A tribute to the late director Barry Myers

Director Theo Delaney remembers his former colleague Barry Myers, the acclaimed director who died this month.

Barry Myers, one of the great commercials directors, has died. He made countless brilliant commercials across the full range of genres for all the great agencies and repeatedly won all the major awards.

His early advertising career was spent in the creative department at Lintas but he quickly became obsessed with the idea of becoming a filmmaker. Like all new directors he found it tough at first, both in terms of getting the hang of it and of getting hired.  

But he was determined. He told me of sitting at home in the evening watching TV and bursting into tears. When his wife walked in and asked him what had upset him he said he had just seen a great commercial and he didn't think he’d never be able to make anything as good. 

80'S Anti Smoking advert - directed by Barry Myers and inspired by Ridley Scott's Blade Runner..The First Natural Born Smoker advert

He was wrong. He went on to make some of the greatest ever, from laugh out loud comedies to sumptuous visual extravaganzas. From the late seventies to the early nineties he was among the top handful of directors in the world and had his pick of the best scripts and the biggest budgets. 

Those early tears were indicative of what made him so preeminent. He simply invested everything in his quest to be the best. His total, uncompromising commitment sometimes manifested itself in scary fashion. His disarming charm and kindness would quickly make way for his ferocious temper if you got in the way of his vision. Many are the agency and production personnel who tried it and suffered his memorable, furious invective.

I met him as a young journalist and watched him on set. He had a remarkably assured demeanour and an almost preternatural ability to make the right call. He’d look at a shot with the naked eye and tell the camera assistant exactly what lens was required and his first choice was invariably correct. His crew feared him and loved him in equal measure, and he gave many a great cameraman, production designer and producer their first break. 

Barclays - Mr. Grey (1984, UK): directed by Barry Myers. Winner of a Bronze award at the British Television Advertising Awards.

When I became a director myself I joined his company, Spots, and we became friends. He very much adhered to advertising’s old work-hard play-hard ethic and we had epic boozy lunches sometimes several times a week. Oxford educated, he was extraordinarily erudite and worldly and we argued a lot about politics. 

He was essentially a libertarian who found concepts like progressive taxation appalling, although you couldn't help wondering whether some of his more outré views were put forward as provocations for his own amusement. 

But he had sound humanitarian principles. When British productions first started using South African locations he took a shoot to Johannesburg. On the lunch break in a house he looked around and couldn't see any of the black crew. The locals explained that the blacks weren't allowed to eat in the house and were outside in the midday sun. So Barry marched everyone outside to join them.

Smirnoff Black - People's Army (1995, UK : directed by Barry Myers while at Spots Film Services.

He taught me loads about directing but none of it was technical, it was all about attitude. He said that as soon as you started to bend to the will of your clients or your producers you were dead. You had to regard them as the enemy.

He told me about filming a huge budget Pepsi commercial on a beach in Miami in the eighties when a big shot creative director flew in from New York to give him the benefit of his wisdom. Barry was not impressed. He drew a line in the sand – not the metaphorical kind – and the next time the creative director crossed it Barry simply left and flew home to London. First class, naturally.

Pascall Hanky Panky - War and Peace (1979, UK): directed by Barry Myers while at Spots Film Services

Like his great contemporaries Ridley and Tony Scot, Alan Parker and Adrian Lyne, Hollywood called on Barry in the late eighties and he was hired to make the studio sci-fi movie Skip Tracer. After a few days filming, the studio execs took him aside one morning and said that they had seen the dailies and wanted him to do more over-the-shoulder shots.

True to form Barry told them where to go and the next day they fired him, effectively ending his movie career there and then. Barry blamed himself. He said that Ridley Scot, the one other director he revered, would have been more pragmatic and humoured them. "I wasn't classy enough to do that", he said. But I never met anyone in our business classier than Barry Myers.

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