In 1977, thanks to an introduction from my favorite tutor at
Brighton Art College, I was asked to interview for a position at
the famed BBC in London, in their legendary in-house design
department...in-house, that is, before a certain Mrs. Thatcher did
her best to eradicate all traces of creativity from the
institution... but don't get me started about THAT woman. I was
brimming with attitude and was offered the job... quite a feat for
someone straight out of school. I subsequently discovered that they
didn't particularly like my work (what little of it there was) but
they knew of my prowess on the soccer field, and realized that I
would be a valuable asset to their team, the G-Men.
I showed up at television Center and was directed to a small
basement underneath the BBC cafeteria. I can still recall the
delicious smell of bacon and chips that inhabited our studio. The
Presentation Graphics Department. Inside were ten desks, grouped in
pairs, but it was a miracle that you could find the desks, so
covered was the place in junk. It was like the Old Curiosity Shop
meets Bladerunner, devised by W. Heath Robinson. All of the desks
were occupied except two, and I sheepishly sat down at one of them.
“Hello, your partner is Bob Cummins, but unfortunately he injured
himself in his garden this weekend and needs a hernia operation, so
you'll have to manage by yourself... here's a title sequence that
we need finished by Friday... good luck.” So spoke Oliver Elms the
leader of this motley crew (and, by the way, the designer of the
WORST ever title sequence in BBC history, “The Good Life”). Baptism
by fire, obviously. Gradually the other teams introduced themselves
and I found myself amongst the most amazing group of people I'd
ever met. Characters one and all, and, as I discovered, a superbly
Oliver, in charge. A gentle patriarch from a much more civilized
Tom Brooks. Unassuming... but could turn his hand to anything in
the department, and was able to spin gold from twine. Great
Rick Markell. The Jack-the-Lad of the group, always on the
lookout for “material opportunities”.
Roger Ferrin, who always demanded an idea on every job.
Prodigious talent. Prodigious drinker.
Pete Wayne. A character out of Dickens, who would hang his dirty
underwear out to dry on the radiator next to my desk. For years,
Oliver thought it was MINE, but was too polite to say anything.
Mina Martinez. The only woman in the group, and a devotee of Ian
Dury and the Blockheads.
Bob Cummins (the hernia victim) who meticulously assembled his
animations while rolling his own cigarettes and listening to Test
Match cricket on the radio.
John Jefford, our studio photographer, whose “assignments”
nearly always involved aspiring actresses shot in faraway
And Graham McCallum... the resident genius, who made everything
look supremely easy. I fell instantly under his spell.
Knowing nothing at all about animation, I somehow survived that
first week, and seemed to prove myself to the others. Over time I
worked with all the different members of the team and grew to
appreciate their unique individual merits. But the greatest lesson
I learned there, and one that I carry with me always, is that they
showed me how vital it is to use all of your outside influences and
interests in your work. That ideas count for much more than showy
layouts and that an atmosphere of friendship and good humor must
inhabit any worthwhile creative studio environment.
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branding, personal essay, mentoring, students
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