About this video
Drayton Bird had the privilege of working with many giants in advertising. In this lesson, advertising legend, Drayton Bird, reminisces on working with David Ogilvy and other greats.
Video length: 12:33
Grant Leboff: So, Drayton, it would be remiss to have you here today and not ask about your experiences of working with David Ogilvy who is a legend in the industry and everybody knows. I'd love to get some thoughts and some perhaps stories or even nuggets of some of the great things you learned working with David.
Drayton Bird: I could talk about him for an hour quite easily. Here's an example, I once arranged a seminar in a chateau outside Paris, and David was going to come talk. He said, "What do you want me to talk about? How long do you want me to talk for and what do you want me to talk about?" I said, "We all know about your successes David. Could you talk about your failures, your mistakes?" David sat and he said, "Drayton has asked me to talk for an hour. He wants me to talk about my failures." He said, "That will take 3 1/2 minutes exactly. For the rest of the time I'll tell you about what I got right!"
The thing about David was that people were frightened of him, and I wasn't frightened of him. I don't know why I wasn't frightened of him. I just got on terribly well with him right from the start. I was so flattered that he liked me. He did like me. I know he liked me because Jerry - who was my partner in New York - he ran America and I ran the rest of the world, so to speak - once rang me up and said, "Will you go to Portugal and sort out…" I forget the name of the woman. It was a lady running Portugal, whose chief qualities, as I could make out, she was very, very friendly with many members of the Portuguese government. Rosalina! I said, "What do you want me to do?" He said, "Just go and be your usual charming self."
I thought, "Oh, I never knew that." Another time he said to me… because my mother used to say to me, "Drayton if only you were charming!" I always felt inadequate. I still do.
Another time he rang me up and he said, "Could you get David to do a video for South Africa?" David felt very strongly about race, as I do because of my second wife was African American. No, that was my third wife. My second wife was a Maori. Anyhow, so he said, "He won't refuse us to go to South Africa. Can you get him to do a video?" I said, "Why would he do it for me?" He said, "He loves you." I never knew he even liked me. I was so flattered. So I said, "Come on, I'll come and produce you. I'll be your producer."
Grant Leboff: Did he do it?
Drayton Bird: We went to Paris. David was so tight-fisted, bumming cigarettes off the camera operator all the time. I said, "I'm a bit bad like that. I get those cigarettes off Chris Jones, and then I'll go and buy him a few. 200, whatever, you know?" David just went, "Hmm." He said, "Would you like to have lunch?" So, we went to have lunch. At the end of lunch he said, " Do you take American Express?" "No, Messieur." David said, “Oh God, we're going to have to pay cash." It's 78 Francs, whatever it was. I said, "It's not 78, it's 178, David. He said, "Oh God” He said, "I'm living in the past." I said, "You're living in the past," and he said, "I prefer it that way. Have you got any cash?"
Grant Leboff: And you paid?
Drayton Bird: He said some very interesting things, going back to the remark I just made. He took me to dinner at Clairidge's once, and, not wishing to waste money. He said, "Do you have any starter?" I said, "Yes." I said, "Hurry up."
At one point he said to me, "Do you know the secret of success in this business, Drayton?" I said, "No, David. What is it?" He said, "Charm." He was so charming, so charming. He taught me all sorts of stories about how when he had the Helena Rubinstein account. He used to sit on Helena Rubinstein's bed and sell the ads to her. He said she would never buy anything unless it had got her picture in it.
I'm talking about his hard working ethic, his hard work ethic. I was at home one day, and the phone rang. At the other end it said, "David here." I said, "Yes, I know David. I recognize your voice." He said, "What's wrong with Ogilvy and Mather?" I said, "I don't know. I'll give it some thought." It so happened that I was writing a report for Martin Sorrell as he then was. So, he said, "All right," and then he said, "Oh, by the way, Merry Christmas." It was 10:30 in the morning on Christmas Day, and he was ringing me as what was wrong with Ogilvy and Mather.
Grant Leboff: So, he's a workaholic? You said, he was.
Drayton Bird: He was a workaholic. I think, from what I could gather, it didn't help his marriages too much. He was just quite remarkable, and he'd say things. I remember one of the most terrifying days of my life. I was in Barcelona, and I had to do a presentation to the directors around the world or whatever. David was going to be there, and I was terrified. I couldn't sleep. I came down to do my talk, and David wasn't there. I'd got all excited for nothing, and then suddenly he arrived. I've heard afterwards that he was being interviewed by someone. He said, "Sorry, I've got to stop now. I've to go and listen to a friend speak." Very flattering. I didn't know this was happening. He was something else.
Grant Leboff: What made him so good do you think? You said he's a workaholic, and he just worked very, very hard.
Drayton Bird: He was exceptionally well read, very cultured. I stayed at his chateau 2 or 3 times. 3 time actually, and very nice paintings, loads of books. He also knew a lot of people. I had to go once, and my wife, Cici, stayed. I do remember her saying one of them was Baroness Rothschild at the dinner party. He was very well connected. He was very quirky. He could be very unpleasant to people. He would sometimes do things for effect. He got me to go to India, and the first time I went there, I was taken to a very small restaurant in Delhi. The told me that David had been there, and the chef had come over to introduce himself because he knew David had been a chef and said, "What would you like?" David said, "Cornflakes, please." Ken Roman said to me, he said, "I know he did that kind of thing just for effect."
He was, I don't know. I was very lucky that he liked me. I'm still not entirely sure why, and I've got tons of stories about him. I actually wrote something once about the things, I've never done all proper reminiscences because I only go to know him towards the end of his life. I remember I went to a garden party in Tring which is run by the guy who ran Ogilvy Mather advertising in Europe, very nice man called Peter Warren. God, he used to get me drunk. David introduced me to someone. He said, "This is Drayton Bird. He knows what works in advertising." I said, "No I don't, David." I said to him, "Very flattering, but you usually know what won't work."
He was something else. Nothing that I can think of. The only person that I knew in my business career that to me had the same stature of personality, obviously Martin Sorrell done exceptionally well, and Martin was very charming and said nice things about me, but was my client at Reader's Digest, Victor Ross who is also incredibly cultured and extremely funny. The first time I had to do a presentation to him, the people at the Digest said to me, "By the way in Mr. Ross did not like your presentation, he will not say anything. He will just fall asleep." I became very friendly with Victor, and I tried to introduce him to David and sent David something that Victor had written which I thought was very good. David wrote back and said, "I didn't understand it." Again, he would sometimes claim that he couldn't understand things.
Victor also was pretty remarkable. I went to stay with him. He lived in a place called Walton Mills. Perfect home with a sort of little water mill as you went in. That time, my wife, I don't drive, my wife drove. We had a Bentley Continental, a Bentley turbo. He said, "Can I buy your magnificent motor car? So, he drove around. Afterwards, he said, "Let me show you my pride and joy." He took me to this room about the size of this room actually, almost exactly this size, lined with books. He said, "I don't know whether you know it, but I collect books. Only one kind of book. I collect autograph books." I said, "Really?" He said, "Look over here. Here are all of your books with your autograph on them." All my books, I'd only written four!
One of which is beautifully written, but nothing happens. A novel, I wrote it when I was young. My partner, Marta said to me… started reading, said, "When does something happen?" I said, "Marta, nothing happened." I said, "It's beautifully written, but nothing happened. So anyhow, he took me to the end of this room, and there was an alcove probably half the size of that and so deep with books. He said every single book here was written either by Sigmund Freud or about Sigmund Freud or about his siblings because my mother was a student of Sigmund Freud. He showed me one book. He said, "Look at this. I can tell you exactly when this was written. This was signed because this sibling died 3 months later." You can see the date of the print when it was printed. Apart from David, he was the most interesting. Advertising is full of characters.
Grant Leboff: Yes, of course, and you worked with lots.
Drayton Bird: The most creative person was a guy called John Webster. Occasionally, on late night television, you'll see a program of the 100 best commercials, and you'll be amazed how many of them were done by John Webster. I worked with him for a while. It was impossible. He would sit there and say nothing for an hour, and then he'd just go, "What if we did so and so?" I don't have that self-discipline.
There may be small changes to the spoken word in this transcript in order to facilitate the readability of the written English
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