God knows I recall plenty more moments from my time at Vickers & Benson, but most of them are too personal or too fleeting to commit to paper.
Very shortly after I returned to the agency, in 1986, we lost the Ford business. The place was cut and bleeding, and it felt as though the golden days were ending. Luckily, there was still plenty of character there to keep the V&B of old on its feet.
I was just 17 when I walked into the agency for the first time in early 1973. It wasn’t just my first real job, it was my introduction to adulthood, and I was totally in awe of everything around me, needing desperately to appear grown-up enough to share the same air with all these pros. This was a real, live, big-time ad agency, and I walked on egg shells for those first few months, waiting for someone to tell me to get the hell out because I had no right to be there. It’s an incredible tribute to Glen and Terry and Roy Hunter, Don and Terry Hill, Judy Samson and all the others, that they let a teenager walk the same halls and work on the same projects they did. I felt incredibly privileged to be there.
My first memory is of sitting in Glenn Arscott’s corner office, trying to land a summer job. I had no portfolio, no experience, and absolutely no idea how out of my depth I was. I still smile when I think about passing Grade 13 poems and short stories across Glen’s desk. Imagine showing Glenn Arscott – Glenn Arscott, for God’s sake – Grade 13 poetry. To this day I have absolutely no idea why he gave me that job for the summer of 1973 ($75 a week: I thought I’d died and gone to heaven), and threw me into the regular rotation with all the amazing people who were there at the time. Talk about falling down the rabbit hole. As Terry once said, “Glenn will never win the Lady Bing,” but he was great to me.
I remember what Don Curtis said at his retirement party in 1999: “In what other business can you work with amazing people, and sit on film sets, and meet movie stars and Prime Ministers?” Imagine me, at 18, writing for and working with Wayne & Shuster. These guys were idols of mine, and there I was, making Johnny Wayne laugh! At my first Gulf Oil shoot, the director yelled, “OK, let’s shoot it!”, and Johnny Wayne answered back, “Shooting’s too good for it, let’s hang it!” My wife’ll tell you, I still use that line.
I guess it makes sense that most of my memories are of the Creative department. Some snippets:
The day Glenn Arscott left V&B in the summer of 1974 (my second summer at the agency), the two of us went over to the Morrissey (great old beer hall just south of the office) for a beer. I can’t remember why it was just the two of us, but I felt kinda privileged. Up to that point, I’d never been much of a beer drinker; I choked the stuff down whenever a bunch of us would go to the Chez Moi for lunch, just to fit in. Anyway, Glenn bought us each two 25-cent beers (what I call Amber Rockets) and, of course, I didn’t want to embarrass myself. Luckily, it was a blazing hot day, I was thirsty as hell, and that first glass of beer was the best thing I’d ever tasted. I drained it, then slammed the other one down, too. There was something about Glenn, you just didn’t want to disappoint him, and that desire to please pulled me through my hesitation. I’ve loved beer ever since.
I was trying to grow a moustache, for obvious reasons. Glenn said he’d seen more hair on a piece of bacon. What a prick. I loved that line. Still use it.
Sitting in Terry O’Malley’s office around his conference table (which was round of course because, as Terry said, “No one can sit at the head of a round table”). Completely in awe of Terry, Judy Samson, Terry Hill, Roy Hunter, and all the others. I think it was a Schick project. What a feeling.
Don Murphy’s made-up porn movie titles: “Shootout at Beaver Pond”, “The Men Who Go Down to the She in Sips”, etc. That got me started coming up with my own: “Wait Until Dork”, “Anne of Groin Gobbles”, and my personal favourite, “Driving Miss Daisy”.
My first scotch, in (I think) Bill Bremner’s office with a bunch of account guys. I was sick as a dog, but I loved feeling accepted.
I don’t know if Terry will remember this, but this was the single finest, most moving thing anyone has every said to me. Shortly after I came back to V&B in early 1986, he stopped into my office. We chatted for a minute (it was 13 years after I’d first set foot in the agency, and I was now 31 years old, but in Terry’s presence I still felt like that kid with bad hair and a bad jacket). Just as he was leaving, Terry said to me, “You know, it feels right, you being here.” Jesus. Talk about cutting through all the millions of other things a person could say to make someone feel welcome, and coming up with the hardest-hitting collection of words imaginable. I will never, ever forget that.
And another exquisite bit of Terry genius…On the day I left V&B to go out on my own, March 1993...Terry knew that I really liked the Captain’s chairs outside his office. When I left the agency, he gave me one of them with a small brass plaque attached to the back that read, “You’re like the wood, always a part of us.” It doesn’t get any better than that.
I remember John Alexander, mostly from the brief time I spent working with him on Ontario Apples. You couldn’t help but love John. He was bigger than life. Unfortunately, my most vivid memory of him is when I told Isabel Moutrey and Mary Wasson that John had died. We were shooting a McDonald’s spot that day called “Sam & Sarah”. They were absolutely devastated. It always seemed incredible to me that John could be felled by a disease like that. He never talked about being sick. He was just there one day and gone the next.