Paul Arden

“He looked at the same things, yet saw something different.” Graham Fink pays tribute to a true one-off

I once remember showing Paul Arden [who died last month, aged 67] an ad I’d just done. He stared at it for a few moments, took a few large puffs of his cigar and bumbled “The client will love it … it’ll sell lots of product … it’ll make the brand famous … and you’ll probably win lots of awards…. B-b-but it’s wrong.”

It was another typical day at Saatchi & Saatchi. Paul Arden, the man of iron whim was at the helm of the creative department. It was one of the most exciting times of my life.

If you listened to what he said you were in trouble, rather, you had to feel what he meant. It was not uncommon for him to blow out a whole campaign, then hold his head in his hands for ages, until someone had the good sense to move the logo to the opposite corner, at which point he’d leap up and approve the lot.

His taste in art was sublime. He’d always crop a photograph better than you could. He looked at the same things, yet saw something different. Stuck for an idea, he’d often open up the nearest photography book on any page and started chanting a made-up rhyme. “Bees knees, meany me’s silly beans, dizzy peas….” and so on…. getting faster and faster. He’d just go off on these amazing tangents. If you were brave enough to go with him, you’d usually find something fresh and new. Sometimes you just looked fucking stupid. Paul didn’t care. He’d just start again….

Another time I came back from lunch to see that Paul had pinned up my latest ad on his wall. I felt proud, until I realised he was tearing it apart, literally. He called both Roger Kennedy (Saatchi’s head of typography) and me into his office. “Roger, re-set this headline in Bodoni, Caslon and Perpetua.” He then asked me to blow up the copy 5%, 10%, 15% and 20% on the stat machine (Apple Macs didn’t exist). Paul then chopped out the picture with his scissors and got his pa, Jeanette, to reduce it in equal increments. Twenty minutes later we had a whole series of new layouts on the wall. Paul was shouting ‘Yes, Yes’ one minute, then ‘No, No’ the next. Any ego I had was now well trodden into the carpet. Paul then re-cropped the photograph, got another writer to write a few extra words here and there (possibly with lots of descenders if it looked better), made the logo bigger (if it was ‘make the logo bigger’ week)  and basically drove us all nuts. Finally at the end of the afternoon a dazzling layout stared back at us.

Oh how I miss those afternoons, those crazy days where you never knew what Paul would do next.

He wound people up, was usually insulting, often said the wrong thing (usually deliberately), all whilst perhaps singing a silly song. Through the power of art direction he made even the average ad appear great.

I’m sure heaven is already a better-looking place.

Graham Fink worked under Paul Arden at Saatchi & Saatchi. He is now executive creative director of M&C Saatchi


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