Tony Cullingham, RIP
The industry reels at news of the tragic passing of Tony Cullingham, the legendary leader of the Watford Advertising Course and BBH Barn.
The advertising industry is in a state of mourning today at news of the tragic passing of Tony Cullingham
The legendary leader of the Watford Advertising Course and BBH Barn has died at the age of 66.
A much-loved husband, father and son, Cullingham was also a mentor for so many during the 30 years he was programme leader of the ground-breaking Watford Advertising Course. An inspiration behind creative leaders and teams across the UK industry, he was dedicated to finding and nurturing talent and helping people free their creative minds.
It is no understatement to say that most of the creative departments in London are staffed thanks to his unwavering commitment to creativity and diversity over the last three decades and more.
Describing himself on LinkedIn as “half candle, half mushroom, half geranium”, he was a truly original thinker, famed for employing unusual methods that challenged his students and ultimately elevated people from all walks of life to reach their creative potential.
When the Watford course closed in 2021, Cullingham went on to lead BBH Barn, Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s creative placement scheme, alongside Helen Rhodes, ECD and former Watford alumnus. The course was designed to give individuals without industry experience, and from diverse backgrounds, opportunities in advertising.
Cullingham’s gift as a storyteller was unparalleled. Earlier this year, in an interview with shots, he captivated readers with the tale of his grandad’s time in a prisoner-of-war camp and its influence on his perspective of fear. He once candidly admitted, “When I entered the industry, I was a jerk. A fearless jerk. I walked straight into Saatchis in 1979 and asked the CD for a job in the creative department. I knew nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
The young kids with their creative ideas will sort out the mess us old gits have passed on to them.
Sharing his prophecies about the future of advertising, he remarked:
“The West’s consumerism is unsustainable. We are now working out the difference between consumption and consumerism. Consumerism will diminish in the West and continue to rise in the East as the emerging nations expand their middle classes. Those with money will seek brand conscience. And those without money, well, they won’t care what brand the bucket is under the hole in their roof.”
Ultimately he was optimistic about the role of creativity in the world: “The young kids with their creative ideas will sort out the mess us old gits have passed on to them. Brands that kick the planet in will be booted out. It will be a slow process. We are not quick at adapting to the new, but we will get there.”
In 2021, during an in-depth interview, he shared intriguing snippets from his life journey.
Starting with his birth in Harrogate, Yorkshire, on July 9th, 1957, he amused with memories of giant spiders laughing at him in outside toilets and his early creative output – aged five he wrote interesting notes to the milkman about cows.
We are grieving the loss of a profoundly inspiring teacher, a fearless mentor, and a cherished friend.”
His left-field approach to the arts was evident as a school child; “The teacher asked us to paint the World’s Last Ever Painting. I snapped all my paint brushes in half and handed in a blank piece of paper. He sent me to the Head to be spanked with a slipper. He actually spanked me with a frozen fish.”
Briefly flirting with the theatre as a career, he wrote drama and slept in a cemetery for three nights to prep for an acting role as a corpse in a Tom Stoppard play.
Helen Rhodes commented:
“Tony was a legend, a one-of-a-kind, with the most unique teaching style of honesty, unpredictability, and passion.
“It is no understatement to say that most of the creative departments in London are staffed thanks to his unwavering commitment to creativity and diversity over the last three decades and more. This is his legacy. This is all Tony. He left us too soon and he will be so deeply missed."
Karen Martin, CEO of BBH announced yesterday:
“We plan to honour Tony’s legacy with a moment of remembrance and celebration of everything he achieved, and we will share an update on those plans as soon as we can, but for now, we are grieving the loss of a profoundly inspiring teacher, a fearless mentor, and a cherished friend.”