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Paul Silburn. In Memoriam

Patrick Collister, Editor Directory

Issue 53 | December 2019

I want to dedicate this issue of Directory to Paul Silburn, who died after a heart attack on November 21st.

I first met Paul in 1992, when I offered him his first job in advertising. Three days later I had to withdraw the offer when Panasonic, our largest client, moved its business to McCann's.

Still, it didn't seem to hold Paul back.

For my money, Paul is the single most gifted copywriter since John Webster.

John brightened up countless commercial breaks with the Smash Martians, Cresta Bear, the Honeymonster for Sugar Puffs, Jack Dee's penguins for John Smith's Bitter as well as being behind The Guardian's 'Points of View' commercial, usually a contender in any list of 'The 10 Best Ads of All-Time'.

In the summer I met Paul for a beer in Canterbury, where he lived and told him I thought he was John's equal. And I said this having idolised John since the 1980s, when I worked with him and for him.

Paul said nothing but emailed me later.

'Being compared to John Webster is perhaps the greatest compliment anyone has paid me – even if the gulf is huge.'

A couple of days after Paul's death, I pumped out a few posts about him in social media with the hashtag: #NoGulf.

For evidence of Paul's phenomenal talent:

  • Webster never did press and posters. Silburn did. See here his 'Sampras' ad of 1995
  • I'll see Webster's bears with Silburn's 'Bear' for John West in 2000. In the early days of the internet, it was the original viral ad. It has been voted America's favourite TV ad. Which is strange, since it never ran there.
  • I'll see Webster's Jack Dee with Silburn's Peter Kay for John Smith's, winner of a yellow Pencil at D&AD in 2003.
  • He was the copywriter who kick-started the 'Lynx Effect' campaign, which created a brand worth £2.1 billion before Unilever decided to move on.
  • In 2006, as the ECD behind 'Brawny Academy', Paul was an innovator in branded content, creating a series of reality-TV webisodes around Brawny Man.
  • He was the creative director of 'Dance' for T-Mobile, when a flashmob took over Liverpool Street Station in London (Directory Issue 10, March 2010).
  • Similarly he was behind the homage to 'JK's Wedding Entrance Dance' video which T-Mobile created to celebrate the Royal Wedding, Prince William and Katherine Middleton.
  • His April Fool's film for the BBC iPlayer, 'Flying Penguins' got 6 million views on YouTube
  • His re-interpretation of the in-flight safety instruction video is currently to be seen every day on every British Airways flight.

I haven't mentioned his award-winning work for Scalextric and Stella Artois, Weetabix and Reebok, The European Golf Tour (featured in Directory Issue 17) or Levis.

Together, they add up to 105 entries in D&AD.

But Paul didn't write work for juries.

He wrote ads for ordinary people.

In that respect too he was like Webster. Both were populists, able to get audiences to forget, briefly, how much they hated advertising.

Both knew how to sell with charm and with humour, never patronising and never cynical.

Even Paul's tweets were funny.

Half-way through England's lack-lustre Rugby World Cup final against South Africa he tweeted, 'Time to bring on Ben Stokes'.

And, the day the clocks went back an hour: 'Shout out to all the dyslexic men who turned their cocks black last night.'

I can think of plenty of people in adland who have one-tenth of his talent but who are ten times the pillock he ever was.

Death is so indiscriminate.

Reading the many tweets and posts in the days after his heart attack, it has been a constant refrain: humble, kind, a gent, generous, so lovely, he helped me so much with my career, taught me tons.

Paul helped give advertising a good name.

He was also a subscriber to Directory.

May he rest in peace.

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