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A tribute to Paul Silburn

D&AD CEO Patrick Burgoyne remembers a truly great advertising writer

Paul Silburn, who passed away on November 21, was one of the most consistently brilliant copywriters that British advertising has seen. Paul’s work had that happy knack for being both warm and funny as well as culturally resonant. In an era before we knew what ‘viral’ advertising was, Paul’s work for the likes of John Smith’s and John West were the kind of ads that people would laughingly recall in pub and playground alike.

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Advantage Sampras - Client: Nike UK - Agency: Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson - Copywriter: Paul Silburn

Though he will chiefly be remembered for his brilliantly funny TV work, I first became aware of Paul’s work via two superbly stylish print campaigns – Advantage Sampras for Nike for Simons Palmer from 1995 and Cut in the Sixties for Levi’s for BBH in 1996. Both were created with his then-partner Tiger Savage. The pair quickly became one of the hottest creative teams around. They were among the first people I met in the industry when I started out as a young journalist, and I will always remember the warmth and friendliness they showed to a struggling young reporter.

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Cut In The Sixties - Client: Levi Strauss UK - Agency: BBH - Copywriter: Paul Silburn

After BBH, Paul linked up with art director Vince Squibb at Lowe Howard Spink where, they wrote three of the finest spots for Stella Artois’s gold-standard campaign of the day – Les Nouvelles Chaussures, Last Orders and A Hero’s Return.

Then at Leo Burnett in 2001, working on his own this time, Paul wrote one of the two campaigns for which he will probably best be remembered – John West. Through the simple expedient of dressing an actor up in a bear suit, Paul produced one of the best-loved TV ad campaigns of all-time. And all for that most mundane of products, tinned fish.

Bear - Client: John West - Agency: Leo Burnett - Art Director / Copywriter: Paul Silburn

By 2003, Paul had joined Trevor Beattie as creative director at TBWA. There, he collaborated with a young comedian called Peter Kay to write the brilliant John Smith’s No-Nonsense campaign. To this day, overweight Sunday league footballers up and down the country yell “Ave it” as they boot the ball away in a kickabout. 

Ball Skills / Monsters / Mum / Diving / Babies - Client: Scottish Courage - Agency: TBWA\London

After a spell at Fallon North America, Paul returned to London, first at Rainey Kelly Y&R, then at Saatchi & Saatchi where he continued to display his innate feel for heartwarming campaigns that captured the public’s imagination as (along with D&AD President Kate Stanners) he oversaw the T-Mobile Life’s for Sharing campaign.

Life's for Sharing - Client: T-Mobile - Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi London - Creative Directors: Paul Silburn & Kate Stanners

As a writer, he was a superb technician who had that priceless ability to create ads with mass appeal that people remembered with affection. Paul’s work reminds us of advertising’s power to bring a little warmth and joy into our lives: Yes, his ads really were as good as the programmes they interrupted.

See all of Paul Silburn's D&AD-winning work here.

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