Thursday, February 3, 2011

Mad Men in London: A Day At the Beach With Llewellyn Thomas

Dylan, Llewellyn, Caitlin.  Aeron, Granny and Coln in front.
                               Llewellyn Thomas was a trickster, a prankster, a thoughtful shy man living under the shadow of a great and awful father. He was witty, erudite and convivial among friends according to his obit. Days with Llewellyn were always an adventure.  Maybe because he'd had such a rough and tedious time when he was a kid.

                         Once his mother, Caitlin, a famous beauty painted in the nude by Augustus John, popped off the train for a quick drink at the station bar.  Two hours later, she remembered, "OH GAWD, I left my 2 year old on the train." 
Augstus John's portrait of Dylan
Augustus John's portrait of Caitlin
        Llewellyn looked more like his Dad, Dylan Thomas, but woe to you if you called him Dylan. The picture above right is Caitlin when she was dating and posing for Augustus John.

        Llewellyn was a copywriter at JWT London with a genius for thinking up wacky stunts.  One idea was The Big Dig for Gillette.  Buy a pack of Gillette razor blades and win a chance at digging up a two week holiday in Majorca, a new cooker, etc. etc.”

        Obviously the real items couldn’t be buried in the sand.  But what should be, and how deep and spread over how big an area? Real shovels or toy shovels?   Llewellyn suggested that a team from the agency do a trial dig.  See how it goes.  Gillette said OK.

        So one sunny morning a posh bus pulled up in front of JWT in Berkeley Square at 8 AM and around 20 of us piled in. Llewellyn was the last aboard, throwing on crates of champagne first. We were on our way out of the square when the first cork went POP.  

        POP we went, POP, POP.

        When we arrived at the beach the client (a tall severe gent Llewellyn called The Scoutmaster due to his khaki shorts and long socks) was waiting on the tarmac. 

        The door swung open and we fell out on the pavement, stumbling, sprawling, falling down drunk. 

Rye Beach

         John St. Clair, later to become a prize winning film director, was given the task of shooting The Big Dig Trial Day.  He made it to the beach,  fell on his back and shot a half an hour of clouds in the sky.  I and a few others scrabbled in the sand with toy shovels for a while, gave it up and jumped into the Ocean.

         The Scoutmaster, needless to say was enraged.  The account rep was sent in shame to the purgatory that was Chicago.  We all endured a livid lecture from the JWT management.

          We had endangered the jobs of hundreds.  Nearly lost the account.  We were irresponsible, juvenile.  I don’t remember the trip down to Rye Beach apart from empty champagne bottles rolling on the floor.  But I know we had a ball. 

          And the Big Dig?  How did the real one work out?  It was the most successful promotion in the history of Gillette UK.   

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