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Ken Bowden dies at age 85

By The Drum | Administrator

September 27, 2007 | 4 min read

Just plane brilliant - Ken Bowden, Co-founder, BDH 1922-2007

This culture ensured the agency’s long-term success, developing a reputation as the hottest creative shop in Manchester and seeing clients like Solvite and Spirograph become leading brands.

The agency was sold in 1989, which is when Bowden and Hayes left the business. Dyble, who remained at the agency until 1991, said: “The accounts we worked with in the early days were still clients when we sold the business and Solvite remained a client until quite recently.”

Dyble remained a close friend of Bowden beyond their exit from the business and looks back fondly at their time at the helm. “When I spoke at Ken’s funeral, it brought it all back. It’s amazing how you very rarely look that far back in your life until something like this happens. It’s very sad, but we had a great time in the industry, establishing our own standard for creativity, and it’s extremely gratifying to have developed an agency that is still going strong over 40 years on.”

Here, Martin Anderson – who joined BDH 10 years after the agency’s launch – reflects on the impact Bowden and his business partners made on the advertising industry.

Ken Bowden was a leading figure in Manchester advertising when Bowden Dyble and Hayes opened its doors in 1964. Although business was initially hard to come by, after the first pieces of business came through the agency never looked back.

The partners’ motto for the agency was “A fun place to work” and it soon became an agency that people aspired to work in.

The agency’s success and reputation was founded on its creative abilities with Ken Bowden providing outstanding creative inspiration for the agency and the rest of the advertising world.

Advertising history books will tell you that modern advertising started at Doyle Dane Bernbach in New York in the late 60s.

This new trend was then adopted in London by DDB and Collett Dickenson Pearce.

But at the same time Ken Bowden and BDH were also producing work that broke the mould.

The earliest and most outstanding example being Ken’s work for Solvite – then a small provincial wallpaper adhesive.

In the Solvite films planes, a boat, a car and a steam train (commercials pictured) were wallpapered and then put through their paces in amazing product demonstrations.

At a time when 60s TV advertising was still in its infancy and full of dull show-tell-show commercials, usually with a jingle, Ken Bowden’s Solvite commercials were absolutely outstanding, very effective and hugely influential.

These commercials and others like them put BDH on the map not just in Manchester but nationally and internationally as BDH started to pick up the first of a whole cabinet full of prestigious creative awards.

Ken Bowden laid the foundations for the creative reputation that the agency has sustained over the next four decades.

He was a man confident of his own ability and rarely put out of his stride.

There was a problem at the start of the day to film a commercial for a new food mixer which was due to be launched three days later at the Ideal Home exhibition – the product, which was due to be flown into Manchester, had landed in London.

With no time to reschedule, Ken simply walked out of the studio and came back with half a dozen house bricks.

He put the bricks together and covered them with a black-out blanket from one of the cameras and filmed the blanket rotating.

He then changed the script to “Underneath this blanket is a food mixer so revolutionary they wouldn’t let us show it. But you can see it for yourselves at the Ideal Home exhibition.”

The commercial was aired two days later with great success.

Ken was a larger than life personality with a great love of good food and wine.

He lived life to the full, was a great host and his storytelling was legendary.

But most of all Ken liked people.

He always had time for everyone in the agency, no matter how junior, and there are hundreds of people who have had the privilege of working with Ken and who will remember him as a really lovely man.

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