Giles Keeble: a memory of working with the master

When I heard the news about David Abbott I seemed to remember for some reason he once used Mark Twain’s “the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” but perhaps I am imagining it. If only it were true now.

The number of great ads David did with Ron Brown will have been mentioned elsewhere – not just the great Sainsbury’s campaign, but The Economist and Volvo, among others. He wrote his copy in ink, with his Mont Blanc, and he knew what worked.

David allowed me to become a copywriter at French Gold Abbott where I had been an account manager and for a while a planner. I learned to write – in as much as i succeeded – by copying him. In fact, I nearly wrote the first Sainsbury’s ad at Abbott Mead Vickers not written by him, an ad to introduce their new line of cosmetics. Adrian Vickers came back from the client with a message of thanks for David (Adrian hadn’t informed him of the change). The highest praise, I thought. David acknowledged his own debt to David Ogilvy and Bill Bernbach, and he said he tried to follow Ogilvy’s dictum to put the client’s name in the headline – a rule I should follow for Sainsbury’s, he told me. At that stage it was a rule I think he had always followed.

My headline was fair enough: ‘The rumour that Sainsbury’s is introducing a range of cosmetics is not without foundation’. The client liked it. David liked it, but felt he could do better. And he did: ‘Pick up your peaches and cream complexion where you pick up your peaches and cream.’ No Sainsbury’s in the headline, though. You have to know the rules to know when you can break them.

That is just one memory of David. There are many others: lunches at The Hellenic; playing tennis (he was competitive); Friday night darts in the agency; Eve and his family.

David was not only a great mentor for many of us but he was a gentle man and he cared. He was fun, with a slightly wicked sense of humour and a very particular laugh. His agency was fun and he inspired loyalty and great work. I owe him much.

Even though I hadn’t seen him for a while I shall miss him.

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About Giles Keeble

Giles Keeble started as a rep (account man) at JWT before moving to BMP. There Stanley Pollitt told him that JWT’s Stephen King had wanted him to become a planner. John Webster encouraged him to become a writer but after a number of years Giles moved to French Gold Abbott and, for a while, did become a planner of sorts. Returning to writing he went to David Abbott’s new agency AMV followed by WCRS and was then ECD of Leo Burnett for six years. He then returned to AMV before moving to Publicis and then Lowe in Hong Kong at the inception of the ‘World’s Local Bank’ campaign for HSBC. He now works as a writer and strategist as well as running advertising courses for senior clients.