Once upon a time machine


This year's A Listers jumped at the chance to fast-forward and rewind in their time machines to a future of world domination or some fondly remembered private pleasures. But, in 2014, seemingly only a dog could soften the blow of coming back down to Earth with a bump, Jeremy Lee writes.

This year's A List questionnaire is, we have been reliably told, the most challenging ever.We already know where you elite lot go on holiday, who your friends in the business are, how you unwind and even how many lavatories you have in your house, as well as the obvious stuff such as your career highlights and your favourite ads. So, in a bid to keep things fresh, we sought inspiration elsewhere… and in the clichéd style so beloved of The X Factor contestants, this year we invited advertising’s A Listers to embark on a journey. Twice, in fact.

First, we gifted you an imaginary time-travel machine to take you anywhere you wanted. This was a particularly welcome and prescient present to a number of contributors such as Christian Hinchcliffe, Leon Jaume, Andy Jones, Paul Kitcatt and Camilla Harrisson, who had already identified it as something that would make an improvement to their lives – which shows, if nothing else, how well we have got to know some of you over the years through your toilets, your friends and your favourite media. The prospect of where the time machine would take you, however, was a sticky one for many others – none more so than Nils Leonard, who (and pass the smelling salts – no, make that the sick bag) would use it to return to the orgasm he had in northern Spain. A lovely thought, we’re sure, but maybe not one for sharing in this book (assuming, of course, that it was a shared and not a solitary experience). And while we’re on the subject of the bawdy, quite what David and Sarah Golding got up to at midnight on 4 June 2006 is also something that you’ll have to ask them – but we feel confident in saying that you would have to be a voyeur (and a specialist one, at that) if you wanted to accompany them on the that particular trip back in time.

But advertising isn’t just about the pleasures of the flesh, of course. Many A Listers promised that they would undertake societal good, such as saving the world or, in David Prideaux’s case, recasting the Sykes-Picot Agreement that shaped the post-imperial Middle East (although the 1966 World Cup final also proved a popular destination for many, which says as much about the state of England’s national football team as it does the dewy-eyed nostalgia of the ad industry’s elite team). Others, such as Mark Boyd and Johnny Hardstaff, would get in their time machine and try to change the face of political history by influencing the outcomes and moral compasses of Alex Salmond and Margaret Thatcher (depending on your point of view, these could also be filed as an undertaking of societal good).

But – and here we feel the need to send our apologies to Messrs Hinchcliffe, Jaume, Jones, Kitcatt and Ms Harrisson – a time machine is, for the time being, a mere fantasy and one that we are unable to deliver on just yet.

A rather more likely destination (just five short years away) is 2020. But, perhaps given the sobering – if admittedly unlikely – prospect of the world ending tomorrow (another bleak question that sent you, quite rightly, scuttling back to your families), it may be a fanciful place. And given Moray MacLennan’s answer to what he’ll be doing that year, Maurice Saatchi, Bill Muirhead, Jeremy Sinclair and David Kershaw must he hoping so.

By then, MacLennan claims that he will have wiped out the M&C Saatchi founding partners in a Godfather-style spree, that WPP and Publicis will have collapsed after the demises of Sir Martin Sorrell and Maurice Lévy, and that he will now have supreme power in the advertising world. It’s certainly a fantasy, although one in which the rest of the ad community is likely to have similar misgivings to the M&C boys. Jim Bolton finds the prospect of 2020 taking him to a very, erm, dark place as well. "It’s a little hazy... it’s very dark... worms are crawling from my anus... am I dead? Or do I just have worms crawling from my anus? Both are a worry," he answers.

But, to counterbalance this darkness, there is also, thankfully, the inevitable light, revealing that advertising has not completely taken leave of its senses. After all, it’s still a great business, isn’t it? Few will disagree with Richard Huntington’s assessment that you can spend your life working with clever, creative, funny and attractive people. More than one of our respondents also use that hoary old line that it’s "the most fun you can have with your clothes on" – something that Leonard might like to reflect upon (incidentally, Lindsey Clay has a cleaner, more family-friendly version: to her, it’s the most fun you can have outside of netball). And, to Paul Lawson, things are more prosaic still: it’s still a great business because you can be drunk at your desk at 10am – something that might explain why the recently promoted Katie Lee finds her meditation lessons so satisfying, if not necessary.

To those of you with long memories, Campaign concluded in The A List last year that 2013 was the year of the goldfish – no two days were the same. But, this year, the goldfish has been supplanted and replaced by the dog. Everyone wants one to improve their lives – who knew that something so easily obtainable would make such a profound difference to the industry’s collective well-being? It’s almost worth the IPA investing in a therapy dog scheme, similar to those offered in old-people’s homes or palliative care units, at meetings of the IPA Council.

It’s sadly unlikely, however. We learn that Paul Bainsfair is more concerned with obtaining a golf swing like Rory McIlroy’s. But, given the prospect of Bainsfair spending 2020 asleep in a driverless car on the M3 (a chilling thought for anyone with a holiday home down in the South-West), some leisure time is allowed before this accident waiting to happen occurs.

Well, it could have been the year of the dog but, alternatively, maybe it was the year of the bear. Delightfully – and showing that touch of creativity and cleverness that Huntington wrote of earlier – given a hypothetical invitation to give a TED talk, some of you couldn’t resist making a joke about turning the debate to one on Big Ted, Little Ted and Jemima of 70s children’s TV series Play School fame (yes, we’re looking at you again, Lawson). Jonathan Burley, however, let us down rather on this one and chose to deliver his on his specialist subject of Silk Cut 100s – and anyone who has ever walked up Rathbone Place will confirm that he truly is a world expert on that matter. But, generally, you wear your wisdom lightly; it is what marks you out and is why we like you.

But that’s not to say that the A List questionnaire isn’t also an excuse on our part to sneakily find out new things about you. So, what gems did we uncover through this year’s opportunistic peek into your worlds (it’s easier – and more ethical – than phone-hacking)?

Despite being creative and clever and funny, there is also a contradictory but inherent conservatism when it comes to spending money – property, particularly in London, was the favoured area of investment if you got your hands on an ephemeral £1 million. Maybe our expectations of things more outrageous were blunted by our time machine – if so, then it’s our fault.

But there are still some things that even the most casual cultural observer might find interesting. For instance, Tess Alps has learned how to stop melons dropping off (although her knees are proving rather more problematic to cure); Russell Ramsey is aware that he is clever and genuine but has no social skills; given the choice, Robert Senior would be Johnny Hornby for the day so that he could steal his clients – which is something that Ben Fennell would also do to poor old Charles Vallance. Robert Ffitch, meanwhile, would like to be James Murphy for a day – although his reasons are rather more touching and self-effacing. "James Murphy is, annoyingly, very bright, very successful, very rich and very nice. It would be good to enjoy that combo for 24 hours," he writes sweetly.

You all have at least one of these qualities and, in many instances, even several – Murphy isn’t the only one who can claim a full house. It’s why you are all members of this year’s A List. And, assuming that MacLennan doesn’t finally break in the next 12 months and conduct his unnecessary slaughter, we hope to see all of you here again next year. We look forward to finding out what animal the next 12 months shapes up to be – and hope that it doesn’t turn out to be a pig of a year for you. Enjoy the "journey".