Jeremy Bullmore is one of the most widely known and influential thinkers on advertising and brands, whose work at J. Walter Thompson and WPP continues to be used worldwide.
He was a prolific public speaker, journalist and author with seven books published over three decades. He is sure of a lasting place in marketing history.
This section summarises the motivations, formative experiences and career of a sensitive man with an entrancing sense of humour. Read about his schooling, the degree he never quite finished and the job application that deemed him “potentially a very good recruit”.
The History of Advertising Trust (HAT) has been very generous with material and research expertise for Best of Bullmore. Watch HAT’s Inspiring Minds interview with Jeremy, filmed in 2018.
Image credit: Campaign/HAT
At my prep school I was invariably top of everything in English composition, grammar and spelling; and bottom of everything in mathematics.
Jeremy, who never knew his father from the age of five, has with his wife Pamela built a secure, close and successful family.
Jeremy was born on 21 November 1929 in Thames Ditton. His parents separated when he was about four. His copywriter father started a small advertising agency, Bullmores Ltd, which folded. Afterwards, disillusioned, he joined M16 for whom he worked, on and off, until his death.
Jeremy married Pamela, later a gardening writer and designer, in 1958. They have three children: Edward, Professor of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge; Adam, Managing Director of October Films; Amelia, actress and writer.
Schooled at Harrow, Jeremy found joy in writing, at which he excelled to the point of neglecting his studies when a student of English at Oxford.
“At my prep school I was invariably top of everything in English composition, grammar and spelling; and bottom of everything in mathematics.
It is fair to say that at Harrow Jeremy achieved a sense of responsibility. He was Head of his House for five terms, Captain of House Rugby, Harrow Football and Athletics, in charge of the Debating Society and Essay Club, Secretary of the Philathletic Club and Second Head of the School. He did a little acting, preferring modern light comedy to Shakespeare. He started and edited a House magazine, contributed mainly light verse to the School Magazine and won nearly all the prizes there were for English including the Terence Rattigan Prize for dramatic composition. “Mr Rattigan said that my entry showed clear signs of the influence of Ibsen, which led me to read Ibsen and increased my ambition to write for the stage.”
Won a County scholarship place and completed two years of three-year degree in English. “I decided to read English because I wanted to learn to write better, but after my tutor wrote in the top of one of my essays, ‘You can write; but remember, this can be something of a handicap in the study of English literature.’ I lost a lot of my original enthusiasm.” In his third year he concentrated on writing, producing and acting, failed an essential Latin paper for the third time and left without a degree but with a healthy portfolio of commissioned work. Delving a little deeper, an interesting chain of events started at Oxford – and led directly to his career in advertising. He contributed several pieces of light verse to Isis, the university magazine. These prompted the president of the Experimental Theatre Club (ETC, Oxford’s imitation of the Footlights) John Wood to commission him to write their Summer Revue. Jeremy more wrote most of it, and as a result was asked by Ned Sherrin to contribute to revues he was producing the following year. Later, the BBC screened a documentary about Oxford which incidentally included many items from those revues. By chance, this programme was seen by George Butler, head of the art department at JWT London. The Television Act had just been passed and commercial television was due to be launched in 1955. Agencies needed to be ready for this new medium. George Butler wrote to the BBC inviting those responsible for the work to attend for an interview. Because the work had appeared on television, Butler assumed the pair knew something about television; which they didn’t. Sherrin and Jeremy both went for interviews at 40 Berkeley Square. When Butler realised Jeremy couldn’t draw, he lost interest - but suggested he take the copy test which led to the offer of a job as a trainee copywriter. In the same year, a version of the revues, starring the 19-year old Maggie Smith, enjoyed a six week London run at a tiny theatre called the Watergate and Jeremy’s radio play, The Brief Career of Mrs Glamm, was a Wednesday Matinee. Sherrin went on to a successful career in television, film and theatre. “Looking back,” says Jeremy, “The incidence of chance and luck and timing in this little history is extraordinary.”
Trained at Catterick and Aldershot. Passed out as Second Lieutenant and posted to Germany with the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), Queen’s Bays regiment.
Jeremy joined the London office of J. Walter Thompson Company Limited in 1954 and retired from it in 1987 when he joined WPP. To accompany the timeline, we publish extracts from his job application.
From his job application for appointment as trainee copywriter at J Walter Thompson, 1954:
Q. At school, which lessons and games did you like best, and which did you like least? Say why, if you can.
A. English, both literature and grammar because it interested me and because I was good at both. Mathematics because I was bad at it but well taught. Rugby football because of its speed and precision. Fives because it required thought and forethought. Running because I am quite fast.
Q. Which three of the following characteristics do you possess in a marked degree, and which do you not possess? Initiative, concentration, mental liveliness, physical energy, imagination, clearness of expression, perseverance, self-confidence, optimism, caution, impulsiveness, deliberation, method? Amplify, if possible.
A. Mental liveliness and imagination in a combined form. I have a fairly steady stream of ideas for writing, not all bad, and am interested in almost everything except classical music. Clearness of expression. I have always been able to say, and write, what I mean, clearly and concisely. Optimism. Not easily depressed or discouraged.
Q. Have you ever done any research work?
Q. What experience have you in selling goods?
A. None, except my own work not altogether satisfactorily.
Q. What type of work do you wish to do?
A. Copywriting, with a keen desire to get to the television side as a scriptwriter.
Q. What range of salary do you have in mind?
A. £650 -£700 pa.
In his many external roles – from Advertising Association Chairman to Non-Executive Director of Guardian Media Group – Jeremy both advocated for, and made a massive contribution to, the advertising industry
1981 – 87 Chairman, Advertising Association. Helping to develop the UK self-regulatory system and maintain standards in the advertising industry.
Wrote speeches for the Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown, as well as early positioning statements and Party Political Broadcasts.
1985 Awarded a CBE in recognition of his services to the advertising and creative industries..
1986 – 87 President, The Thirty Club of London. A private dining club founded in 1905, the Thirty Club’s influential speakers speak off the record, entertaining “the learned, the witty, the wise and the convivial in advertising and media”.
1988 – 2001 Non-Executive Director of Guardian Media Group.
1998 – 2001 President of NABS, the advertising and media industry support organisation. Created Fast Forward, an annual training scheme designed to equip the industry’s future leaders with the skills needed to implement marketing communications in a complex media landscape.
2004 – 2009 President of the Market Research Society, the UK professional body for research, insight and analytics.
2011 Awarded the Advertising Association’s Mackintosh Medal.
Jeremy worked for many companies and on famous brands including Black Magic, Campari, Campbell’s Soups, Gillette, Guinness, Kellogg’s, Kraft, NatWest, Parker Pen, Persil, RHM (Mr Kipling) and Rowntree Mackintosh. But he virtually stopped writing advertisements himself after becoming a group head and concentrated on editing, inspiring and improving. From 1975, the year he became Deputy Chairman of JWT, he “deliberately put myself out of the creative flow”. We select just a few memorable examples of his work here and recall how he helped win the prestigious Guinness account during a night at the opera.
An exceedingly good brand, now sold across the world
Inspired by inventor George Safford Parker
Brand marketing inspired by romance, sophistication and courtship
A landmark win, leading to standout work
We unearthed the company psychologist’s verdict on a “potentially very good recruit”. Plus friends and colleagues on Jeremy as leader, mentor and advisor.
From the July 1954 report on trainee copywriter Jeremy Bullmore by Basil Clarke, the company psychologist:
“Bullmore walks along the edge of some of the pigeonholes rather than falling neatly into them. He has not grown up under any family influence towards a profession – unless his present interest is hereditarily determined by the fact that his military father once started a small advertising agency! … Clearly the kind of writing he finds easiest is very relevant to copy and commercial script writing … He has a good social adjustment and a lively mind behind a neat conventional appearance … There is a touch of tenseness which shows in the ink blot test, and in a functional blindness to ‘technical-looking’ things. (The wireless course he topped in the army was not very technical in this sense.) He has a sharp, though not a snarling, sense of humour. Bullmore has a great deal to recommend him – patent ability in a relevant genre, keenness, an independent critical sense (which he can apply to himself), a degree of perseverance, and a personable manner. He seems to be potentially a very good recruit.”
From a profile by John Treasure for the International Journal of Advertising in 1988 when Jeremy retired as Chairman of JWT London:
“There is no doubt (in my mind at least) that in the late 1960s JWT London became the true centre of the JWT world. Its business grew mightily, its creative work was outstanding, and it was constantly producing books, lectures, presentations and leaflets about advertising which were substantially better than anything being produced by any other agency in the world. Jeremy was certainly one of the major factors in achieving this leadership, if not the major factor. He was admired and feared in almost equal proportions by Thompson people all around the world … Jeremy has never claimed to be a brilliant advertising man, quite the contrary. He has simply been one, and that is why everyone thinks of him in this way. There is no substitute for product quality in the end.”
Extract from a speech given at Jeremy’s Mackintosh Medal dinner by Amelia Torode, strategist and past WPP Marketing Fellow.
“It was in my first year of the Fellowship that I became fascinated by this thing called the internet and it was thanks to Jeremy that this fascination began. “Just find something that you do that no-one else knows” JB had advised me during one of our early mentor sessions. I looked around at the folks at 40 Berkeley Square and I “taught myself” the web as the only other people who seemed interested were in the IT department. Coming up to the end of my year at JWT I was again with Jeremy to try and work out where to go to next to learn more about this new area. I was full of questions - which agencies, which countries, which people? Having listened to my digital babbling, JB remarked: “You’ve always got me here for advice, but just remember that no-one cares about your own career as much as you do.” I remember feeling a bit put out, as though it was a kind of rebuke, but it was the best careers advice I had ever been given. The knowledge that the only person who has control over your own professional destiny is yourself was a great wake up call. The second piece of advice that has stuck was to another Fellow, but it’s advice that I have since taken to heart. The Fellow in question had recently graduated from the Fellowship and was looking for some guidance from Jeremy. She outlined several big-sounding job offers that she had on the table and asked for his opinion. JB listened quietly and then gave the following advice: “When faced with several different opportunities always take the one that is most terrifying. At the very least you’ll learn what humility tastes like.” Finally, a tale told to me by a Fellow here tonight: “Early on I went on one of those university milk round WPP presentations, it was Oxford, I think. JB came along. All the Fellows, in our varying degrees of cockiness, were intending to busk our parts of the presentation. Jeremy however came with a typed speech that he had written specifically for the occasion. As respectful of the undergraduate audience as he would have been a room full of CEOs. He delivered it in his own quiet way, and there was compete silence in the room as everyone leaned forward to listen. It was a lovely example of JB being “humble” - even though of all people, he needn’t be.”
Three lessons for professional development - self-reliance, bravery and humility. Three pretty good rules to live by I think.”
As Advertising Association Chairman from 1981-87 Jeremy helped to develop the UK self-regulatory system and worked with many past AA chairmen. Their testament to his beliefs and values are recorded here:
Mark Lund: “Jeremy is, of course, about the nearest thing to a genuine renaissance man advertising has. His wisdom is rooted in the timeless truths of human psychology and social behaviour but knows and respects the rapid evolution of comms and technology.”
David Kershaw: “While many strut their stuff over others, the joy of Jeremy is that he is never shy of commentating on his own ridiculousness and being far more generous about others than himself. So when people trot out the cliché that nice people don’t succeed, just say: Jeremy Bullmore.”
Mark Read now runs WPP as CEO and has been instrumental in setting up this archive. On Jeremy as WPP director and advisory board member, he says: