Tom Carty and Walter Campbell, who went on to do the famous Guinness, Dunlop tyres and Volvo ads, were my first experience of ‘West End’ creatives. After a day’s work in a small, below-the-line agency I used to work through the night on my portfolio with Tom, Walter and a few others. Tom used to preside over everyone and be the oracle of what a good idea and a bad idea was. He was ruthless in this and because he had an encyclopaedic mind that remembered every ad that has ever won an award, he played the part of cut-throat creative director.

For the first time, they inspired me to really think about advertising as a form of entertainment and excitement. I got bitten by the bug of advertising, trying to achieve work that my anonymous audience would love and enjoy. I knew I would never be as awarded and applauded as them, but they set the benchmark that people [who] were not necessarily from Oxford and Cambridge backgrounds could achieve. 

Tom was a Londoner like me; Walter, a rather poetic but tough Irishman. Both had really big hearts, and were so in love with creativity it was terrifying. Tom once said: “I could have been a good footballer, I could have played for a big club, but in advertising I can be the number one creative.” He was that confident. He saw himself as the Eric Cantona of advertising.

The young ones who can take the work aspect out and just merely play will be the heroes of the future.

As for me, I haven’t done anything remotely heroic. I watched my brother run into the house that was on fire next door to mine, he ran in three times to save three children. I stood outside and watched as it was quite hot.

I’m very much a part of the past with one toe in the future. The young ones who can take the work aspect out and just merely play will be the heroes of the future. That was what it was like for me when I was young in advertising. I felt like I was being paid to have fun. In the age of digital, who those individuals are I have no idea, but anyone who can be resilient, be brave and keep coming back for more are the people who will hopefully succeed.

It’s easy to have a go at the Martin Sorrells of the industry who have diminished creativity. My own wife, Rania Robinson, puts it well: “At a time where innovative thinking and a more engaging approach to communication is even more critical in order to cut through people’s apathy towards brands and advertising, it is unsurprising that advertisers like Procter & Gamble are waking up to the fact that when deals are being structured in a way that devalues creative, where bureaucracy and over-engineered processes are the norm, this is not going to create an environment where creativity and entrepreneurialism can thrive. Two things that they desperately need from their agencies.”

But I also believe an overbearing devil in the industry is people being terrified to come up with truly challenging ideas. No one wants to be caught out as being ‘turkey of the week’ or their work being too different. People are doing unchallenging, slick, polished ideas out of fear of being laughed at, and because of this uncertain time. This difficult economy is making both agency and client averse to doing things differently and I hope at some point we can leave the fear culture behind.