August 16th, 1977 is one of those significant where-were-you-dates, because it’s the day Elvis died. In my case, I was waking up from a hard night’s sleep on a friend’s floor in Cricklewood when I heard the news on the LBC breakfast show. Actually, this day already held significance for me, as it was to be my first day as an adman.
French Gold Abbott was then one of London’s hottest hot-shops and I had been offered a place in their first graduate intake as an account planner. As all who have a connection with advertising soon discover, this world likes acronyms and everybody knew the agency as FGA.
David Abbott was the A of FGA and its celebrated creative director. An Oxford educated writer with Robert Redford looks, David was not just the acceptable face of advertising, but also its most intelligent voice.
That morning when I arrived at FGA’s office in North Wharf Road just on the edge of the west London badlands, the penny dropped that my agency had been bought by a big American firm called Kenyon and Eckhardt who had merged it with a fading UK establishment brand called Colman Prentis and Varley. Amid the obvious continuing merger chaos, David Abbott was nowhere be seen; nor was Richard French (In France, apparently!) but I was told I would be meeting Mike Gold, which later that day I did.
In fact, it was quite some days before David did appear, and when he did, I was lucky enough to have an hour’s induction with him in which he shared his Desert Island Ads. Softly spoken, charismatic and clever, there was also sadness in his eyes.
Soon I was immersed in the crazy world of 1970s advertising trying to rebrand Watneys beer and flog Swedish crispbread, but I was also sensing that all was not well in the world of FGAK&E. There was no still no sign of Richard French, and there was gossip that David Abbott was unhappy. As rumours spread, David wrote a celebrated ad for Campaign that featured the agency letterhead with his name crossed out and which carried the Twain inspired headline: ‘Rumours of my departure have been exaggerated’.
In fact they hadn’t been, and it wasn’t long afterwards that FGA staff were gathered together to hear the news that David would indeed be leaving to set up a new shop with an old university friend.
So Abbott was gone, French wasn’t coming back and even Gold soon would be going. Was this –perhaps with hindsight – excellent character building stuff? Certainly in the few moments I hobnobbed with David, there was tremendous value observing his panache with wordplay, his facility for rhetoric and his comfort with long copy at time when visuals dominated advertisements.
By 1980, FGA had ceased to exist but three new brands now arrived in its wake and needing acronyms: French Cruttendon Osborn, Gold Greenlees Trott and perhaps the greatest of these three, Abbott Mead Vickers.
Paul Christopher Walton
May 19th 2014