Great writing: John Le Carre

The BBC version of John Le Carre’s gripping ‘The Little Drummer Girl’ is coming to a climax. But can film ever do complete justice to a book when it’s so brilliantly written?

When Schulmann greeted you, his whole right arm swung in on you in a crab-like punch fast enough to wind you if you didn’t block it. But the sidekick kept his arms at his sides as if he didn’t trust them out alone. When Schulmann talked, he fired off conflicting ideas like a spread of bullets, then waited to see which ones went home and which came back at him. The sidekick’s voice followed like a stretcher-party, softly collecting up the dead
— from John Le Carre's The Little Drummer Girl
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Remembering Paul Arden

Art director extraordinaire Paul Arden died 10 years ago. In April 2008 he was remembered in a collection of obituaries by people who knew him. This was my contribution: a tribute, and also an explanation of how an art director helped make me a better writer. 

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To describe Paul Arden as a one-off would be an understatement. Even in the hilariously bloated 1970’s and 80’s, Paul’s behaviour in a number of advertising agencies seemed like prima donna-ishness of a truly biblical kind. He proudly announced on many occasions that he’d been fired half a dozen times, and only the all-conquering Saatchi & Saatchi were really able to accommodate him, even then.

The difference between him and many others, though, was that while they behaved the way they did because they could, Paul behaved the way he did (mostly) because he cared deeply about the work that left his office. Paul was never a Mad Man cliché. His excesses were quality-control driven. He always believed that advertising could, and should, be something simple, beautiful and entertaining. Something that the public who saw it would take pleasure in. And he was prepared to put his job on the line to make it happen. No one who saw a Paul Arden ad would ever feel sold to, or grubby. His art direction alone enhanced the spaces it appeared in. The quality of Saatchi’s output had always been high, but Paul helped take it to a level of sophistication it hadn’t achieved before.

Not that Paul would ever have described himself or his beliefs in such a wordy way. His famous, spluttering inability with words was the flip side of his relentlessly gifted eye. He had a tendency to wander into your office, rolling like a sailor with his slightly bow legs, puffing on a cigar, look at an idea on your desk and give you helpful directions like: “Green. It should be green.” Then walk out leaving you scratching your head. Frequently he would look at something you showed him and say, after a pause: “Oh my God. It’s brilliant. Brilliant.” Then there’d be another pause: “No it’s not. It’s shit. It’s shit.”

Paul broke artwork over his knees to stop imperfect work appearing, locked clients out of shoots, responded to clients’ complaints about their logos being too small by removing them altogether, and blew fortunes on experimental photography. The phrase I’ll most remember him for is “No.”
He was always prepared to say “No” to anything he thought was mediocre.

Underneath the carefully cultivated eccentricity, comedy bullying and so on, he was basically a kind and generous man, very shy I think, with a naughty sense of humour and a healthy touch of cynicism. I last saw him at a photography exhibition in London, when he was still able to come up to town. By this time his books had started to take off, and he was kind and encouraging about my own writing, giving me a number of tips about getting published that I won’t reveal, but will cherish.

For those of us who were trained by him at Saatchi & Saatchi, and who worked under his hands-on regime as struggling young creative people, he was more than an inspiration. In some ways he was like a parent, and like most children I for one never thought to thank him for all he did for me.

He was quite often insane, impossible, ruthless, manipulative, scary even. He almost fired me once, and there were times when if I’d had a gun I would happily have shot him. But like so many others, I owe my career (and a reluctance to compromise) to him.

He was a unique and truly remarkable man.

Mission statement for Conde Nast

Recently finished mission statement/brand manifesto project for the extremely stylish and iconic owners of Vogue, Tatler, GQ, House & Garden, Wired ... and here is the extremely stylish and iconic Mr Nast himself:

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New project with RSA

Excited to be starting a new writing project with Ridley Scott Associates London ...

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