It's only advertising. Nobody gets killed. The old saying about boxing champions "They never come back" does not apply to advertising. At the beginning of the seventies, Tim Mellors was the beloved wunderkind of British advertising. Then Mellors went into directing and failed. After an attempt to set up his own consultancy, which went bankrupt, Mellors ended up in the world of alcohol and drugs. Seven years back, Charles Saatchi and Jeremy Sinclair got the prodigal son back into their office. Down there at Charlotte Street Mellors became a terrific Creative Director, producing excellent work for British Airways, The Independent, Alexon, Lanson Champagne and KP Nuts. Three years ago Mellors accepted an offer from Publicis to become their Executive Creative Director. At Publicis Mellors worked a miracle. With campaigns such as Pepe Jeans, The Guardian and Abbey National he managed to turn old-fashioned Publicis into a creative hot shop, doubling the agency's billings. Once success is there it's hard to stop. Soon Mellors will join the creative agency Gold Greenless Trott as joint owner. Hermann Vaske talked to the legend of British advertising and president of the jury of the 1990 Cannes Festival.
L.A: A story they told about Mellors, when he worked at Saatchis: If he can't settle arguments with account guys he throws typewriters out of the windows. Is that true?
Mellors: Yeah, it's true. I still have a lot of very nasty arguments with account guys. But I may not throw typewriters.
L.A: You throw account guys instead.
Mellors: I've been throwing punches since I've been here. Yeah, I throw them instead. It's the eternal aggression between the creatives and the account guys.
L.A: A holy war?
Mellors: It's an eternal war. And it doesn't change. And if you care about what you do you're always gonna be in trouble with that. I used to get drunk and do a lot more. But ... (shrugs). My i attitude hasn't changed, my behavior might have. But then the business has changed in the last six or seven years. The whole business has changed.
L.A: Could you elaborate?
Mellors: It's much more business-like. It's much tougher. There are less people in it. This year will be an incredibly difficult year in this country. Well, I have taken some people on. Probably we are one of the only three agencies in town who actually have taken anybody on recently. Mostly including agencies like saatchi they are getting rid of people as fast as they can. We've just been fortunate in the fact that we've put on all the business. But it's gonna be a tough year. And in a tough year people keep their heads down. Which I think is an expression from the trenches.
L.A: What makes you go into the trenches Why are you creative?
Mellors: Because I was born this way. I think anybody who does this job or is in . any way creative ... it's an inborn, a given talent. Now many people in life don't exercise that talent. I think there are far more creative people on earth than have any kind of outlet. You only have to look how many painting groups and how many film makers exist. We just happen to be lucky that we get paid for it. Sometimes I wish that I wasn't because I feel that it gives you a sense of dissatisfaction. We are born with a sense of dissatisfaction. A restlessness, a searching thing that is painful. And it's also in this business, in the creative side of this business, this eternally being offering up something . from your heart or from your soul, from within you. And having people reject it is like putting on a newborn baby and people saying "Oh, ! don't tike to look at that:' And that happens on a daily basis. So no wonder that the most insecure part of the advertising business is the creative department. And of most businesses the creative department of advertising agencies would be in the top 1% of nervous, neurotic and kind of self punishing people ... But that's what makes it bloody interesting.
L.A: Are you saying that creative people are masochists?
Mellors: Yes, there is an element of self-punishing in it.
L.A: So do you think that creative people are really satisfied when their creative director turns their work down and says: "Throw it in bin and do it all over
Mellors: Yeah, they like that. See, I don't believe in that principle of directing, of being a creative director. But a lot of people want that. They want you to turn their work down. I expect in Germany 100% would want you to turn their work down. And get a good whipping. Here it's only 99%.
Mellors: But you know I can't be dealing with that way of doing it. Because I think I like to make people responsible for their own mistakes. You learn fuck all by doing things right. Except just how clever you are, what you learn is by doing things wrong. Restarting it, doing it again, restarting it, doing it again. And if you remember what Jeremy used to do. He allowed us to make a mistake. Fr Give a little notch, make another mistake. Give a little notch. Then, when you got there, you felt you got that. I learned that from him and I have been trying to behave in that way. Anybody can go around with a big whip and say: Just fucking do that. Do it the way I told you:' And then I would have a lot of clones here doing exactly what I want them to do.
L.A: But that only works with people who leave their brain with the agency's receptionist every morning. Where do you see the benefits of Jeremy's system?
Mellors: It encourages and improves you at the same time. And yet if you do something, if someone does it wrong, I tell him: "You've done it wrong. But have you thought you could do it this way?" I don't have any firm ideas of what is great or what is good. I believe if you li take for instance Jean-Baptiste Mondino, he has the element of genius in him. He doesn't know where it's coming from. Now that is a very indulgent, self-indulgent way of working, but it's brilliant for him and it works extremely well. It cannot work in advertising, straight advertising, because there are tremendous financial pressures.
L.A: Apropos pressure. We're getting a little bit under pressure with the cassette here. The other guy I talked to spoke so much that I'm running out of tape. Have you got a cassette?
Mellors: Yeah, there is probably one in my office.
L.A: Let's take this one and tape over Jimi Hendrix.
Mellors: No, no, no, 'cause I'm singing that at the Xmas party.
L.A: Come on, you don't want to sing that hippie music.
Mellors: No, no, no. It's coming right back again. I got that cassette from my son and he's fourteen.
L.A: You said you're singing Hendrix at your Xmas party?
Mellors: Yeah, I'm singing his version of "Wild Thing:'
L.A: Hendrix did a version of "Wild Thing?"
Mellors: I never realized that he did it until my son gave me this tape. It's a fantastic version of it. My son is absolutely obsessed with Hendrix. Weird, isn't it?
L.A: Let's try to find an analogy between music and advertising. Some songs go into the charts and stay there others don't. Some advertising will be remembered, other won't. What turns an ad into a hit?
Mellors: The only thing that you could say that would be common to all of the things that are any good is that you remember them out of a morass of other stuff. That's the first criterium.
L.A: What about the attention-getting devices?
Mellors: Well no. There are a number of things attention-getting that you don't remember.
L.A: It goes in here and out there.
Mellors: Yeah, that would be simple if it was as simple as attention-getting. It has to have the attention-getting ability but you need to be able to retain the attention over a period of time. And that's quite rare. The way you do it is through humor or empathy or wit or subtlety or intellect or booziness or simply by doing what's not been done before. It doesn't matter how you do it, but it has to have the quality. It's the same with records. li You know this song, "Wild Thing': was done by a number of people. But there is something about the way Reg Presely did it that the others don't have.
L.A: What's that?
Mellors: He was from down the south in this country. They are really yokels. Now in Somerset, or further down in Cornwall, there's a famous recording session where you hear them speaking and they say: "You sing a bum note." And he says: "No, he didn't sing a bum note." And they argue for minutes about singing a bum note. And then you hear "SMASH" at the end of the thing. And people put that out as a bootleg tape.
L.A: I have to admit that's an interesting story. But what is it that distinguishes Hendrix' version of "Wild Thing" from the Troggs?
Mellors: Well, there's something within that, about the way they sing it. That was really naive. I mean look at the words: "Wild Thing, I think I love you. But I wanna know for sure.... Wild Thing, you move me." That's fucking stupid.
L.A: But it hit people's feelings.
Mellors: Yeah, and that's what's good. And when Hendrix does ir , he does it dirty, down and dirty. He really makes you think: "Wild Thing. I wanna fuck you." That's what he's singing. He takes the same thing and moves it, you know. And that's the same with ads. You can take the same theme and do it in a lot of different ways. And what comes out can vary. But there's no hard-and-fast way of doing things. I don't believe that there is. Now there's a school of thought that says a certain kind of humor works.
L.A: You said there is no hard-and-fast way of doing things. You can verify that thought again in the field of music. Look at Trio's "Dadada:' which was number one in the British Charts in '82.
Mellors: Yes, yes.
L.A: Just two letters that really show anything goes. You really can't be more simple, more naive.
Mellors: But that's it, that kind of minimalism. Why is that appealing? You could intellectualize it and say: "Because inside us there is this note that we recognize' But the reality is because it's against' overly produced things. And it's go some kind of mesmeric quality.
L.A: There are overloaded films an there are overloaded ads. And there' overloaded music. Yes and Rick Wakeman for instance .
Mellors: I used to buy that. I used to buy his records and think they were marvelous. They were the first theme records. He did it on the wives of Henry VII and he did different pieces. I used to think that was interesting. But then I also found the Mothers of Invention very interesting, which was a parody of exactly that. I mean Frank Zappa was a band leader basically who knew how to take the piss. And that's what he did. There is the interesting analogy. To break the mold you have to know the mold to start with. A lot of advertising is done to try and be mold-breaking. Why can't people fucking do it right to start with? But that's true of painters as well. If you look at the early work of painters it's always representation or usually representation. Usually shows incredible dexterity and ability to paint, to be painterly. And then what they do, they work away from that to become simple and childlike. But first you got to go this bit to get to this bit.
L.A: But they do that by intuition an instinct, don't you think?
Mellors: They do. George Lois, that you did this thing on, George Lois is very instinctive Art Director. He, as he says, smashes you in the face with his stuff. He's a kookster but he has degree of subtlety.
L.A: A street guy from the Bronx i Madison Avenue.
Mellors: Yeah. And I love his work because it comes from here. He shoot from the hip. But he knows what he's doing. It's not naive in the sense that h isn't aware of what he's doing. He is well aware. You only have to read his book to know just how considered and calculating he actually is.
L.A: He knows the language of the streets.
Mellors: That's a lot to know, isn't it Some people know different elements o what George Lois knows. But few know what he knows. He was the art editor o "Esquire" when it was at its best, before Jean-Paul Goude. Goude was then the next art editor. But Lois was the best because he introduced that style of bits and pieces. You know he's full of childish enthusiasm. But I don't think it's as unconscious . You know Arden is quite con considered. He knows what he is doing. But it's coming from the inside, it's coming from instinct. Tony Kaye comes from instinct. I've always got on with people who I really shouldn't get on with Because I'm communicating with then not through their head but through their gut. And good creative work of any kind gardening, painting, music, advertising, good journalism, good television always comes from instinct. It comes direct from the gut to the page, from the heart to the page missing out the head. And that's one of the reasons Germans aren't great at advertising. I used to have to go over from Doyle Dane to try to sell our work to the Germans. No fucking chance! 'Cause it was all this. (Mellors points to his head.) I said: "But this is funny! You know you like this." And they said: "Oh no, ve do no licke zis , becos it dosn't meet zis , zis and zis ." And I said: "Oh fucking forget zis , zis and zis . What about zis ?" (Mellors points to his gut.)
L.A.: Well, Germans like to say "But."
Mellors: Yeah. "But." And then they say: "Research things in this way." Research has got nothing to do with this. (Mellors points to his gut.) You don't sell to people through their heads.
L.A: You know you have to understand that, during the Third Reich, many creative and intellectual people left Germany. In the Second World War Germany lost a whole generation.
Mellors: When we beat you during the war. 2:0 so far.
L.A: Come on, you know yourself what losses in art, film and literature Germany had to cope with in 1933.
Mellors: Why is it? Fassbinder is one of the fucking greatest directors ever. I have seen all his films. He's an amazing director. Now he is not from the head, there's no bit of fucking head in his films. It's all from here ... a tortured man. Basically a junkie. A suicidal junkie who got his own way in the end. Or Wim Wenders. Why is it in films that you've been able to do that, but not in advertising?
L.A: Mr. Mellors, after an interesting career you are now the Creative Director of Publicis, a Parisian agency which became London's creative shooting star. Do you feel as if you're sitting in a Trojan horse?
Mellors: From my point of view it's been very useful because all of the English agencies and even CDP have at least an alliance with a European agency. From my point of view this may be a lot easier for us because we are a French agency to start with. So we don't have to go out looking for an alliance. The London agency is our base. My competition is other London agencies. And in that sense we are one of the jewels in the crown of Publicis, the French agency.
L.A: How do you see the future of European advertising?
Mellors: One of the things that I've started to do a lot more is to send people to other offices within the Publicis chain. You know, to Holland or to France or to Switzerland.
L.A: You avoid Germany on purpose?
Mellors: I always avoid Germany on purpose. I just don't think that they would want us there. And we had no request to go and help there. God knows why. I think they can probably work alone. But essentially we are well placed. It's gonna go European in 1992. Just how much I don't know. But from my point of view we are already set up to go that way. So we don't have to worry about it. So my attention therefore is being alert. You know, one of the problems here is all these advertising agencies have been floated on the stock exchange, but we're not. It's a privately owned company in Paris. We don't have any worries about stock here. They own us and that's it. So it gives us an independence compared to many people in this market. One of the reasons I was very keen to change the name from McCormick/Publicis to Publicis is that. It is Publicis that is a European agency. And that Irish-American name tacked in front of it made it a bit indigenous to England. You know what I mean?
L.A: I can imagine.
Mellors: So I was very keen that we should actually take off the parent name.Now a lot of people pooh-poohed that and said: "Oh, you are really part of a group then." I said: "We are anyway. Why don't we come upfront and beat it?"
L.A: Do you think that English advertising will have to adapt to the mediocre European standards in 1992?
Mellors: In theory that's the way it will go. But do you think the English will? The fear is the standards will be watered down. The pun seems to be the only thing that doesn't carry across boundaries. Yet visual puns seem to work quite well. But the general standard of humor has already been exported through English television programs, American and English films. So there is much greater awareness. I mean this is me, an Englishman, telling a German what he already knows. The reality is the division isn't that huge. You know, this year I was sitting on the jury in Cannes. I mean people like are not there is more or less universal approval of certain films. Last year there were some really good Brazilian films. I didn't know the fuck what they were talking about. I hadn't the faintest idea. But I knew the idea. Some ideas are good ideas anywhere. You know what I mean? They had that kind of edge to them.
L.A: Not all decisions in Cannes this year went down so smoothly. The Public Service Commercial "Concentration Camp:' which shows pictures of German concentration camps and pictures of starving people in Ethiopia, got a lot of whistling and booing from the advertising people. Half an hour later the same people that had just stopped booing were laughing over their filet mignon and mousse au chocolat at the gala dinner in the Palm Beach Casino. And later they were applauding when 600 pounds were shot up in the air in a ridiculous firework display. Isn't that hypocritical?
Mellors: Yes, that's more than hypocritical. When Paul Arden and Dave Trott showed me the commercial for the first time I cried. I stood up very strongly for this commercial. If it will only be seen on this Cannes reel by all the advertising people, then it has done its job. But by booing they looked the other way.
L.A: Well, it's only advertising.
Mellors: Yeah, it's only advertising. No body gets killed.
L.A: Mr. Mellors, you have done lots of extraordinary commercials so far. Which ones do you like best?
Mellors: The British Airways commercial with the seat directed by Tony Scott and, as for more recent stuff, the Abbey National Commercial and the one for Pepe Jeans. Abbey National is a building society and when you do research on banks and building societies you find out that building societies are all grey and banks are all wankers. And basically that's people's attitude towards it. So if you want to give people a good feeling about this kind of thing it has to be a fairly soft centered piece, an emotive thing which is hard to do. So I had the idea with "Abbey Ending."
L.A: Did you write that pay-off?
Mellors: Yeah, a horrible pun. I have a feel for horrible puns.
L.A: Well, as long as your horrible puns appeal to the target audience everything is hunky-dory. A horrible pun is still better than intellectual bullshit produced by a sociologist who got lost in advertising.
Mellors: Yeah, and I do really nasty things to get the brand name in. I thought it would be a good idea to do it like a little bit of poetry that goes with a rhyme. And the idea of getting lightness in naturally implicates kids. The reason for that was the Bugsy Malone movie, and I asked Lionel Bart to write the music for it. He wrote "Oliver': that musical that won the Oscar. It's based on "Oliver Twist." So I had lunch one Sunday with Lionel and Tony Kaye came round and he was playing his bit of music. Rather than having him write the son we have him teaching the kids to sing. You know, not a fabulously rich idea, but quite light. And then we rehearsed with the kids and we shot a tape of all the kids who couldn't sing, and we just keep shooting basically. That's how the fabulous idea came about. (Chuckles) I'll tell you what I wanted to get out of it. I wanted it to be real. That's all I was interested in, that people wouldn't think it's a bank advert.
L.A: A bank advert that was produced in an icebox.
Mellors: Yeah,they try to be warm by having a bank manager who's being nice. I don't wanna use that crap. The Abbey commercial had amazing effects. People who found out who'd done it rang up Abbey National. And rang me up. And we had something like 800 letters from people. And that was really pleasing. My dad in Derby got a photograph with Lionel and the kids and he put it on his wall. Things that advertising people like are not what ordinary people like. And I think that's the biggest kick out of that. I mean something like ~n campaign: ".. I used 'Why not?' as a line it."' Pepe is the other extreme. My dad would not put a picture of that on his wall. I don't know anybody who likes that except my kids, who are exactly what we are aiming at.
L.A: What were the reactions when your Lanson campaign came out?
Mellors: Those ads are simply from the days when I got drunk all the time. It's anti-romance of course. All champagne ads I've ever seen were about people with dinner jackets on. As if that's the only time when they were drinking. You know, when I was in Australia I was personally the biggest importer of Dom Perignon because I used to have parties. I just drank banks and banks of it and certainly didn't have dinner jackets and things on. And the best fun was going on on the beaches. And in the end I used "Why not'" as a line which basically means "Fuck it." And it worked because people could fit themselves into it. And the client hated the campaign. First of all the client hated me because I insisted on black and white photographs and they said they should be in color. And we shot them black and white and had a bit of hand colouring in it and said, they are in colour.
L.A: And the client still wanted dinner jackets and lobsters.
Mellors: Yeah, that's funny. When I was a kid chicken were posh because I was born at the end of the war. And for some reason chicken were one of these things.
L.A: Why is that? Didn't the chicken survive the Battle of Britain?
Mellors: Yeah, the Krauts came over and bombed them all.
L.A: You said you lived in Australia. How did that come about?
Mellors: I had a band in Australia which was fantastic because it was so against Australia.
L.A: What was the band called?
Mellors: The Mad People.
L.A: When was that?
Mellors: Ten or twelve years ago. I managed the people putting off in London because my ex-partner was a photographer and he used to do a little bit of pictures of BilIy Idol when they started - because his studio was off the Kings Road. He did covers for the Stranglers and things like that. And it which basically was the most exciting thing that had happened for years and I thought: "Well, I'm going out there and I'll carry it all out there." It was like dropping a bomb. It was not the thing to do there. The trouble with Australia is it takes time to break through. I joined this company. I was a partner in this Australian agency and I insisted in my contract that I could decorate my own office, and i painted it completely black, and I had all black furniture in this thing. I used to sit there, lock the door and go berserk in there. And I had big speakers on the wall. And they had all these neat little offices and this one where the walls were going like this. (Mellors demonstrates with his arms how the office wolls were moving.)
L.A: Why is English advertising more peculiar than Australian advertising?
Mellors: There is a peculiar off handedness in English advertising that you can't mimic. The two great influences of English advertising is old German advertising. Everything that's German is good. And alternative comedy. I loved Monty Python, and all my friends loved it, but my parents hated it. And that's the recipe, isn't it? And the danger now with alternative comedy is that everybody likes it.
L.A: From English advertising to the English adman Tim Mellors. You were always thought of as being wild and outrageous. Now you have calmed down and you're the boss of a big creative department in a big agency. How did this metamorphosis come about?
Mellors: Not very well. It's been difficult. The problem is that I still like fucking about and I always will. But when you are responsible for forty people your time to piss about is limited. So almost by just sheer limitation of time you do less pissing around and more getting involved with different people's work. Running a creative group is one thing. You know, in the end I had a very big group at Saatchis but it isn't the same as running the creative department where every piece of work stops at you. I'm the only person in the agency that works on every single account. And I don't just mean creative people. The Managing Director doesn't work on every account here. The Chairman doesn't. And none of the account directors do. But I do. And we've almost doubled in the time that I've been here. Suddenly you find, without thinking about it, you've become responsible. Both in the real sense and in the kind of attitude sense.
L.A: What are your criteria for getting new clients?
Mellors: As far as I'm concerned, the only point in getting a lot of new business is to get business on which we are able to do the kind of work I want to do.
L.A: You recently got The Guardian against good competition.
Mellors: Yes, from BMP. Against Leagas Delaney, Howell Henry and Gluck Gutsman. And it's said it's a creative, glamorous account. Not tremendous money but it gives us the opportunity to do really great work. We also got Harp Lager. Lager advertising is the big area for doing funny, interesting ads. It happens to spend quite a lot as well. But that wasn't the main reason. That's for me what the feedback does. You get the good account. It gives you the opportunity and then you get more good accounts because you've done good work on that.
L.A: If the selling artist Mellors were to characterize himself what attributes would he choose?
Mellors: I'm a very clear person. I see very clearly. I'm an emotional person but I'm also clever. But the cleverness is not really head cleverness. It's clever like the way the world is. I am a good leader, a really rotten person on details. I have no idea of details or interest in them. I'm passionate, and I'm passionate still now at 44. I'm still passionate about doing this job. That's the kind of person I am. I am very aware of myself, more aware than most people.
L.A: What expectations do you have of yourself?
Mellors: I want to become a decent person. That's the next expectation I have on myself. I would like to fulfill the promise which I was born with. I was given a lot of gifts as a child but many which I have abused over the years, mainly through drinking and drugs. I used to be an addict, an alcoholic and that overtook my nature. Now that I don't drink or take drugs and i haven't done for over six years I am able to see the tremendous potential I've been given. And my ambition now is to fulfill that. And mostly that's to help other people.
L.A: Why are you ambitious?
Mellors: Well, my ambition in this job is to do it as well as I can on a daily basis. And to see where this leads. Maybe I'll have my own agency. Maybe I won't. I don't really care. It doesn't make any difference. What I would like to do is to try and use what I have learned in this to help people really.
L.A: And how did you help yourself?
Mellors: By getting things wrong. That's what characterized and shaped me. I believe in what Nietzsche said: "What doesn't destroy youit makes you strong."
L.A: Tim Mellors, the ironman?
Mellors: Yeah, and I have made a lot of mistakes. I've been bankrupt, I've tried directing for three years and failed. I had my own consultancy for two years and became insolvent. I've worked for many agencies and I've been fired, sacked six times. Each of these things has made me stronger.
L.A.: Why did the directing fail?
Mellors: Probably because I did it so I could be a director. So that I could have a card that says: Tim Mellors Director. I see this now rather than a fantastic desire to direct. However, I learned an immense amount about how to make television commercials right. It failed because of my own ego. And because I was impatient. I wanted it to happen quicker than it did. I couldn't stand the rejection of friends who I used to know not giving me work immediately. That's what I discovered. You never get anything unless you really want it.
L.A: You mean you have to be obsessed.
Mellors: No, I think obsession is a different thing. It's maniacal. The problem of obsession is you come out at one end of this and realize you may get what you are obsessed by but you've lost your life on the way. That's the danger Tony Kaye is running at the moment. It's the danger Paul has run. Ambition has to be put in a context of the fact that I'm a human being first and an advertising person second. Probably I never will be great in this business for that reason, but I never forget this is only advertising. Nobody gets killed. You know, it isn't great art. It isn't great anything. It's advertising. And I want to do it the best I can. To become obsessed would mean my family, my friends, my sanity could all go by the board. I was obsessed and it led nowhere. It led to a loony bin and jail. That's where it led. Because I could think of nothing else. I want some balance in my life. Yeah, you must learn through things like that. Going back until you think that's fucking stupid. Suddenly ping the penny drops. This isn't gonna work. So my experience is that if I ain't gonna learn it life will teach me. Insanity is making the same mistakes and expecting different results. You know, I kept making the same and then expected to come out differently. That is insanity. Sanity is accepting that you got to change something in order to go on. Sanity is painful 'cause sanity is dealing with reality. The reality is l don't think that I'm a very good writer. I think I'm probably a good creative director. I don't think I'm the greatest person ever to be in advertising. If I'd been born a unique and special individual, as a painter or a musician or something ... Yeah, I know people who are unique and special. You know, Eric Clapton. He's absolutely unique. And he's as miserable as fucking sin because the reality of his life as a human being is in turmoil. He can't relate to people. I mean Kafka is a brilliant writer. But I wouldn't give a fuck for his life, would you? So you know there has to be some balance.
L.A: Are you a man of feeling or intellect7
Mellors: Yeah, feeling.
L.A: Zero percent intellect?
Mellors: No, I've got a few O-levels and A-levels and degrees. But that's not important. The intellect is like the tramlines or the railway lines along which their powerful engine of emotion and feeling runs. For many years I did not have any railway lines. I've realized that my head has laid down some lines that I can roll along and that's a lot easier. It's easier to ride the horse in the direction it's going. But on the other side your experience makes you stronger and deeper. I once went to see a thing on Lennon written by Willie Russell and they had an acid experience in it, taking LSD. Lennon in this show was on acid. And the guy acted it brilliantly and I knew he'd taken acid. When you've taken acid you do know something. There is something that you know that other people don't know. And going through all these experiences in life is very much the same. You gotta go through them to know them. And anybody who hasn't doesn't know what the fuck you're talking about. Many academic people who try to teach advertising know shit.
L.A: What do you mean by that?
Mellors: Many of these advertising teachers are full of crap. I wouldn't want them to teach me anything. I want to be taught by somebody with fire and enthusiasm. Not these bunnies. They came in on the bus. You know, the number 27. And they were on the non-smoking deck at the top. Whereas we were behind the bus screaming and shouting. And trying to smash the conductor in the face. You know, it's two different trips.
L.A: And your trip was the trenches where the grenades were exploding.
Mellors: Yeah. And we were the lucky ones who survived. 'Cause a lot of our compadres didn't. Many of the people I came into this business with, who were like me, they are fucking finished. Some of them are dead.
L.A: How did that come about?
Mellors: Worn out, drugged out, suicides, bad marriages, run off , done geographicals to the Far East.
L.A: To make campaigns for the Dalai Lama in Tibet or fly around in rooms like Sufis.
Mellors: Oh, that wouldn't be too bad. But it's sadder than that. It's very sad. When you start to do well they get in touch with you. And you see them and they are fucked. They are fucked in the head.
L.A: How do you feel when you meet these people?
Mellors: It's terrible. I think there are gonna be fewer and fewer left. But they will be more and more in contact.
L.A: Did you make compromises to survive?
Mellors: It's insane not to compromise. The very fact that I'm not six foot one with white blond hair and a cock that's 14 inches long reminds me that I'm living compromise. You know, I would ke to be perfect but I ain't. So wh makes me think that I was born to perfect. It's insane to think that you could do it uncompromisingly.
L.A: Did you ever want to be sombody special? Did you ever want to stand out from the crowd?
Mellors: I am. I believe I am. I am unique as I am. A lot of people may not see th But I am unique as I am. And as I'm growing older I'm much happier with what I am. You know, I have so ma things that are right and so few things that are wrong, I don't mean that in any egotistical sense. I don't think I'm better than other people but I think if I could be anybody else I'd still be me. I'd still be Tim Mellors. Me. That hasn't always been the case. I used to want to be Paul Newman or John Lennon or Lennie Bruce. Now I'm happy to be Tim Mellors. L.A: If you are happy in your own skin the good work will follow.
Mellors: Yeah, but that isn't the purpose of it. That is a by-product of it. I think that's a bonus. If the objective is to be happy in your own skin. All my life I was comparing my inside with other people's outsides. And you can't win. Now, if I'm comparing outsides, I'm comparing my outside to your outside. That's fair enough. Or if I get to know you I compare your inside to my inside. And that will rather relate to you or it won't. But I'm not gonna keep putting myself down all the time. Whether that makes my work better or not is irrelevant in this sense. Many people think work is the most important thing. Well, it isn't. Karen Gilbert said work is love made visible. Work is an outward expression of what you are internally. if you get yourself right then the work will follow.
L.A: Are you keeping out of the way of difficulties?
Mellors: I never flinch from difficulties. I'm gonna learn from them or be destroyed by them. My track record says it's not gonna destroy me. So I face it. There may come a wave that's so big it will fucking swallow me. But I've been standing in the water for 25 years and it hasn't happened yet. It knocked me over a few times but I've come up.
L.A: Do you get nervous when you think of the big wave?
Mellors: I'm always nervous because that's the great thing about life. Every day you get up and there is another load of worries. If there was no worry and everything was easy there wouldn't be many jobs. Yeah, it's great finding a new solution. That's what creativity is about, isn't it? Trying to find solutions you didn't do before. It's an endless search for a tunnel that doesn't exist anyway 'Cause this is it. This ain't the rehearsal. This is it. You know, most of my life I was kind of rehearsing for when the big event happened. And then I realized it was happening. This is it. What's gonna happen? There's nothing gonna happen. The only big event that is gonna happen is when you die. So what's the point of rehearsing for that? This is it, today.
L.A: But maybe there is this big advertising agency in the sky.
Mellors: So what! In the sky? Fuck it! I don't care. I don't care about that. Has it got my name on the door?
L.A: I could imagine.
Mellors: I don't give a shit. This is it. The fact my daughter nearly broke her nose yesterday roller-skating, that bothers me more than whether a campaign which we've done has gone down the line. Because I'm gonna live with her all my life in some form or other I hope. But the campaign for those biscuits pah! Here today, gone tomorrow.
Hermann Vaske spake to Tim Mellors in London.
This article was printed in Lürzers Archive 1991.
Herman Vaske has collected some of his best interviews, with the likes of Cliff Freeman, Dan Weiden, Paul Arden, and Tim Delaney in his book Standing on the Shoulders of Giants. This interview is not in the book.