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David Abbott (advertising)

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David Abbott
Abbott in 1988.
Born(1938-10-11)11 October 1938
Died17 May 2014(2014-05-17) (aged 75)
Resting placeHighgate Cemetery
Alma materMerton College, Oxford
Occupation(s)Advertising executive, copywriter, creative director, author

David John Abbott (11 October 1938 – 17 May 2014[1][2]) was a British advertising executive who founded Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. He was one of the most celebrated advertising executives in the world and regarded as the greatest copywriter of his generation.[3] Highlights of his career include the creation of the J.R. Hartley television commercial for Yellow Pages as well as work for Volkswagen, Volvo, The Economist, the RSPCA, Sainsbury's Supermarkets and Chivas Regal.[4]

Career History[edit]

Born in Hammersmith, West London, David Abbott won a scholarship to read History[5] at Merton College, Oxford[6] but left before graduating to nurse his sick father who was ill with cancer and who later died.[7] Abbott started as a copywriter working in-house at Kodak after discovering a book at a market stall about advertising on Madison Avenue.[8] In 1963 he started work at the Mather & Crowther agency before moving to the Manhattan-based Doyle Dane Bernbach in 1965.[9]

At Doyle Dane Bernbach, Abbott was taken under the wing of Bill Bernbach, the visionary creative director of DDB.[10] In 1971 he returned to the UK and founded French Gold Abbott with Richard French and Mike Gold.[11] Abbott co-founded Abbott Mead Vickers alongside Adrian Vickers and Peter Mead in 1977, having first met Vickers at Oxford University in 1959.[12] The agency's clients included Volvo, Sainsbury's, IKEA, Chivas Regal, The Economist, Yellow Pages, and the RSPCA.[13] In 1991, BBDO acquired a stake in AMV and the agency's name became Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.[14]

Abbott retired from advertising in October 1998 at the age of 60 to concentrate on writing his first novel.[15]

Awards and accolades[edit]

David Abbott was D&AD President in 1975 and President's Award Winner in 1986.[16]

The One Club for Art and Copy inducted Abbott into its Creative Hall of Fame in 2001[17] three years after he retired. Abbott was the second Briton, after David Ogilvy, to be inducted into the hall of fame.[18]

FCUK controversy[edit]

In 2000 David Abbott wrote an open letter to Campaign Magazine[19] in response to the publication awarding FCUK their advertiser of the year accolade. The letter to the publication read:

Fcuk me, what a brilliant choice for advertiser of the year. Fcuking great idea to put fcuking four-letter words on fcuking big posters, where every fcuking eight-year-old can see them. What a fcuking cool way to get up the noses of those fcuking parents and teacher tossers who are trying to bring their kids up as fcuking goody-goodies. That’s the way to sell a youth brand, though haven’t I seen it fcuking before on the lav walls? Anyhow, great to see the industry magazine behaving in such a fcuking great way - makes me fcuking nostalgic, it does.

In response to this letter Trevor Beattie, the man behind the campaign, hit back at Abbott during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity accusing him of boring the pants off the audience with a lengthy diatribe.[20]

Published works[edit]

Together with Alfredo Marcantonio and John O'Driscoll, David Abbott authored a book about the history of Volkswagen advertising entitled 'Remember those great Volkswagen ads?', which is a comprehensive account of the most influential campaign in the history of advertising.[21] His first novel, The Upright Piano Player, was published in 2010 by MacLehose Press.[22] John Burnham Schwartz the author of Bicycle Days and Reservation Road, called Abbott's debut novel 'a wise and moving debut, an accomplished novel of quiet depths and resonant shadows.'

The Upright Piano Player[edit]

In 1998, he announced his retirement from the agency he founded in order to take up a new career as an author. There had been Faye Weldon ( ‘Go to work on an egg’). There had been Peter Mayle (‘Nice one Cyril’ for Wonderloaf bread). And there had been Salman Rushdie (who readily admits to penning ‘naughty but nice’ for fresh cream cakes).

Admittedly, it took some while to complete his first work of fiction, but in 2010 Abbott's debut novel ‘The Upright Piano Player’ finally hit the shelves. It was clearly a labour of love as every line has been so carefully considered and honed. Lines like this: 'Designer gowns from a former era, lovingly preserved in polythene, hang uneasily on bodies that have had no such luck.' The book is peppered with such lines, yet the narrative is brisk and not the least bit laboured. And, of course, there's that sharp perceptiveness about human nature and the little observations that lift the writing to another level. We also get a real feeling for the characters themselves through Abbott's ear for dialogue.

The story itself is an incredibly sad one and is structured like a Kurt Vonnegut novel starting at the end. But in all other respects, it is as far apart from a Vonnegut novel as you could possibly get. Many reviewers have compared the writing to Ian McEwan, and it's a fair comparison.

The story's protagonist, one Henry Cage is a perfectly affable character on the surface. He has enjoyed a successful career as the founder of his own management consultancy business. But on retirement, it becomes clear that Cage's personal life is anything but perfect. As the novel progresses, Abbott allows us to peek into Cage's family dynamics and the fracturing of relationships, which could so easily have been averted. Added into the mix are a string of random incidents that have truly devastating consequences and are well beyond Cage's control, although he has (without wanting or knowing) by his own actions an influence on the events. Together the sequence of events makes for a tragedy of epic proportions and demonstrates the fragility of life. But don't be put off. The narrative is compelling, and you really do want to spend time in Henry Cage's company. He is sharp, witty and likeable, if a bit obstinate and set in his ways. The closing line to the novel is utterly heartbreaking, as we know from the very first page how this story ends. And that's another aspect of the novel that marks it out. We know from page one how it ends but we don't quite know how it gets there. But when we do finally get there and everything has been unraveled, the emotional punch of the very last page is enormous and gut-wrenching because we know that the last page isn't actually the last page.

Personal life[edit]

Grave of David Abbott in Highgate Cemetery

Abbott was married and had four children[1] and eight grandchildren.


David Abbott died at the age of 75 after undergoing heart surgery at London's Royal Brompton Hospital.[23] He was buried on the eastern side of Highgate Cemetery.


  1. ^ a b "David Abbott - obituary". The Telegraph. 20 May 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  2. ^ Davison, Phil (21 May 2014). "David Abbott: Advertising copywriter renowned for his integrity and acclaimed as one of the finest in the industry". The Independent. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  3. ^ Daily Telegraph Obituary on David Abbott 20/05/2014
  4. ^ David Abbott career highlights from Campaignlive
  5. ^ "David Abbott - obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 20 May 2014. Archived from the original on 17 May 2022.
  6. ^ Levens, R.G.C., ed. (1964). Merton College Register 1900-1964. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. p. 500.
  7. ^ David Abbott Obituary in The Guardian 22/05/2014
  8. ^ "David Abbott - obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 20 May 2014. Archived from the original on 17 May 2022.
  9. ^ David Abbott's Obituary in The Independent
  10. ^ David Abbott Obituary from the Financial Times
  11. ^ Founding of French Gold Abbott
  12. ^ Campaign Live Obituary of David Abbott
  13. ^ March 13, 2002. Clio lifetime achievement award. Archived 7 April 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Foltz, Kim (17 January 1991). Omnicom Seeks Stake in British Agency.The New York Times
  15. ^ Abbott retires from AMV
  16. ^ Abbott tribute from the D&AD
  17. ^ Elliott, Stuart (January 25, 2001). One Club to Induct 2 Into Hall of Fame. The New York Times
  18. ^ David Abbott hall of fame details
  19. ^ David Abbott's open letter to Campaign Magazine
  20. ^ Beattie hits back at Abbott
  21. ^ Merrell Publishers overview of Abbott's Volkswagen book
  22. ^ Taylor, Catherine (30 April 2010). "First fiction roundup". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  23. ^ Campaign Magazine tribute to David Abbott

External links[edit]

David Abbott last interview website http://www.davidabbottsaid.com