How to Get Ahead in Advertising

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How to Get Ahead in Advertising
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBruce Robinson
Written byBruce Robinson
Produced byDavid Wimbury
George Harrison
Denis O'Brien
Ray Cooper
CinematographyPeter Hannan
Music by
Distributed byVirgin Vision
Release date
  • 5 May 1989 (1989-05-05) (U.S.)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguagesEnglish, German
Box office$418,053

How to Get Ahead in Advertising is a 1989 British black comedy fantasy film written and directed by Bruce Robinson, and starring Richard E. Grant and Rachel Ward. The title is a pun and can be literally taken as "How to Get a Head in Advertising."

In the film, an advertising executive has a nervous breakdown and finds himself concerned with the ethics of his profession. In contrast with his moral concerns, a secondary personality manifests itself, being cynical and unscrupulous. A brief struggle between the two personalities leads to the emergence of a third one, but this one is both ruthless and cruel.


The film is a farce about a mentally unstable advertising executive, Denis Dimbleby Bagley (played by Grant), who suffers a nervous breakdown while making an advert for pimple cream. Rachel Ward plays his long-suffering but sympathetic wife, Julia Bagley. Richard Wilson plays John Bristol, Bagley's boss.

Bagley has a crisis of conscience about the ethics of advertising, which leads to mania. He then develops a boil on his right shoulder that comes to life with a face and voice. The voice of the boil, although uncredited, is that of Bruce Robinson. The boil takes a cynical and unscrupulous view of the advertising profession in contrast to Bagley's new-found ethical concerns. Eventually, Bagley decides to have the boil removed in hospital, but moments before he is taken into the operating room, the boil quickly grows into a replica of Bagley's head (only with a moustache) and covers Bagley's original head, asking doctors to lance it, which is done since nobody has noticed the switch from left to right nor the new moustache.

Bagley, now with the boil head, moustache, and personality (the movie's third personification from Grant after the stressed executive and the raving lunatic) returns home to celebrate his wedding anniversary, with the original head merely resembling a boil on his left shoulder. The "boil" eventually withers but doesn't die, yet Bagley resumes his advertising career rejuvenated and ruthless, although without his wife, who decides to leave his new cruel persona.



On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 60% based on reviews from 15 critics.[1]

In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel in 2019, Richard E. Grant said that Jim Carrey called him a genius for his work in the film.[2]

The film made £201,972 in the UK.[3]


  1. ^ "How to Get Ahead in Advertising". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  2. ^ Richard E. Grant on Oscar Nomination, Steve Martin, Star Wars & French Kissing. Jimmy Kimmel Live!. 8 February 2019. Event occurs at 1:07. Archived from the original on 13 December 2021. Retrieved 30 May 2019.
  3. ^ "Back to the Future: The Fall and Rise of the British Film Industry in the 1980s - An Information Briefing" (PDF). British Film Institute. 2005. p. 24.

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