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The A List 2014: The year of the goldfish

There may be fewer lunches and less sex among our A Listers, but we do have big changes, sporting achievements and more, er, pets.

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The A List 2014

From David Abraham to Guy Zitter, browse and search through Campaign's difinitive guide to who's who in advertising and media in 2014.

Take me to the A List

This year, as Nick Bampton so rightly points out, the A List is, in a very real sense, living through an episode of EastEnders. Some years, we ask our elite to big themselves up and show how clever they are. This year, in an attempt to sort the sheep from the goats, we have invited everyone to put on a hair shirt and undergo a Nietzschean process of spiritual purification.

Thus we’ve asked them to reflect on their low points, contemplate their guilty secrets and recall the people they loathe. Then we’ve set fire to their houses and compelled them to imagine their own funerals, where the cheery incidental music will (like as not) be supplied by the ever-upbeat Leonard Cohen.

Lots of A Listers have noticed that advertising is changing. It’s changing so much that it isn’t even advertising any more. In fact, it’s this year’s grand theme. Change. It’s all around us. "It’s all swoosh, swoosh," Darin Brown explains. "New stuff every minute," Kate Robertson adds, pithily.

And this isn’t just about change per se. It’s not even about the pace of change. The truly amazing thing (an exhilarating realisation but also, when you think about, pretty scary) is that the pace of change is changing. And it’s changing fast.

For Trevor Beattie, this change in the pace of change has reached warp factor – and, sadly, because of this, he can already envisage himself becoming (within days or hours or minutes, he doesn’t say, but sooner than you’d think) as relevant as a dodo.

But that’s not all. Not by a long chalk. This year’s philosophical bombshell (expressed, spookily, by several A Listers) is the Heraclitean notion that, because of all this change-changing-at-the-speed-of-light business, "no two days are the same" any more.

It’s exhausting and mind-numbing, like one of those too-clever-by-half Dr Who storylines penned by Russell T Davies. Or so we thought… until we read Tim Lefroy’s entry. Lefroy’s genius lies in taking a proposition just that one step further; and he has managed to work out that we might all be OK, really, because the more things change, the more they actually stay the same.

And this reassuring thought is given an extra little spin by Kate Stanners. "It’s new every day," she points out. "I can only imagine what it feels like to be a goldfish."

So, there we have it in a nutshell. 2013 – Year of the Aquarium.

Sadly, though, memory loss isn’t the only deficit in this year’s A List. Listen to this.

So, what do you really wish you had, Mark Roalfe? "Hair."

Dan Clays? "More hair."

Simon Daglish? "Hair."

Mark Jarvis? "A full head of hair."

Robert Senior? "More hair."

Anything you’d like to add, Ben Tollett? "I am quite bald."

We could go on. You get the picture.

And that’s not all. The A List is also grouchy because it’s missing lunch. Nothing to do with the car failing to turn up. They are not even pretending to show solidarity with the B and C Listers in the rest of the office, who are working frantically on that last-minute pitch. No. The utter disaster these days is that there are no more lunches to go to.

"The continued marginalisation of lunch [is] something we must all try harder to fight," Chris Clarke states, provocatively. Jo Coombs is even more perplexed. "Lunches – where have they gone?" she ponders plaintively. And Leon Jaume is, as you’d expect, rather more poetic. Lunch, he muses, has been "withering"; and this, he concludes wistfully, is "tragic".

So, anyway, where were we? Oh, yes, goldfish. Goldfish… and social media, obviously. "I hate Twitter," Georges Bermann states, early doors – and it’s true that many A Listers have attempted to share his cautious ambivalence.

(Many have hinted at "the Twitter joke" but, frustratingly, they have tended to make a hash of it. So, if you’re mystified, here’s the joke in full. Patient: "Doctor, doctor, I think I’m addicted to Twitter." Doctor: "I’m sorry, I don’t follow you.")

On the other hand, it has to be said that a surprising number of our respondents, even those pretending to be mystified by the whole social media circus, would cheerfully re-enter a burning building to rescue their smartphones.

Our burning-building question was, it has to be admitted, something of a disappointment. We include a question like this every year as a means of casing the joint. We’re keen to find out just what, in a crude material sense, our elite is made of. Most years, we shake out enough gear to power at least one episode of Antiques Roadshow. But all we amassed this year was Pedro Avery’s toy trains, Napoleon’s washstand (courtesy of Dan Brooke), Nicky Bullard’s chandeliers and a signed Miro print.

Perhaps the A List has finally wised up to us; because they mostly decided they would save their family pets or their photos. Bless.

There were exceptions, of course. Who among us, for instance, has not, at one stage or another, owned a full-sized cardboard cut-out of Jeremy Bullmore? But who would have the searing honesty of Lindsay Clay, who admits that, in a fire situation, this is the treasure she would save?

Meanwhile, Richard Costa-D’sa clearly doesn’t really understand how the emergency services work. When the firemen come to put out your fire, Richard, they don’t automatically adopt you and your family. They don’t take you back to the fire station. In any case, you wouldn’t want to go there. Fire stations are filthy. They’re all Swarfega and porn mags. They really are.

But, yes, the A List is mainly worried about its pets. Perhaps that’s why this year’s book reads a bit like a mediaeval bestiary or the Book of Job. It’s alive. It’s wriggling and writhing.

It features (deep breath) a goldfish, several tortoises (one named, wouldn’t you just know it, Speedy), countless chickens, Gary the lizard, three little pigs, a blanket octopus doing battle with a Portuguese man o’ war, lots of bats (almost all of them, admittedly, of the cricket variety – although Tony Kaye surely has a suitable belfry), tons of bloody meerkats and gorillas, Tim Delaney’s puppy, a kangaroo that cannot walk backwards, a golden egg-laying unicorn, Gus the fox, a lobster, a Grey Goose and lots of Red Bulls, an alligator, a llama, a goldfish (poached this time, courtesy of the house burning down), Cornish hedgehogs, Baa Baa Black Sheep, a silver-haired fox, two otters holding hands, Trevor’s dodo and a goldfish. Plus a cow – a cow that, in the pursuit of some sort of abstruse philosophical point, Matt Andrews leads upstairs in order to prove that he cannot lead it down again.

We also have one bull market and more slightly scorched pet cats and dogs than you can shake a stick at. Even Sally Weavers confesses she has webbed feet.

Let’s just hope that no-one in the A List ever swallows a fly. The outcome would be bloody. (That, or a cutting-edge reality strand on Channel 4.)

Did we mention goldfish? Yes? Which is handy because, talking of goldfish, as we surely were, the thing most of us mere mortals want to take from this book is wisdom. We want to sit at the feet of the A List while they share with us what they have learned.

Of course, we sometimes acknowledge, in our heart of hearts, that there’s a sense in which we are not worthy. And we also dimly appreciate that we can’t really emulate them. Your A Lister is mostly born, not made. Inheritance is all – and, indeed, there are some classic Who Do You Think You Are? moments here. (It has many slightly insecure "Do you know who I am?" moments too – but that’s another story.)

Jerry Buhlmann, one of the media industry’s human cannonballs, had a great-great-grandfather, Fred, who held down the same job in (we presume) a circus. Robert Brooke was the 19th-century governor of an insignificant territory best known for its incarceration of a megalomaniac ego. As opposed to his distant descendant, Dan Brooke, whose job title is chief marketing officer at Channel 4.

Wayne Deakin’s great-great-uncle was the prime minister of Australia. Lucy Jameson’s family peddled moonshine, Tess Alps’ lot pushed pills. And David Wethey gives a whole new meaning on the notion of his grandfather’s Ashes. (And, yes, we know the bail wasn’t burned until four years later.)
And the certainty that an A Lister is born, not made, is reinforced by the notion that, actually, it struggles to learn from experience. Take, for example, Jeremy Bullmore – who is, you might think, the A List’s wisest member.

It’s rather unsettling to discover that, once upon a time (he is unashamed to admit), he led four Centurion tanks into a bog. That bit’s fine. Fair enough. Accidents will happen. But then he reveals that he has only just gone and driven his lawnmower into a river. If he offers to park your car on a quayside, please think twice.

Anyway, yes, goldfish. The more things change, the more they stay the same. These days, they are just a little bit more always-on, in a 24/7, social media, consumer-centric, speed-of-light sort of way.

Except, sadly, at AAR. Paul Phillips points out, with some justification, that the most significant change to the ad industry in the past decade is the demise of the overhead projector. We thought at first that Paul was trying to make a neat generic point here; then it gradually dawned on us that he probably isn’t. He’s surely talking about AAR’s very own overhead projector. Something terrible and traumatic has clearly happened here.

Talking of Mr Phillips, he’s also a man who has not yet learned to be ashamed of his golf clubs. And one in particular: his 3-wood. Golf (for the A List’s male members) used to be an abiding passion. Now it seems to be on the wane. Maybe it’s a generational thing. Although its members famously dress in the dark, the digerati seems to draw a line at putting on a pink Pringle and loud plus-fours.

The A List still has a sepia-tinged, totally unreliable memory that it was, once upon a time, rather good at cricket – but the big development this year, vis-à-vis sport, is all about tennis.

Nothing breeds success like, well, success. This time last year, Andy Murray was, as he had ever been, a truculent Scotchman. This year, he’s the A List’s Man of the Year – and some of our respondents have even had the nerve to express regret that Murray has seemingly mislaid some of his Scotch truculence. Next year, they will be shaking their heads and toying with the idea that success really has changed him.

Woman of the Year (or one of them, at any rate) is, bizarrely, Angela Merkel. We say bizarrely, because Angela didn’t do noticeably well at Wimbledon this year. Nor did she contribute much to England’s Ashes victory or help stabilise the eurozone, thus re-establishing an international framework within which a British economic recovery might be possible.

Oh… hang on. She did. That last bit – yes, OK, possibly. But definitely not Wimbledon or the Ashes. Some A Listers even went so far as to compare her to a former UK prime minister called Margaret Thatcher. Just wait until they find out that Angela is – and there’s really no way of sugar-coating this – German.

But, yes, tennis was very much on-message this year, though Rufus Radcliffe’s anecdote about playing in Kabul against the vice-president of Afghanistan lacks a certain something. Drop the other shoe, Rufus. Did you actually beat him? We’re presuming not.

Simon Rees’ revelation is equally unsatisfying for different reasons. "I used to be an international sportsman," he states as his parting shot. Yes, Simon, but only if you believe that field hockey is a real sport and that Wales is a real nation. Same thing goes for Dan Shute’s Welsh skiing boast – but then you sense that he KNOWS THAT ALREADY.

Compare those counterfeit achievements with the revelation that Sarah Stratford once represented GB (that’s a whole country, Simon and Dan) at ultimate frisbee. Not that we’re doing down the regions entirely. We can’t help being impressed by Karen Stacey’s claim to fame as runner-up in the all-Kent chess championship, when aged only 11.

And if Kent is your bag, we can also offer you Mark Denton’s revelation that he was the 1970 under-15 NW Kent hurdles champ. This is no mean feat: we understand that, in those days, the north-west was absolutely the toughest quadrant of Kent when it came to junior hurdling.

Anyway, we seem to be totally straying from the point here. What were we talking about? Oh, yes – goldfish. More particularly, does Tony Kaye own a goldfish? We ask because it’s probably time to explore, nay straddle, the fine line between madness and genius.

Don’t get us wrong. We love eccentrics. The A List would be an infinitely poorer place without them. We’re not at all fazed by Alison Hoad, for instance. In fact, she sounds like the sanest woman on the planet when she states that, if her house were in imminent danger of burning down, she would save the nanny. Well, yes, quite – wouldn’t we all? It’s only when she reveals that she keeps elastic bands in the fridge that we begin to doubt her.

And we take it totally in our stride when Tracey Follows starts tugging at our sleeve and telling us that the "square of an imaginary number is negative".

But Tony is, as always, in a league of his own when he takes to CAPITAL LETTERS to confirm what most of us have known for years, to wit, that he knows absolutely nothing. But it’s OK, Tony, because we suspect you HAVE A BUTTON IN YOUR HEAD TO UNDERSTAND WHY. He loves you, you know. He really does.

Tragically, however, this is the closest thing we have to true love (or sex, as it used to be called) in this year’s A List. In more relaxed and confident times, these pages used to be positively Rabelaisian; now we have a handful of Walter Mitty-style fantasies that advertising is a bit rock and roll, all crack cocaine and whores.

In reality, the A List’s sole sensual hotspot is Jenny Biggam’s funeral, which we’re all looking forward to (in a good sense, you understand, Jenny) because she has chosen to slip this mortal coil to Cheeky Song (Touch My Bum) by The Cheeky Girls.

Other than that, all we have on the true love front is Melissa Robertson, "giving Mark and John a bit of strict". But, actually, even Melissa confesses she’s far more interested in chocolate. And, yes, it’s true we have Michael Sugden revealing that he’s really good at sucking. But, again, rather sadly, it’s just chocolate. We can’t even count Tony Quinn’s anecdote about handing a woman’s black silk knickers back to her on the Tube.

Nor can we really squeeze much in the way of raciness out of the question we’ve included to appear down and dirty with the kids, daddy-o: "What are you really loving right now?" It’s our only question this year with a correct answer. And only one A Lister, Trevor Beattie, passed this test. So, well done, Trevor. You’ve got it, whatever it is.

Joseph (Joe) Petyan supplied the second (2nd) best answer to this question. So, J(J)P, what are you really loving right now? Answer: "Stuffing made-to-measure foam up my chimney." This, you understand, is not a euphemism. It is, as it happens, the response of a man very clearly at the top of his game. Note the use of the phrase "made-to-measure". This is not any sort of foam. It’s not the sort of foam, for instance, that a B or a C Lister would stuff up his chimney.

Incidentally, we were saddened to discover that, contrary to long-standing industry rumour, Joseph (Joe) has no third (3rd) nipple. Oh, well.

The A List’s tendency to dream rock and roll daydreams is also seen in the television programmes it pretends to watch. For years, our elite perpetrated an in-joke, whereby everyone pretended that they loved an excruciatingly awful programme (drugs, squalor, inner-city America, gratuitously vainglorious use of surveillance technology) called The Wire.

Clearly, The Wire is no more. But a new equivalent has emerged – Breaking Bad. Everyone’s "watching Breaking Bad" this year. Yeah, right. We all know that the A List secretly watches Strictly Come Dancing and The Great British Bake Off. At one point, for instance, Rory Sutherland drops in a rather withering reference to a "programme about cakes". Come off it, Rory, we can all see the flour on your pinny.

There’s a clearer indicator of A List tastes when they reveal their favourite ads, which are all balls (Sony), sentiment (John Lewis), cuddly toys (meerkats) and gubbins (Honda). What’s more, male A Listers seem to identify, despite themselves, with the paunchy Southern Comfort beach guy.

Perhaps that’s what they mean by rock and roll. So, yes… with the paunchy Southern Comfort beach guy in mind, let’s get ready to get this show on the road.

Let’s throw away the goldfish. Let’s ditch all that Leonard Cohen and get ourselves a backing track. In fact, let’s take a leaf out of Matt Edwards’ book, playing We Built This City by Starship, like, really loud, as we stride out of the Tube station.

Let’s do it. Let’s do it now. Or soon. Soonish. After lunch, if anyone’s up for that. Right after we’ve helped fix AAR’s overhead projector.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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