Barry Myers, one of the preeminent commercial directors of British advertising's golden age has died at the age of 79.
Spanning four decades from the seventies to the naughties he won every international award available in an industry that prized and rewarded artistry, craft and innovation. This was a period when British commercials were giving as much pleasure and had as much cultural influence as the programs that they paid for. Barry's contribution to this creative movement can't be overstated.
His British Airways ‘Boardroom’ was as much a powerful satire of 80s ruthless business culture as it was a powerful marketing tool for the company that commissioned it. Like the best craftsmen and artists in all ages his work fulfilled its patrons' needs and then transcended them.
He was one of a remarkable crop of British directing talent, which included Ridley Scott, Adrian Lyne, Alan Parker and Hugh Hudson. All of whom had very distinctive styles. Unlike them Barry was eclectic and his style was not distinctive - but his films invariably were. His unique talent was to combine his visual, performance and narrative skills so that each served the other. He was as gifted at making viewers laugh as he was at making them gasp.
Barry made hundreds of commercials so choosing which best represent his talents is a daunting task. Here's a few - with links to the films:
• 1978 : Olympus (Snapshot)
• 1978 : Tefal (Tefal Superfryers - Gas Masks)
• 1979 : Cadbury's (A finger of fudge)
• 1981 : British Airways (look up Hong Kong)
• 1984 : Barclays (Mr Grey)
• 1984 : Radio Rentals (Love Scene)
• 1984 : Wrights Coal Tar Soap (Macau)
• 1985 : Public Information Film (Smoker of the Future)
• 1985 : Hovis (Watermill)
• 1985 : Cadbury's Flake (Sunflowers)
• 1988 : British Airways (Boardroom)
• 1989 : Volkswagen Golf (Le père et l'enfant)
• 1990 : Citroën ('Spike')
• 1993 : Renault Clio (Le Paradis communiste' et 'L'Héritier)
• 1995 : Smirnoff (People's Army)
• 1996 : Axe (Jalousie)
• 1996 : Mars (L'indien)
• 1998 : Schweppes (Fièvre de la jungle)
• 2004 : William Lawson's (Sharon Stone)
If you watch any one of these little movies you'll see why Barry was the greatest features director Britain never had. He had his chances but wouldn't play the game. On the set of the one feature he did eventually get he famously told the U.S. producer, "I don't do over the shoulder shots." He was fired the next day. His uncompromising attitude to agencies and clients was legendary - he used to say, "Just as you're about to throw the ball - they tug your sleeve." He learned how to stop the sleeve tugging. On one epic Coke shoot at a beach location he literally drew a line in the sand a few feet from the camera and told the senior client, "Over this you will not step."
It was always about the work - never about the status. And as the countless gongs testify - in the end everyone benefitted from Barry's stubbornness.
Caspar Delaney of RSA writes:
"I remember one agency creative director telling me that, when presented with a script for a huge, important and lucrative client, him saying ‘damn, this has got to be good, damn, we’re going to have to use Barry Myers’. Despite this reputation he was hugely popular in the industry and even those who encountered his fearsome single mindedness on the film set or in the cutting room remained good friends, they respected the standards he set and his determination to protect them.
Barry set up his production company Spots in 1972 with his business partner and Producer Tim White, having already had a hugely successful career as an agency copywriter and creative director. The company flourished and opened offices in New York, Los Angeles and Paris. Those who worked for Spots formed a great loyalty to Barry and Tim, hardly any ever chose to leave.
I joined as a clueless 17 year old runner in 1986 and became Barry’s Producer a few years later. It was the best university/film school I could have wished for and Barry was my tutor. He taught me about the industry and about life and how to enjoy it, how to be decent and fair. I can only strive to live up to the standards he set but I owe him my career and a whole lot more. He will be sorely missed."
I also owe Barry my career and a lot more besides. He plucked me out of my ad agency career when I was 25 - he paid for my test films and then paid me a retainer for two and a half years before I got my first script to direct. I doubt if anyone has ever owed so much to another man's stubbornness.
Barry's middle name was Zenith - his parents must have been very wise.
Barry Myers is survived by his wife Vicky, his three children Lesley, Max and Joe and his granddaughter Hannah.