Benson & Hedges 'Goldfish' advert


Graham Ford’s B&H Goldfish [advertising]

21 Dec , 2011   Gallery

It was one of those great advert­ising briefs where all the ele­ments are there, but noth­ing was set in stone. I don’t have the ori­ginal lay­out from Nigel Rose, art dir­ector at CDP, but I think it showed a shadow of a cat, a bowl and maybe the sug­ges­tion of a win­dow.’

SPRKS: You were work­ing on sev­eral cam­paigns at the same time: did you and Nigel dis­cuss the look of the shot in detail? Or were you both pretty much on the same wavelength?

Graham Ford: ‘That sum­mer of ’85 I was also work­ing on Benson & Hedges with Graham Fink, Silk Cut for Paul Arden, Volvo for John Horton, Atora and Clarkes for Nigel, Hennessy for Guy Moore, BMW for Kathy Heng and Citroen for Dennis Lewis. I was very busy!

Nigel would have drawn a loose lay­out which the agency and cli­ent would have approved in prin­ciple — art dir­ect­ors could actu­ally draw in those days — and we’d dis­cuss the detail with the styl­ist and mod­el­maker. When we had everything ready on the set we would pro­gress together, a pro­cess of dis­cov­ery using lots of Polaroid.

One of the best art dir­ect­ors of his era, Nigel knew what he wanted, and he under­stood pho­to­graphy. There is a long jour­ney from sketch to bill­board, as everything had to be made by hand, assembled, lit, brought into focus, and dis­tilled onto one sheet of film. Nigel knew my style, we trus­ted each other and knew we could make this work.’

Deardorff 10x8 Photo: David Munson
Graham’s camera was the 10×8 v8 by L.F. Deardorff & Sons of Chicago, produced from 1923 until 1988. Deardorff redesigned the limited view cameras of the day to include more flexible movements and produced the archetypal folding view camera that was copied and adapted for decades after.
(photo: David Munson)

SPRKS: Are you the kind of pho­to­grapher who works everything out on paper, or do you prefer to evolve the shot until you’re happy enough to go ahead?

Graham Ford: ‘Both. I would cal­cu­late dis­tances, sizes and lens angles, and I would set up a test and plan as much as I could before­hand. Don’t for­get, the mod­els were real and couldn’t be changed after they were made, and that some­times took weeks. The pack had to fit the bowl, the table had to fit the set. Having got everything work­ing in front of the cam­era, I could then be more free and invent­ive with the light­ing and com­pos­i­tion and look for those extra touches that added interest and atmo­sphere.

I set aside one week for this shoot, but the plan­ning and model-mak­ing began a few weeks before and I needed to com­mis­sion the model-maker well in advance. Everything was a team effort, Nigel and I both did the brief­ings together. Terry Kemble made the mini­ature model pack and fixed it in the bowl, I decided to use gly­cer­ine instead of water, because it doesn’t cre­ate bubbles, would not attack the model pack, has a high refract­ive index, and would not evap­or­ate.’

I asked model-maker and film dir­ector Terry Kemble what he remem­bers about the shoot.

Terry Kemble: ‘I worked on many of the posters and press ads for B+H, and it’s true to say that every one has a little story of some kind attached. The pho­to­graph­ers and art dir­ector-copy­writer teams were all idio­syn­cratic, some quite eccent­ric (no names!) and extremely cre­at­ive; all the ingredi­ents for a chal­len­ging, excit­ing and highly pro­duct­ive envir­on­ment. Graham worked out the angles and sizes of the com­pon­ents and I made the pack with thin shim brass built onto an acrylic block, embossed and pol­ished to a golden fin­ish. I put a cel­lu­lose lac­quer over it to add the right amount of golden sheen. Can’t remem­ber if Graham found the bowl. He filled it with gly­cer­ine because it is more refract­ive and the light through it looked ter­rific. Tiny glass beads were used for the bubbles. Everything needed to be super-real and almost micro­scop­ic­ally per­fect because it was going to end up on a giant bill­board without the bene­fit of Photoshop. Today, the mod­els are com­puter-gen­er­ated and many hours are spent try­ing to give the too-per­fect vir­tual world a con­vin­cing amount of imper­fec­tion. Ironic, really.’

Polaroid of Graham's studio setup for the B&H Goldfish

Meanwhile, back in Graham’s Westbourne Grove stu­dio…

Graham Ford: ‘I was into point-source light­ing at the time, and tracked down the smal­lest most power­ful tung­sten lamp I could find — a 1.5cm square reflect­ing 500W pro­jector bulb, the most effi­cient point source that I ever found, and I used it often after­wards. It gave a light very sim­ilar to sun­light when used at the cor­rect dis­tance and was power­ful enough to give a reas­on­ably short expos­ure, between 30–90 seconds at around f45 on 10×8 film.

We did a basic setup which looked prom­ising, but the cat was very crude and uncon­vin­cing. The agency art buyer found a bril­liant animal illus­trator who came to the stu­dio and made a beau­ti­ful card­board cutout. We softened the edges slightly with bits of fur and plastic pond­weed.

I thought we should give the pic­ture a sense of time and place and chose beau­ti­ful Basildon on a sunny morn­ing. Hence the dia­mond pat­terned win­dows, net cur­tains, Artex-style wall­pa­per, kid­ney-shaped glass dress­ing table on nylon. It went very well with the gold­fish bowl. The hard light, strong shad­ows and refrac­ted light looked won­der­ful — the cat came to life.’

SPRKS: Retouching used to mean a bloke with bleach, dyes, teeny brushes, and zen-like con­cen­tra­tion. What kind of tricks did you have to pull to do all the retouch­ing and effects in-cam­era?

Graham Ford: ‘The pho­to­graphy of this shot was fairly straight­for­ward. We blurred the cur­tain to sep­ar­ate it from the cat shadow using lines of very fine wire attached to dif­fer­ent parts of the cur­tain so we could con­trol the move­ment accur­ately. I had an armoury of tech­niques which I would add to each time a prob­lem had to be solved. I used mul­tiple expos­ures often, this was not a prob­lem with film, you could keep adding dif­fer­ent parts of the image on to the one sheet of film. Exposures were some­times ten minutes long with twenty or more flashes, bits of black vel­vet being shoved in and out, lights being moved around.

It was less usual in those days for the cli­ent to reject or demand changes. To do so would be expens­ive too, as changes would require a re-shoot. Retouching was a very spe­cial­ised busi­ness before com­puters, and there were few who could do it well. It was often used in a minor way, or to achieve effects that could not be done in cam­era, but my aim was always to do everything in cam­era if pos­sible.

I can see the attrac­tion of CGI, but not of retouch­ing and manip­u­la­tion. The power of pho­to­graphy comes from being real, some­thing that actu­ally happened, even if it was only in the stu­dio. I feel that when the edgi­ness of real life is aban­doned, pho­to­graphy loses much of its power. You would be bet­ter off with an illus­tra­tion.’

Brian Duffy's B&H Birdcage for CDP
Collett Dickenson Pearce art director Alan Waldie asked Brian Duffy to shoot the first of the surreal B&H campaigns in 1977. Duffy was one third of London’s ‘Black Trinity’ with David Bailey and Terence Donovan who reinvigorated commercial photography in the late 1960s and early 70s.

SPRKS: You did quite a few B&H shoots: did you feel the weight of fam­ous cam­paigns shot by Duffy and all the oth­ers?

Graham Ford: ‘No, everything you do has to stand on its own mer­its.’

SPRKS: Your style on these seems less flashy and more subtle than pre­vi­ous B&H cam­paigns. Was that a choice or just how it came out?

Graham Ford: ‘I am a bit of a pur­ist, I prefer a clas­sic look to a fash­ion­able one. But you can never escape your own time — I didn’t find the earlier pic­tures flashy, they were adven­tur­ous, they broke with con­ven­tion.’

Collett Dickenson Pearce art dir­ector Nigel Rose and pho­to­grapher Graham Ford were advert­ising Royalty in the 80s; I asked Nigel for some back­ground to the photo.

Nigel Rose: ‘The cat had to be a shadow. We couldn’t show a real fluffy cat because it would have been against the strict code of advert­ising for cigar­ettes. I got round it by just show­ing a shadow and, of course, out of adversity came some­thing much bet­ter. We were able to cre­ate this won­der­ful impres­sion and give the shot a strange atmo­sphere that suited the Benson and Hedges Gold Box cam­paign per­fectly. The other thing I like about the imagery is that it is largely mono­chrome, so although the gold pack is small it catches your eye imme­di­ately.

It was a delib­er­ately fem­in­ine image, a decision on my part to come up with an ad that would appeal to women as well as men. After work­ing on the B&H cam­paigns I went on to cre­ate the HELLO BOYS Wonderbra cam­paign — I like to think I’m in touch with my fem­in­ine side enough to cre­ate genu­ine appeal for women.’

SPRKS: Photographers and cre­at­ives used to meet up down the pub or wine bar in those days and there was a buzz in the busi­ness. Which pho­to­graph­ers did Graham par­tic­u­larly admire?

Graham Ford: ‘I was very busy so I didn’t meet many other pho­to­graph­ers except over lunch in car stu­dios, or wait­ing for the film at the lab. With film being pro­cessed there was always time for lunch!

I owe a great deal to David Thorpe with whom I worked for 5 years, and Jerry Oke who was my assist­ant in the early days. Lester Bookbinder was always the mas­ter of still life, Phil Marco in the US. There were some very good magazines then with some fine pho­to­graphy, French and American Vogue for instance, I would devour them, try­ing to emu­late the best. Then there were the fash­ion pho­to­graph­ers Guy Bourdin, Jean Loup-Sieff, Helmut Newton, Penn and many oth­ers, there was always some­thing excit­ing going on.

I met and had great respect for Adrian Flowers, Terry Donovan, Ken Griffiths, Brian Griffin, Peter Lavery. Older her­oes would include Weston, Strand, Sander, Emerson, Edgerton, Blumenfeld, Karl Blossfeldt, Paul Outerbridge, and par­tic­u­larly Bill Brandt.’

SPRKS: What do think of your son, Joseph, becom­ing a pho­to­grapher?

Graham Ford: ‘I was get­ting out of advert­ising at the time he was get­ting in. I tried to dis­cour­age him, but of course he wouldn’t listen. He’s doing really well and I’m ter­ribly proud of him.’

Cat and Goldfish Benson and Hedges advert photo by Graham Ford

Postscript: One day, a long time ago, Geoff Langan phoned me from Terry Kemble’s work­shop, “You should see what they are doing here, it’s amaz­ing.” So, some­how, I spent a couple of days in Graham Ford’s stu­dio pho­to­graph­ing the Goldfish ad. I was pro­moted to tea-maker on the con­di­tion that I remained abso­lutely still dur­ing the 90 second expos­ures. I had decided to get ser­i­ous about pho­to­graphy and the shoot was a rev­el­a­tion: A big old wooden cam­era with a DIY slid­ing Polaroid back, a light bulb on a stick, the set perched on an antique oper­at­ing table mech­an­ism for height adjust­ment, and abso­lute com­mit­ment to squeez­ing the last drop out of a great brief by any means avail­able.

Many thanks to Graham, Nigel and Terry for all their help.

Photo: Graham Ford, Art Director: Nigel Rose, Model-maker: Terry Kemble, Agency: Collett Dickenson Pearce. Shot in Graham Ford’s studio in wonderful Westbourne Grove, London, 1985.
This feature © Ken Sparkes. All Rights Reserved.

CDP Celebration com­mem­or­ates the über agency and hosts a member’s net­work­ing area for any­one who worked at CDP. Coming soon (not sure exactly when), ‘An affec­tion­ate com­mem­or­a­tion of one of the world’s great advert­ising agen­cies.’

High-pro­file tobacco advert­ising remains highly con­tro­ver­sial and the B&H ads were at the top of the list. There is some fas­cin­at­ing back­ground avail­able at Tobaccopapers, an archive of doc­u­ments from the UK tobacco industry from 1994 to 1999. It’s not par­tic­u­larly user-friendly, but here is a search for CDP doc­u­ments.

Did you work on pre-digital ad cam­paigns like this? Post a com­ment and tell us about it.

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4 Responses

  1. […] with Graham Ford by kind cour­tesy of Ken Sparkes click here to see full […]

    • graham ford says:

      I am sure Pyramids art dir­ector was Neil Godfrey

      • Ken Sparkes says:

        Yup, Pyramids was Neil Godfrey and photo by Jimmy Wormser — I’ll email Malcolm to cor­rect his page. Happy New Year, Graham, all the best for 2015…

        • graham ford says:


          If you are con­tact­ing Malcolm, Magnet AD was Rob Morris, not Nigel Rose.


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