Parsons
Silk Cut (menthol) etc 7214 8.7.72
Text: Peter Murray
Editor: Francesca Flowers
All images subject to copyright.
Adrian Flowers Archive ©