A lost art: D&AD's most awarded art director and copywriter Neil Godfrey and Tony Brignull discuss today's industry

Most awarded: Tony Brignull (left) and Neil Godfrey

Man’s primal need to stand out creatively hasn’t changed across tens of thousands of years of human communication. And despite advancements in technology, human ideas still sell products. The process of realising these ideas, however, has altered considerably in the last few decades, as the The Drum found out when we caught up with creative legends Neil Godfrey and Tony Brignull.

They are one of the most respected duos to have ever worked in the advertising business and The Drum managed to catch up with Neil Godfrey and Tony Brignull – D&AD’s most awarded art director and copywriter respectively – to hear their views on how the industry has changed since their peak days. The pair were prolific in the heyday of Collet Dickinson Pearce (CDP) during the 1970s and 1980s and produced some of the country’s best quality and most effective work. They produced iconic print ads for brands such as Parker Pens and Benson & Hedges, including the B&H pyramid ads. The duo also created the ‘Has the Sunday roast had its day?’ ad for Birdseye in 1974 and ads for Albany Life, including 1981’s ‘Answer these ten questions and work out the date of your own death’ print. The British Army, Fiat, Dunn & Co, 100 Pipers and Clarks are among other brands in the vast portfolio of D&AD’s most awarded copywriter and art director, who, according to former CDP managing director Sir Frank Lowe, were an “extraordinary” match.“It’s hard to think of Tony without Neil, they were a most extraordinary duo along with John Salmon, the best of the writers I worked with,” he told D&AD. “When they used to bring me a campaign I would always say can you leave the copy behind, and I’d read it quietly and it was nearly always one of the best moments of my day because it was just lovely. I think Tony did so many campaigns that were just outstanding.” AMV BBDO founder David Abbott believes Brignull helped changed the landscape of advertising and put CDP on the map. “I think he was one of a group of about six or seven people who made CDP famous throughout the world for the quality of their work,” he added. “He’s an original thinker, he’s intuitive, he makes connections that most people don’t make. He’s honourable, charming and quietly flamboyant; I think that shows up in his work. We all felt we were on a mission to change creativity, to change advertising, and the really good people, like Tony, did that and accepted that challenge and gloried in it.” CDP was behind some of the most exciting ideas in advertising during the 1970s and 80s and among the creatives it helped produce were Lord Puttnam, Sir Alan Parker, Sir John Hegarty and Charles Saatchi. Even Sir Ridley Scott produced ads for the agency. According to former CDP creative director John Salmon, Godfrey is “unsurpassed” in the quality of his work. “He was brilliantly creative and intelligent and those qualities are as rare as they ever were,” he told D&AD. “He set a fantastic example for the other art directors and the creative people in general. Virtually everything that he did he gave an original page look to it and he worked very hard to get that. In my view he was unsurpassed in producing outstanding print advertising. That’s why I think he’s the best, he’s the governor.”CDP’s fortunes eventually dwindled and it was acquired by the Dentsu group after calling time in 2000. Brignull and Godfrey don’t feel the connection with modern day, digitally dominated advertising and much of it doesn’t impress them. The pair still dabble in the trade – Godfrey worked recently with Indra Sinha for Channel 4 and Brignull works with JKR – but they have both pursued other interests. But D&AD’s most awarded copywriter and art director hail from a different era of advertising, and they have plenty of wisdom to impart about the craft.NEIL GODFREYWhen I started out, advertising was something that happened in America as far as I was concerned, and London was just a timid kind of reflection of what was happening there. There were people doing work – a little agency called CDP had just started – but most of the other agencies were large in format and doing the kind of advertising that had been done for the last 20 or 30 years. When I left the Royal College of Art my first job in advertising was at a place called Dorland, which had a great creative director, but we were finding it very difficult to create and show good ads because the people weren’t around to do them. I moved on to spend a year at CDP and then DDB came along and said they were looking for an art director. I applied and got the job and I was immediately sent over to New York for a year in 1964/65. I spent almost a decade at DDB before Tony and I met up. Tony appears to be a very gentle, benevolent character, a sort of professor old vicar, but underneath there is this edge. One of the things I liked about him was that there were these two aspects to him and I think it kind of shows in the ads at times. What I liked about Tony’s writing was the fact that the headlines weren’t written as headlines. They were almost more like pieces of body copy and I think that came out of an essential ability to kind of breathe in the character of the client. For example, the line for Dunn & Co, which was an old fashioned menswear place – ‘The life of a designer at Dunn & Co is one of continuous self-restraint’ – was a great headline because it encompassed the whole personality of it. Also, ‘A pen that merely writes is no pen at all’, I just loved the lyrical aspect of those lines. People were, at the time, trying to do very clever, sharp, quick headlines. Those would work in some respects but were far from the personality of the actual company and product itself. The trade has changed since we worked together. When I first started, photo typesetting came in, which was a huge breakthrough. The fact you could photograph it and you didn’t have to cut it up anymore, it could be done on a machine. But even that was crude by comparison with doing it now on a computer. I don’t take much to do with the industry anymore. It’s not quite what it used to be. It’s all about the mechanics now. It’s digital and computerised and all about the amazing things that can be done, cars that can fly, things like that. Everything seems to be geared towards that and you can’t see the joins. I remember when I did the pyramids poster for Benson & Hedges – I always hate to talk about cigarette advertising because I was also against it – the photographer and I shot five or six different elements and then came back to put them together. They were put together by cutting the transparencies and sticking them together, then trying to find a way of retouching the edges out of it. It took several weeks to do it. It would probably be done in an afternoon now on the computer, easily. It used to be that there was a physical effort involved which there doesn’t seem to be now.TONY BRIGNULL When I was in the creative department at J Walter Thompson, Sam Rothenstein, who I still think is probably the cleverest, most intelligent woman who ever worked in advertising in England, came to me with one of the first CDP ads, it was for Whitbread, and when I looked at it I thought it was stunningly clear, beautiful and simple. I wanted to work with CDP thereafter, but it took me a long while to get there. I worked with Mather & Crowther first, then Benton & Bowles, and then I applied to CDP and John Salmon took me on. But it wasn’t until I was married and had been working at Vernons as creative director for about 18 months that Neil asked me to join him at Wells Rich Greene. I think we played to each other’s strengths. I often knew how Neil would work on something so I wrote to his strengths. That was the same for both of us. When Neil did the little drawing on the child’s foot for Clarks for example, I had virtually nothing to do with that, but he knew I could write to that concept, that it would be something that had content to it and all I had to do was write some lines and work through it. So essentially I loved Neil’s clarity and the beauty of his art direction, and I knew even if I wrote something fairly dim it would look good. I remember a copywriter coming in one day and saying: ‘I saw this piece of copy in the tray and I thought how dull it was but it’s turned out to be a great ad.’ Those were the days of great graphic beauty in press and posters. They were very stimulating, very exciting times. It wasn’t before the moving image, of course, but it was certainly before the times of computer graphics. For example, Neil would often have to get the photosetting in on the headlines and the body type and it would all be cut out with a scalpel to make it optically correct. The discipline of working like that often made us look at every piece of work with great scrutiny. But those were the days when you would look through a magazine for the ads to see how beautiful they were. You might get Volkswagen, 100 Pipers, lots of terrific themes. And Avis, when you saw a new Avis ad you read it like a poem. Within our work we pioneered some of the first full page ads, but all of that began to quickly disappear when you got independent media brokers and the media department was taken out of the agency. The client would then say: ‘I’ve got this amount of money to spend, what mathematically is the best way I can do it?’ instead of thinking about the most appropriate way for the campaign. As for copywriting, I think we’ve totally lost the craft. Occasionally you will find a very good line in a commercial or a fairly good line as a headline, but very rarely these days. It’s just a lost art. Certainly since David Abbot has stopped you don’t see an ad nowadays, even for clients you used to write for. Volvo, for example, totally gone; RSPCA, in no way engaging. As Dave Trott used to say, it must reach out and grab you by the lapels and pull you in and I haven’t seen one like that. That is a great shame I think. I don’t think we are doing clients justice if we can’t write for them. Based on interview by Dave BirssWritten by Angela HaggertyPhotography by Julian Hanford (julianhanford.com)

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Angela Haggerty

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