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 uber 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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