Happy 50th Birthday D&AD
Can you decode them all?
“D&AD? That was my idea” (Unabridged version)
Like any great creative project, the invention of D&AD can be traced right back to formative and collaborative years at college. Central School of Art, now part of LCC, was the place where the bright young British minds that co-created D&AD learnt their trade. Seminal figures in design history such as Alan Fletcher, Colin Forbes and Derek Birdsall all studied 'Publicity Design' under Typography tutor Anthony Froshaug, with Terence Conran, Ken Garland and Theo Crosby all contemporaries. This golden period at Central in tandem with the MA course at the ‘College’ — the Royal College of Art — was to form the backbone not only of D&AD, but of the British creative industry over the next half century.
The story begins with an unlikely collaboration between rival principals of what were to become two of the most important design studios of the 1960s, Birdsall Daulby Mayhew Wilbur Associates (BDMW), and Fletcher Forbes Gill (F/F/G). Re-united from Central School in competition for clients such as Mobil, Penguin Books, IBM, and Pirelli, these two pioneering ‘design groups’ put their energy and enthusiasm to the age old problem of any fledgling studio: getting known. Their work spoke volumes, but to get hired in Europe and in the US, something deeper was required. A way of showcasing the very best work in London.
After forming BDMW in 1959, Derek Birdsall set in motion a chain of events which ultimately went on to create D&AD. With encouragement from friend, client and landlord, John Commander, Art Director and man of many talents from Wisbech based printers Balding+Mansell (B+M), he founded the Association of Graphic Designers, London (AGDL). BDMW rented studio space at the London office of B+M, and Derek and John often spoke of the need to show the world the revolutionary work going on in Britain at the time.
Early members of the association included Birdsalls’ partners at BDMW, Alan Fletcher and Colin Forbes pre F/F/G, and a selection of some of the most important designers and Art Directors of the time, including Dennis Bailey, Romek Marber and Arnold Schwartzman.
Significantly, the fledgling creative industry of late 1950s Britain existed in a void. There were no design competitions of real note and only one, largely unsatisfactory gong remained available in Advertising: The Layton Awards. A situation so different to the crowded industry mantelpiece we have today. In Design, there was the Society of Industrial Artists (SIA), headed up by fabled publicity designer FHK Henrion, and boasting luminaries such as Mischa Black, Abram Games and Milner Grey amongst their dusty, but respected ranks. As Bob Gill recalls, ‘they were very much the rolled up umbrella and bowler hat brigade. I came to England in 1960, and I'd already judged a couple times for the New York Art Directors Club. When I arrived in London I thought, why can’t we have something similar here? London had nothing comparable. So we thought we’d better do something about it. We wanted to find a way of showing the best work’.
Bob Gill, a bold young Art Director and Illustrator from Brooklyn, New York, came to London to work short term for advertising agency Charles Hobson, but stayed 15 years. ‘It was just a wonderful bit of dumb luck. I was going on a holiday to Europe, and there was an ad in the New York Times saying there was an English agency hiring an Art Director, and I thought it made much more fun to work in Europe than just have a holiday. They hired me, and I never looked back, it was just the most wonderful experience’. Bob fell in love with the city and his drive lit the fire that still burns inside D&AD today. With enough energy to set the sixties swinging on his own, Bob decided to leave Hobson’s – hiring his own replacement before resigning. He then began working with a young but prolific Alan Fletcher, fresh from freelancing at Time-Life in New York, and recent Head of School at Central, ex-student Colin Forbes.
Fuelled by the relative success of the first AGDL initiative, ‘12 Designers’, the exhibition, ‘17 Graphic Designers, London’ was planned by Derek, Alan and then AGDL chairman, John Commander at Alan’s client’s Time-Life Building in Bond Street.
At around the same time, an impatient Bob Gill persuaded new partner Colin Forbes (fresh from the formation of F/F/G on April Fool’s Day in 1962), to go on stage against Henrion in a debate about membership for the SIA. ‘Because we were obviously the young turks, they asked us to join. I knew… these people weren’t the right vehicle to make some magic happen, so I suggested we have a debate for the fun of it. I suggested ‘The SIA is Full of Shit’. The SIA didn’t like the title, so we compromised on ‘Why join the SIA?’. Forbes took the negative argument and we had a debate at a hall in London’.
Colin remembers the SIA well, ‘Anybody could join. When they had an exhibition, there were no juries. It wasn't very well organised. When we did our exhibition we did it at the Hilton, and they were at the Seymour Hall Swimming Pool!’
The young Ken Garland (ex-Editor of Design Magazine and by now of Ken Garland Associates) was there, ‘I was at the back of a conference room when there was a sort of debate going on about why younger designers should join the Society of Industrial Artists (SIA). I went along because some of my chums were going, but all I wanted to join was a trade union’. Ken’s famous ‘First Thing’s First’ manifesto was actually drafted in that room, encouraged by the debate. ‘The manifesto was written in the heat of the moment. (It was) meant to be an alert to the fact that monies, which were pouring into visual communications of all sorts, seemed to be going down the wrong channels. There were all sorts of things that we could have been about and we weren’t. I hardly expected it to raise any interest but I got this terrific reception.’
Bob Gill’s importance in the story is confirmed by his recollection of a meeting in the summer of 1960 with yet another Bob from New York now working in London, Bob Brooks, from advertising agency Bensons. Gill remembers, ‘Bob couldn't get enough of us guys, he wanted more US Art Directors in his agency. He asked me to get the word out, so I put an ad in the New York Times in September 1960, asking for US Art Directors to join us in London. I held interviews in a hotel room in Manhattan. One of the first guys I saw was Lou Klein, and I hired him (to replace me at Hobsons)’.
Bob Geers (at the time working for Bensons NY), was on the other side of the table, “I was one of the people Bob interviewed. It all went fine and he even came around to visit my wife. It sounded pretty good. He said he was going to think about it, he had other people to see and he’d let me know. Now, at the time I was taking a night course with a man named Ivan Chermayeff and he and I got along pretty well, and on that Monday night there was a Poker game and Bob Gill and Ivan were there. The subject of my interview came up and Ivan said to Bob, “you’re making a mistake hiring him, he'll want your job before the day is out!” Bob Gill then called me up and said he’d found someone else!’
‘I talked to my boss (at Bensons NY) and asked to go anyway, and Bob Brooks, who was already here, put in a good word for me’, remembers Geers. ‘So, I came to London to work for Brooks (by then at Benton & Bowles), and I was looking for Bob Gill so I could break his arm, but he was much bigger than I thought!’.
Alan Fletcher, then 30, was intuitively socialising with Art Directors in London’s advertising agencies, seeing no division between skills. Famously inclusive and generous, Alan’s easy friendships with his contemporaries discovered a shared impatience in London’s advertising scene. With only the Printing and Block supplier’s ‘Layton Awards’ to win, Advertising was also desperate for a bigger platform for its work and envious of the developed awards schemes in the US at the time. The Layton Awards shone a light only on the agency itself, and not on the individuals whose work was rewarded. Dissatisfaction with this lack of individual credit was discussed in a meeting with Alan Fletcher by Bob Brooks, and his friend Colin Millward, ex-Colman Prentis & Varley and by now Creative Director at an important new London agency, Collet Dickinson Pearce (CDP).
‘We got together, says Brooks, ‘and Colin bought in Malcolm Hart, another Art Director with Bensons at the time’. ‘Malcom Hart was something else!’, remembers Gross, ‘He was working with a writer named Bob Pethick and they were doing some of the best stuff around’.
Malcolm remembers the circumstances leading up to meeting the designers well, ‘Bob Brooks of course had just come from NY. Colin Millward was a rather retiring kind of person, he was very talented, had very good ideas. He was good at organising people, he wasn't given to a politicising view of things, but Bob was. Bob was very determined’.
‘I was at an agency (Bensons) where the writers were called the ‘Literary Department’. I was Group Creative Head, but I had a typewriter. I wrote down ideas, rather than try to illustrate these dreary bits of copy. I nearly got fired because of my arrogance and attitude. Until Bob Pethick came from Canada, that's how it was. He was appointed Group Copy Head and he had to work with me. The ‘Literary Department’ put out a pamphlet explaining how advertising should be created which circulated in the agency. Pethick took out his cigarette lighter and burnt it right there and then. That was the spirit. We were very determined’.
‘The designers had the same difficulties in a way. All their ideas were contrary to common practices at the time. We both had that going for us. The designers of the that time, Birdsall, F/F/G and so on, they regarded themselves as artists. They looked disparagingly at us Art Directors—we were the hucksters you know—doing commercial stuff. The differences soon disappeared and nobody gave a shit whether you were a designer or an art director after a time.’
This important meeting is recalled by ex-D&AD president Mike Dempsey, then a young designer of just 21, ‘I remember Alan telling me that there was a graphics exhibition on the back of the ‘17 Designers book’. (Around that time) he met with some advertising guys about setting up something. He was dubious as they seemed to want to run the show!’
Finding broad agreement, Alan Fletcher, Colin Forbes, Bob Gill, Derek Birdsall, Bob Brooks, Colin Millward and Malcolm Hart devised the early systems which were to define the new Design and Art Direction Association of London (DADA). Colin Forbes remembers tight times, ‘We were all beginning and nobody had any money’. Derek confirms, ‘It started off very much being Graphic Designers, but the Advertising agencies took over mainly because they had all the money!’
Alan re-worded a NYADC entry form, Colin Forbes designed the famous D&AD logo as Alan remembers, ‘He found a cube of wood, stuck the four characters on adjacent sides and photographed the angulation. John Commander was elected Chairman (with Derek Birdsall (Hon) Secretary) and the first show was held in June 1963 and mounted by Bob Gill and students overnight on the mezzanine of the Hilton Hotel’. Derek recalls John’s chairmanship, ‘Balding+Mansell commissioned a lot of work through F/F/G and us (so) he became a focal point. He undertook the role with enthusiasm. He had worked for the Design Council, so he had a real knowledge of the arts. He didn't come from a background of Art or Design, but he evolved into a very good commissioner of design.’ F/F/G designed the call for entries and BDMW partner George Daulby designed the very first ‘annual’, a 16 page A5 pamphlet with no pictures at all.
Derek remembers helping Bob Gill pin up a Penguin book Jacket called ‘Chosen Words’. ‘ “Jesus, this is great!", He shouted over the boards to Colin Forbes who was pinning with Alan Fletcher, ‘ “Colin, did we do this?”, “No, you bloody idiot, Derek did it!” ’.
The first DADA show in 1963 featured 403 items of print and 38 films from approximately 3,500 entries. The first judging panel was a mix of AGDL members featured in the forthcoming ‘17 Graphic Designers, London’ show; Derek Birdsall, Jock Kinneir, Romek Marber and Germano Facetti amongst others and US Art Directors Robert Brownjohn, Bob Brooks, as well as John Pearce of CDP (Colin Millward’s boss), Bob Geers and Bob Gross. Just one DADA gold Award was bestowed upon a short film for Shell by Geoffrey Jones, with 16 Silver Awards presented at the Hilton by Lord Snowdon.
The original DADA Awards were probably designed by designer Marcello Minale in 1963. Actual size black pencils, beautifully presented in a black ebony pencil case, were made in two varieties with a gold and silver leads by The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. The pencils were referenced in Minale’s subsequent design of the 1964 and 1965 Certificates, featuring an early precursor to the world famous Minale Tattersfield Provencialli ‘scribble’ of 1968.
‘The sun shone, everyone could see what everyone else was doing. Standards were established. Clients became engaged. Creativity acquired value’, remembered Alan.
In early 1964, chairman John Commander stepped down while DADA faced financial peril. Alan Fletcher recalled the DADA general meeting in a gloomy Bloomsbury hotel, where John announced he was resigning. ‘Bob Brooks nominated an art director at J Walter Thompson called Edward Booth-Clibborn. My recollection is that a young guy stood up at the back and we were all so relieved we voted him on.’
Edward returns the compliment, ‘Alan did it all without any ulterior motive. Most people did it, because they had a reason, but Alan didn't. Nor did Colin (Forbes). They really were really quite extraordinary in that way. They were entirely alturistic, that was the genius of those guys.’
Soon after Edward took the helm, the current DADA awards were ruled to be too costly to produce, and too fragile to handle. In an incredible quirk of fate, new Committee member Lou Klein — interviewed by Bob Gill for emigrée status in 1960 — stood forward and volunteered to re-design Marcello’s pencil icon, and the chunky, all wooden black and yellow pencils we covet today were born, cleverly evolving the original silver and gold varieties.
If Bob Gill had never placed that ad… ‘ha! I never even thought of that!’, he laughs.
DADA’s educational instincts first surfaced in 1965 with the first D&AD Workshops taking place in advertising agency Charles Hobson’s basement, with sessions hosted by Bob Gill, Brian Tattersfield (a student of Gill’s at the RCA), Lou Klein and Germano Facetti.
Designed in 1966 by Ernö Goldfinger, the Trellick Tower was home to a glittering array of designers, art directors, musicians, actors and celebrities including Fletcher, Forbes and Gill, Robert Brownjohn, Terence Conran, Tom Jones, Bamber Gascoigne and Lionel Blair among others. Bob Brooks recalls ,‘The tower where they all had apartments was really an interesting place, because they were all there. That was in Notting Hill, it was the first tower up there’.
‘A whole bunch of them were in there’, says Bob Geers, ‘but I was in a basement flat in Fulham!’ The modest and witty Geers was to team up with Brooks’ co-Director at B&B, Bob Gross and set up London’s first ‘hot shop’, GeersGross in 1969, boasting Homepride flour as one of its legendary accounts.
1967 saw Edward lead DADA to a major exhibition called ‘It’s Great Britain’ which travelled to New York and several cities in the US, spreading the DADA story and influence. Bob Gill left a fast-growing Crosby/Fletcher/Forbes/Gill for something simpler. Eventually joined by new partners Kenneth Grange and ex-BDMW assistant Mervyn Kurlansky, Crosby/Fletcher/Forbes became the world famous design group Pentagram in 1972.
In a final irony, 1967 also saw DADA join Sir Roland Penrose’s ICA in the Society of Art Organisations, and share office space at Nash House, Carlton House Terrace with the very same SIA (Now SIAD) from the debate in 1960, before moving to Graphite Square and on to its current home in Hanbury Street in late 2011.
Edward Booth-Cibborn was to steer the DADA ship for 29 perilous and challenging years, with it changing its name to ‘British Design & Art Direction’ and then finally to the more international, ‘D&AD’.
In 1972, Alan Fletcher became President of the organisation he helped found and won D&AD Gold two years later. Fellow founder, Colin Millward was awarded the organisation’s first President’s Award in 1976, Alan Fletcher and Colin Forbes were joint winners in 1977 and Advertising Art DIrector, photographer and then feature film director, Bob Brooks finally achieved the same accolade in 1984. Original founder Derek Birdsall has incredibly never won a D&AD award in a legendary career spanning all five decades, but at 78 years young, there is still time.
Alan Fletcher passed away in 2006, and is held in the highest regard by the creative industry worldwide. Alan’s ex-assistant and family friend Quentin Newark, now creative director at Atelier remembers his special qualities, ‘It was not only that his work was damn good, but it was how warm he was as a person. How much effort and time he put into being friends with other people. (His wife) Paola was always catering for people… he was constantly having people round for supper… any Designer or art director of a certain calibre who was travelling to London was round at Alan’s. I think that lay at the birth of D&AD. A mixture of ambition, trust and friendship. I don't think that could have been built by people who had purely professional instincts.’
Thanks to the sound platform of collaboration laid down by these pioneers and enhanced by many, many more over our first 50 years, D&AD looks proudly forward to the next 50 and beyond.
D&AD today is the world’s pre-eminent Design and Advertising Awards, a registered charity with a global reputation for excellence and education. The 50th Awards have once again enticed the very best Design, Advertising and Digital projects from more than 68 countries and required the traditional integrity and dedication of its 50th jury to distinguish excellence from more than 20,000 entries.
A D&AD award’s integrity is still the secret of its desirability. Bob Geers once famously confided to Alan Fletcher, ‘I paid (my friend and eventual partner) Bob Gross a fiver to get one of my ads in (in 1963). Without any luck, AND he kept the fiver!’
Mark Bonner and Heidi Shepherd from GBH conducted new interviews with Derek Birdsall, Bob Brooks, Edward Booth-Clibborn, Mike Dempsey, Colin Forbes, Bob Gill, Bob Gross, Ken Garland, Malcolm Hart, Michael Johnson, Bernard Lodge and Quentin Newark during Spring 2012 to attempt to achieve a definitive account of the history of D&AD’s formation. Information has been consolidated from all 49 D&AD annuals to date, as well as numerous books and magazines. Mark would also like to thank John McConnell, Pentagram and Sarah Fakray for their generous help in writing this article.
First published in abridged form in October’s edition of Creative Review.