Remembering Ringan Ledwidge

The highly respected and much loved advertising director, who helmed award-winning work for the Guardian, Audi, Levi’s, Sainsbury’s, and many more, has died aged 50 from cancer

Ringan Ledwidge’s advertising work was marked by an ability to turn a 60-second spot into a slice of mini cinema that, while keeping the brand’s message front of mind, always hinted at much wider narratives. He brought a very human, emotional touch to his advertising stories, which could be funny, sexy or packed with pathos.

This is nowhere more evident than in his ad Clowns for Audi, which turned a spot to promote the car brand’s technology features into a poignant saga starring a series of tragicomic comedians. In another recent spot for Audi, he used humour to sell its futuristic e-tron range, deftly avoiding all the typical car ad clichés, while in his 2014 Life Story ad for Barnardo’s he drew excellent performances out of a series of young actors to show how the charity’s work can save lives.

Ledwidge’s work was occasionally controversial – his 2014 Sainsbury’s ad depicting a truce between British and German soldiers in World War One on Christmas Day sparked a national debate about brands co-opting such stories (the ad now seems prescient as a forerunner to the age of purpose marketing). And it could make you think differently about brands and sectors you thought you knew – in 2012, in the heavily awarded Three Little Pigs ad for the Guardian, he offered an illustration of the complexity of the media landscape today.

Ringan Ledwidge on set

Born in Canterbury, Kent in 1971, Ledwidge became interested in the creative industries at a young age, sparked by an early visit to the cinema to see Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 aged six – “it totally inspired and freaked me out in equal measure. I didn’t speak for a week,” he told CR in an interview about his career in 2018 – and a particular interest in photography.

“I’ve always been obsessed with people’s stories and the human condition in general,” he said. “As a kid, films let me look into lives I could only imagine so I guess in a way when I first picked up a camera around the age of ten I was always looking for a story to tell. I was a pretty shy kid so somehow the camera made me feel protected.”

After initial discouragement at school – “I remember telling a school career advisor that I was into films, photography and art and he suggested I become a painter and decorator. I’m not adverse to a bit of painting and decorating but it wasn’t really what I had in mind” – he went to Ravensbourne College to study visual design and communication, and following a stint as a photojournalist, made his way into advertising.

He credited Steve Wallington (who founded the Photography Movement) as a significant early supporter, as well as a number of advertising creatives who gave him advice and a leg up, but he was clearly tenacious from the start. “I set about researching art directors to see who was doing the kind of work that felt relevant to what I was doing and then relentlessly set about hounding them down until they agreed to see me,” he told CR.

Ledwidge was always very committed to the craft of filmmaking, something that perhaps links back to his early training in design at Ravensbourne, which featured an “arduous” first year and a “hardcore typographic course”. “Turns out though that the course was brilliant for me,” he said later. “It taught me discipline, extreme attention to detail and how there can be real joy in simplicity.”

He brought this detailed approach into his work, always elevating his ads with filmic touches. This at times led to frustration over the changing nature of the industry and its dwindling budgets. “There’s this vast hole called the internet and everyone, clients included, seem to be hell bent on filling it with utter shite that no one watches,” he told CR in 2018. “Why have one beautifully crafted, insightful, thought-provoking piece of content watched by millions when you can have 50 pieces of mind-numbing branded nonsense watched by 52 people and a goldfish? Answer on a postcard.

“But having said that I think it’ll come good. It’s brilliant that it’s easier for young filmmakers to pick up a camera and shoot – technology is allowing that – but the sooner brands realise that in this ever-increasing swamp of content, the work that’s well-crafted, brilliantly written and entertaining cuts through dross, the better for all of us. There’s a ton of talent out there and it’s time they were given their heads again.”

Photo from the set of Audi Clowns. Image courtesy Unit+Sofa
Photograph of the creation of the clowns’ cars. Image courtesy Nick Foley-Oates

As well as directing (which alongside his advertising work included music videos and a feature film, Gone, in 2006), Ledwidge co-founded the production company Rattling Stick in 2006 alongside director Daniel Kleinman and producer Johnnie Frankel, which over the past 15 years has directly nurtured and supported new talent entering the industry.

Ledwidge will be remembered both for his outstanding creative work but also as a cherished collaborator who will be sorely missed by the advertising and production communities, not least Rattling Stick. “We already miss him dearly,” the company said in a statement. “No one will ever come close to the legend that he is. We could sit here and write up all the accolades he has won, or go into the magic he added to everything he touched, but that doesn’t feel right just now.

“Anyone that knew Ringan knew what a special, wonderful man he was. He will never be forgotten, and the industry has just lost one of its best.”

Ringan Ledwidge, 1971-21; rattlingstick.com

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes