For six wonderful months David Abbott was my boss.
He was just coming up to his retirement and had already handed the day-to-day reins of AMV’s creative department to Peter Souter. But there he still was, sitting in his beautifully tasteful office (the one at the back of the agency, by the way; not one of the big ones overlooking Marylebone Road), sifting through our so-so attempts at continuing his classic Economist campaign.
Although he was never anything but lovely, it was hard not to be intimidated by the reputation, the body of work and the Godlike crown of white hair. I sometimes found myself in the lift with him, or queueing behind him at breakfast, or plucking up the courage to approach him at the Summer Party. On those occasions I was always tongue-tied, feeling some kind of pressure to speak only brilliant words to this legendary genius. Twice I started conversations with him only to have someone else pop over and briefly interrupt us. I would then lose my nerve and dash off, thinking that David would much prefer to spend his time with this other person. However, watching hidden from across the room, I would then see David finish his conversation then look around for me, puzzled at my disappearance.
I can’t adequately convey the contribution David made to the industry (but I’ll quickly mention his refusal to take on tobacco or toy advertising), so instead I’ll point out that he also wrote a brilliant novel. I enjoyed it very much, and wrote to David to tell him. A couple of days later my phone rang; it was David inviting me round to his Chelsea office for a chat, novelist to novelist. Twelve years after leaving AMV he was just as kind and warm, if a little less intimidating. We talked about how we went about our writing then he asked to read my book and wrote soon afterwards to tell me how much he liked it (although I’m fairly certain it wasn’t exactly his cup of tea).
Bye-bye, David, and thanks for making me, and the rest of the world, a little better than we would have been without you.