Before you went into advertising, what other career did you consider?
“Consider” isn’t quite how it was. At 17 and with two O-levels to show after a couple of attempts, a career path wasn’t realistic, nor a chat with the Christ’s College careers officer, who wouldn’t have recognised me in any event as my absenteeism record was unrivalled. I answered a situations vacant ad in the Evening Standard for a voucher clerk, pay £10 weekly. It was in a tiny advertising agency in Covent Garden, and a voucher clerk had to traipse round all the local newspaper offices in Fleet Street – of which there were hundreds at the time – and pick up back copies of papers in which the agency’s clients had an advert appearing. The voucher clerk’s role was to get the newspaper, find the ad, stick a sticker on it so the client could verify its appearance, and the agency could get paid. Vital work, obviously. One of the advantages of it being a tiny agency was that one day they got desperate when their creative department (one young man) was off sick, and they asked me if I could try and make up an ad for one of their clients, Thornber Chicks. This ad was to appear in Farmer and Stock-Breeder magazine, and hoped to persuade farmers to choose Thornbers, as their chicks would grow to provide many cheap, superior quality eggs and a fine return. I didn’t know how you wrote an ad, or indeed how to write anything much other than “I will not be late for assembly”, for which I had been provided much practice. So I looked through copies of Farmer and Stock-Breeder and Poultry World, chose some inspiring-sounding words and phrases, cobbled them together, stuck on a headline – I think I stole it from an old American advertisement – and produced “Ask the man who owns them” as a testimonial campaign featuring beaming Thornber farmers. The client bought it.
That’s right, Charles Saatchi started out on an ag client. How does this compare to your own humble or not beginnings?