Six decades of D&AD awards: the 1980s

D&AD's design awards have enthralled the industry for over half a century. In the third in our series of articles, R/GA's George Prest looks back at some of the winners from the '80s.

Design and Art Direction (D&AD) was founded in 1962 by a group of London-based designers and art directors including David Bailey, Terence Donovan, Alan Fletcher and Colin Forbes (who designed the original D&AD logo). The group was dedicated to celebrating creative communication, rewarding its practitioners, and raising standards across the industry.

Today D&AD has evolved into a major global organisation that exists to promote excellence in design and advertising everywhere through educational programmes and rewarding great work through its annual Yellow Pencil awards. Here D&AD's George Prest (above) recalls some of the most memorable winners in the 1980s...

Maggie, the Falklands war, Afghanistan, Rent-a-Ghost, my mum getting a Mini Metro, Lockerbie, Airwolf, the massive storm, the bombing of Libya, Northern Ireland, Chernobyl, playing Revs on a BBC Micro, Acid House music, drainpipe jeans, Reebok Silver Shadows, skateboarding, Chariots of Fire and Ronald Reagan.

This is some of what I remember of the 1980s, in no particular order and unsure of the significance of any of it. To look at the D&AD winning work from that decade is a kaleidoscopic experience as well. There’s humour and attitude, tradition and change and the conventional and the downright bizarre. I think that the industry looks back at this time as a golden age. Let’s examine the evidence to see if this is a rose-tinted approach.

  • Also read our articles about the D&AD awards in the 1960s and 1970s

01. Lego 'Kipper'

This is without doubt one of the best television commercials ever written. The circular script, the performance of the voiceover, the stop-frame animation and the way it perfectly captures how Lego fires and embodies the imagination of the children that play with it. It’s all there, beautifully rooted in the product and without having to explain itself. No wonder it won a gold.

  • Year: 1981
  • Award: The 1981 D&AD Gold Award for Film Advertising
  • Client: Lego (UK) Limited
  • Agency: TBWA Limited
  • Director: Ken Turner
  • Copywriter: Mike Cozens
  • Art Director: Graham Watson
  • Editor: Patrick Udale
  • Agency Producer: Jane Bearman
  • Model Maker: David Lyall
  • Animator: Dennis Russo
  • Lighting Cameraman: Tom Harrison
  • Production Company: Clearwater Films
  • Advertising Manager: Clive Nicholls

02. Monty Python 'Mrs Cleese'

This is a very modern advert as well and is clearly the forerunner of lots of the work that we have celebrated in more modern times. John Cleese’s mum asks the public to go and see his film so that she can afford to stay in her fancy nursing home. A lateral thought, beautifully realised. You know and trust that it’s his actual mum, she is totally charming and arresting, and the way that she laughs at the end is delightful.

  • Year: 1980
  • Award: The 1980 D&AD Silver Award For the Most Outstanding Radio Commercial
  • Client: Cinema International Corporation
  • Agency: Lonsdale Advertising Limited
  • Concept Creators: John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin
  • Agency Producer: Margaret Allison
  • Directors: John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin
  • Producer: John Goldstone
  • Production Company: Handmade Films
  • Marketing Directors: Duncan Clark

03. Levis 'Thompson', 'Kerouac', 'Kesey'

Beautiful print advertisements. Dripping with attitude and cool but so minimal in their execution. These were still pride of place at BBH when I started working there 11 years later. No product, perfect art direction and the best copywriters that one could hope for in the three quoted authors. Three from three for the 1980s so far, a golden age indeed.

  • Year: 1988
  • Award: Silver Award Nomination, Consumer Campaigns
  • Client: Levi Strauss Europe SA
  • Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty Limited
  • Art Director: Graham Watson
  • Copywriter: Chris Herring
  • Photographer: Elliott Erwitt
  • Typographer: Neil Archer
  • Marketing Director: Louis Kirtman

04. Channel 4 'The Snowman'

Make that four from four. The Snowman has become part of our culture, a staple of Christmas, so simple, so magnificent but bittersweet at the end. I wonder if the jury that gave it a Silver Pencil, as they took in the beauty of the animation and its relationship with the music, even entertained the thought that they were judging something that would become a cultural artifact? It would be fascinating to find out.

  • Year: 1983
  • Award: The 1983 D&AD Silver Award for the most outstanding Animated Film
  • Programme Company: Channel Four Television Limited
  • Production Company: Snowman Enterprisers Limited
  • Producer: John Coates
  • Music Composer: Howard Blake
  • Lighting Cameraman: Peter Turner
  • Editor: John Cary
  • Animators: Stephen Weston, Robin White

05. Jean-Michel Jarre 'China Promotion'

So the 1980s were an outstanding decade, classic, peerless and the true foundation of advertising as we know it today? Well, yes but check out this promo for Jean Michel Jarre’s China tour. In contrast to everything above it seems dated and rooted in its time. So '80s, a bit off-beam and culturally naïve, like JMJ himself. This would probably go down well in Dalston today, I think, until the next fad came along.

  • Year: 1983
  • Award: D&AD Silver Award for the most outstanding Record Promotion
  • Client: Francis Dreyfus Music
  • Art Director: Kate Hepburn
  • Copywriter: Jean-Michel Jarre
  • Photographer: Mark Fisher
  • Illustrator: Kate Hepburn
  • Typographer: Kate Hepburn
  • Advertising Manager: Mark Fisher

Words: George Prest

George Prest is executive creative director at R/GA London and a member of the Board of Trustees at D&AD.

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