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John Webster of BMP picks his Desert Island Ads

Alas John never had the opportunity as the justly-celebrated creative director of Boase Massimi Pollitt – a genius when it came to television – died in 2006.

But years before he offered his Top Ten ads to a magazine I co-founded called Commercials.

And John, as ever, was original choosing ten Hamlet commercials from rival agency Collett Dickenson Pearce, in many ways the precursor to the great BMP (which became BMP DDB and has now morphed into adam&eveDDB).

Here’s what John wrote:

In 1963 Tim Warriner and Roy Carruthers wrote a pleasant little commercial for a cigar showing a man with his leg in plaster enjoying a smoke.

The choice of music was inspired – a jazz version of Bach’s Air on a G String. After 72 commercials the formula is still going strong in what must be the most distinctive TV campaign in British advertising.

It has won more than 100 awards and a Hamlet ad has appeared in almost every issue of the DADA annual since it started.

Every year it must get increasingly difficult to find new twists but the ingenious lads at Collett Dickenson Pearce continue to surprise us with more delights and, if anything, the standard’s getting better.

Only a campaign based on a genuinely empathetic idea could last this long, but in my view the magic ingredient is that wistful music. Try playing the films with any other piece and they’re not quite the same.

Here are ten of my favourites.

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Here are the ones we’ve managed to find (with their accomplished directors).

Bunker – Paul Weiland

Hospital – Brian Mindel

Canute – Alan Parker

Tennis – Alan Parker

Rubik’s Cube – Peter Levelle

Robot – Bob Brooks

Crash of ’87 – Bernard Lodge

Photo Booth – Graham Rose

AC/DC – Stak Avaliotis

(Can’t find this one – sure someone knows where it is – so here’s a little reel including some John didn’t choose but they’re all brill. Interesting array of British acting talent too. Plus a certain launderette that may have been noticed by someone at BBH )

Man in Handcuffs – Keith Ewart

(Ditto this one – so here’s another reel headed by another of Graham Rose’s efforts).

Some people might say you can’t do this these days. You can’t advertise tobacco obviously, certainly not the restorative effects of a Hamlet in a hospital maternity ward. Buying the prime airtime for a 100 plus ads would be a bit pricey too. But the ads themselves aren’t so expensive, as my friend Mark Andrews, one-time head of TV at CDP, has remarked in these pages. They’d take the internet by storm.

So thanks Mr Webster. Here’s three of John’s ads for BMP.

‘Nuff said.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

5 comments

  1. I think you’ll find the Courage ads were written by Dave Trott.
    Webster did the John Smith’s Arkwright campaign, and the later one with Jack Dee.

  2. Damn – wrong beer. Thanks Shanghai

  3. What a delight to have the opportunity to praise John Webster and his great talent. I chose two of his spots for my own Desert Island Ads. for MAA, which were Sony and Guardian. Back in the day, BMP under John was the only game in town as a rival to CDP. Indeed at awards ceremonies we always duked it out for an exhausting 15 rounds match draw with them. Hamlet was a great choice for John Webster because it must have been the only 25 year old campaign still-running (except for VW at DDB NY). John was simply saying that consistency of approach and holding your nerve creatively will pay benefits out of all proportion to your initial aims. And one of the best ways to do this? Entertain people! His John Smith’s was an object lesson in that regard.
    I just can’t understand why great campaigns that have entered the national consciousness, such as Ferrero Rocher (dir. Peter Levelle) “Ambassador” have simply been dumped? People still automatically say “you spoil us Ambassador” as soon as you unwrap a pack! Shredded Wheat is the same. David Cameron on being asked would he stand for a third term said “well, it’s like Shredded Wheat isn’t it? Two’s quite enough”.

    Anyway, the main point, astutely picked-up on by Stephen Foster (Ed.) is that – and we’ve often chatted about this – why on earth can’t the smaller, lower budget brands which, by the way CDP championed, seem to find a voice (creative strategy) and stick to it by doing lots of cheap but good ads? Surely this applies even more today, in the age of the internet, where cheap rules supreme! None of the Hamlet ads cost more than £50k, many considerably less. I produced ‘Rubik’s Cube’, ‘Crash of 87’ and ‘Photo Booth’ (and 18 other spots) and each one of these three cost less than £20k. I know it’s easier to produce good work on a long-running campaign with a recognisable asset like the Jacques Loussier ‘Air on a G-String’. That’s the point actually. CDP invested in the music every year, re-recording it several times over 30 years, as the licence for the arrangement expired every 3 years. A great investment because all anyone needs to hear is the music and they know exactly what’s what! It is so loved as a campaign. It reaches the parts……….!

    Many a director’s career was launched on the coat tails of the Hamlet TV campaign. Virtually every one wanted to change the length, music etc. to ‘make it their own’! Creative Director John Salmon consistently refused all such requests. The results speak for themselves.

  4. Well said Mark, it’s seems a lost time when those that led Brands understood the longevity of a product is its ultimate success and simple identifiable links. That are often better reinforced than always being reinvented everytime someone new joins them. Beans do mean Heinz, I will always be a secret Lemonade Drinker, it will always be anytime anyplace anywhere, to Toast you and John… Yudica

  5. By an extraordinary coincidence, Mike Everett of Anatomised has just written this – the story of the Hamlet music: http://www.anatomised.com/hamlet-air-on-a-g-string/

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