Weird Seance summons... Trevor Beattie
In the first of a new series of interviews Amy Kean celebrates the wonderful world of weird, talking to 'iconic oddballs' about their strange brains and why oddness should be elevated.
I’ve been meaning to start a cult for a while. Covid obviously made that tricky, and then I had a couple of holidays, and general life admin gets in the way, doesn’t it?
But, as we slide into Q4 2021, it finally feels like society’s ready for the next big burst of brainwashing. But I don’t want to start a bad cult. I want to lead one that makes people feel good, and reminds them why life is so brilliantly exhilarating and surprising and rewarding. (Although I appreciate that the first thing a bad cult leader would do is try and convince you that their cult isn’t like all the rest.)
I have a hypothesis that not only are we all pretending that we’re not as weird as we truly are, but that we’d all be a lot happier if we allowed ourselves to show that weirdness more. And there are numerous psychological studies that suggest that the weirder you are, the more creative you are. And so, here we are.
He’s definitely fucking weird.
In this new series I’m going to be asking some of the industry’s most iconic oddballs to give me a small glimpse into their freaky minds to see what makes them different, and to see if we can do something about the widespread crisis in boring creativity that we’re currently facing. Every single person I interview earns a senior role in my cult.
First up is Trevor Beattie, Founding Partner, Chairman and Creative Director of Beattie McGuinness Bungay (BMB), maker of those famous (and infamous) FCUK and Wonderbra campaigns, plus Labour party ads, as well as loads of other surreal, award-winning audio visual treats. And, sweet Jesus, he did not disappoint. We talked Quentin Crisp, David Lynch, PlayStation, social class and the moon.
He’s definitely fucking weird.
Above: Beattie with Duncan Jones [left], the director of 2009 feature film, Moon, which Beattie produced.
AK: Hi Trevor.
TB: Allo, Amy. How honoured I am to sign up as the founding member of your Cult of the Weird.
AK: As a founding member you get the best merch.
TB: Splendid! I love a bit of merch. I must say, however, that a Truly Weird person would refuse to answer any questions and probably send you a human brain via Deliveroo just to spark a reaction. But I reckon that’s Predictably Weird, and no one wants to be that, do they?
AK: Before we start, can you draw me a picture of the inside of your mind? There’s nothing else to the brief, just draw what it looks like.
AK: Thanks. That’s weird. So, would you describe yourself as weird, or odd, or strange, or peculiar and, if so, why?
TB: I love all of those descriptions, and I find it sad that each of them can become so easily, aggressively weaponised:
Those words are in dire need of a new PR consultant, an urgent public image makeover. I’d like the word ‘Weird’ to be positively reclaimed, defanged and worn with pride, in the same way the word ‘queer’ has been reborn. Say it loud. I’m Weird and I’m proud. What makes me think I’m Weird? The very fact that I’m bold enough to self-identify as Weird, for starters. Claiming to be Weird is a Weird thing to do (as is writing Weird with a capital W).
What makes me think I’m Weird? The very fact that I’m bold enough to self-identify as Weird, for starters.
AK: In my experience, weird is often something that’s said about you, rather than about yourself. It’s nice when someone owns it, but I think that’s pretty rare. Do you think you think the same as everyone else?
TB: I think I think more than other people. That’s all. I get frustrated with those who don’t think at least three steps ahead of any given situation. That doesn’t mean overthinking, which is self-destructive worrying, I mean think more, and think faster. I’ll happily think a hole in my head without getting remotely stressed about it. Quentin Crisp said: ‘Never swim against the tide. Swim with the tide, but faster.’ I love that.
Above: Beattie with director David Lynch.
AK: What’s the weirdest thing about you and has it ever held you back?
TB: My inability to say no to things. Opportunities must never be passed up. I always say yes, then often find myself having to deal with the resulting absurd consequences. To me, everything seems like a good idea at the time. I’ve spent my entire life saying yes to just about everything. Although I’ve always drawn the line at eating beige food, taking drugs and voting Conservative. Anything else gets a great big YES from me. And a despairing ‘you’ve agreed to do WHAT?’ from those around me.
And while it has often got me into some daft scrapes, saying yes has delivered some of the most magnificent moments of my life. This philosophy culminated in December 2016 when I found myself AT THE FUCKING SOUTH POLE. WITH BUZZ ALDRIN. Has being Weird held me back? What do YOU think?
AK: Meh. You’ve done ok, I guess. Although you must be the only person in the advertising industry that’s never taken drugs. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done, work-wise?
FCUK wasn’t Weird. It was a strictly logical idea. The reaction to it, however, was Weird personified.
TB: I’d like to think that, by most standards, all of my work has been Weird. That’s its charm. Working with David Lynch, the very emperor of Weird, to produce a PlayStation TV commercial which was a glimpse into his mind was proper Weird. God knows how a TV audience in 2021 would react to that now. Working with Chris Cunningham, crown prince of Weird, on our Mental Wealth commercial, again for PlayStation, was beyond fun. Was it appreciated? They sold out of consoles in a week, it won a D&AD Pencil, which I promptly threw in the Thames.
FCUK wasn’t Weird. It was a strictly logical idea. The reaction to it, however, was Weird personified. Both in and out of adland. And I loved every minute of it. The movie Moon was Weird because none of us had a bloody clue what we were doing. A tiny, disparate bunch of tykes guided by the genius of [director] Duncan Jones. It had no right to succeed. Won Duncan a Bafta. Should’ve won an Oscar. That’s fucking Weird. But true. Working with Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, Prince? Incredibly Weird.
Making our new movie Midas Man, with the amazing Jonas Åkerlund. The incredible life story of Brian Epstein (the man who discovered The Beatles) when the combined might of Hollywood has tried and failed to do so on five separate occasions? Damn Weird. We start shooting in Liverpool in October.
Above: Though incredibly successful, Beattie and TBWA\London's FCUK campaign for French Connection was not heralded by everyone.
AK: I didn’t know about the Pencil in the Thames story! My favourite story about the Mental Wealth campaign is that you made the actress laugh from behind the camera, and they kept it in the ad. I can’t even handle how eclectic the mix of achievements you’ve just listed is. How, then, would you describe your creative purpose?
TB: To have as much fun as humanly possible. This has and never will change.
AK: And what’s your creative process?
TB: I have two methods: All Consuming or Total Ignorance.
All Consuming involves carrying the essence of the brief and subject matter around with me 25 hours a day. Seeing everything I see, hearing all I hear, smell, taste and touch through the filter of that brief. It makes me very boring to be with. And, Weirdly, it’s a technique of working which actually features heavily in the black comedy movie How To Get Ahead In Advertising.
The more I refuse to acknowledge that there’s a deadly deadline looming, the more likely my imagination is to tap me on the shoulder and beg me to come indoors and take a look at this amazing idea it’s been working on.
Total Ignorance, as the name might suggest, is the opposite approach. I blackmail my brain into having an idea. By which I mean, instead of sitting down and believing an idea will materialise on the desk in front of me (spoiler alert: it won’t), I wander off, ignore the brief and the brand and concentrate on something really important. Like drinking white wine. Or gardening. But never both simultaneously.
Ideas are what happen to you while you’re busy making other plans. The more I refuse to acknowledge that there’s a deadly deadline looming, the more likely my imagination is to tap me on the shoulder and beg me to come indoors and take a look at this amazing idea it’s been working on. This is, of course, a risky approach. Playing a game of chicken with one’s own subconscious. Weird, even. But it can pay massive dividends and, as a result, I have a lovely garden paid for by the rewards the ideas my mind came up with while I was otherwise engaged.
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Above: Beattie worked with David Lynch on PlayStation 2's The Third Place campaign.
AK: You could do the Chelsea Flower Show one day, maybe? Obviously as a character and industry legend you’re pretty fucking luminous, but do you think the ad industry has a problem with a cult of personality, whilst at the same time suffering from crippling homogeneity?
TB: I really don’t know.
I think adland has been having personality issues for years. It has the most gazed-at navel in the business world.
TB: I think adland has been having personality issues for years. It has the most gazed-at navel in the business world. Many ad people talk a good fight, almost none actually fight for anything new. It’s the homogenous output which concerns me most at the moment. For all the big talk of difference, I’m seeing an awful lot of awfully samey mood films and solemn, worthy brand manifestos out there. All completely interchangeable between brands.
We get it. You care. You love your fellow humans. Now shut the fuck up and show me if your product is still only 5% fat. And please, for the love of Christ, stop crying and encouraging us to sob along with you. We used to cry when we lost. Now we cry when we win. And when we draw. Or meet up with someone we haven’t seen for three days. Gimme a break. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Other fucking emotions are available.*
AK: So, do you think it’s easier these days to be the same as everyone else? To be normal?
TB: What is this ‘Normal’ of which you speak? I know it not.
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Above: The PlayStation 2 campaign directed by Chris Cunningham and creative directed by Beattie.
AK: Ok, fine. Let’s move onto the working class chip on my shoulder. Do you think there’s a relationship between weirdness and social class?
TB: What a brilliant insight. John Lennon said the world fears an articulate working class lad. Boris Johnson says ‘wibble’ most days and gets away with it. Weirdness and eccentricity are lauded and expected in the upper echelons of British society, and seen as a human flaw among the working class. I could spend days discussing this.
AK: I hope that you don’t turn out to be a serial killer one day and this interview is used as evidence in a court of law. Are you happy?
Weirdness and eccentricity are lauded and expected in the upper echelons of British society, and seen as a human flaw among the working class.
TB: Sorry to disappoint, but I’m afraid I put serial killing on the same ‘no’ list as voting Conversative. Just not for me. And yes, behind this sulking, grumpy demeanour, I am the happiest person I know. Why wouldn’t I be? I’m going to space next year [Beattie is booked onto the next Virgin Galactic flight that will carry paying passengers]. How weird is that?
AK: Yeah, it’s alright. That’s all the questions I have!
TB: Just as well. Because that’s all I got. Hope all that helps. And good luck with the cult!
AK: Pick what merch you want. You can have either the fingerless gloves or a perishable water bottle made out of gluten-free spaghetti.
TB: Well, I’ve never drunk water in my life, so to start now would be far too Weird, even for me. So that rules out the bottle. And you know that spaghetti is beige food. And don’t get me bloody started on gluten-free. Fingerless gloves it is! Hey, I could wear them in space.
*While stocks last.