RIP Charlie Robertson (1954 – 2018)
APG Chair 1990-91
I learnt with great sadness and shock that one of planning’s greatest practitioners had passed away on October 1st after suffering a fatal heart attack while out for dinner with (ex BBH) friends. I had a drink with him only a fortnight ago up in Edinburgh after an IPA Effectiveness gig, and he was happy to be immediately roped in as my comedy partner in the audience as I ranted from the platform. He told me how great it was to be back up living in his home town of Glasgow, near his grown up kids, Chloe, Croy and Leo, after a stint in London.
I have always thought of Pony Tail Charlie (another nickname included Mick Hucknall Charlie) as one of the greats in the Caledonian Planning Mafia - along with Roddy Glen, MT Rainey, Rob White, Andy Nairn et al. Not just bloody clever, but terrifically good company. Charlie acolyte Kay Scorah has called him ‘a mad looking bastard with long white hair’ in her recent post about their friendship. You can take the man out of Glasgow….
He was a wonderful boss, mentor, provocateur, partner, pioneer, entrepreneur, strategist, tutor, trainer and leader. Campaign called him a ‘planning guru’ in their newsflash, and one of the endorsements on his LinkedIn page describes him in one word; ‘God-like’. I would agree – his reputation was formidable and our industry is the better for Charlie’s 40+ year presence. His generous and persuasive influence, not least due to his 24 years at the helm of Red Spider, his virtual planning consultancy and training school, means that his concentrated good sense has enhanced the careers of probably thousands of advertising people all over the world, not to forget the fortunes of the brands he worked on. “If you can’t get your idea over in 20 words or less, then it’s not going to work” is a Charlie aphorism we should all embrace.
Vanella Jackson (former Charlie BBH trainee, now Global CEO of Hall & Partners) said Charlie was “always sending me things to get my mind humming, giving me the best advice ever, seeing things for me that I could not see myself. This was a man that always did what he said he would do, rare in our busy luvvie darlings world”.
Many of us have fond, funny and ‘hats off’ memories of time well spent with Charlie, but here are a couple of my favourites amidst the recent circulation of terrific tributes.
From a training session many years ago: “Charlie stood at the front of the gathering of a rather po-faced bunch of civil servants in a floral shirt, jeans and grey hair down to his shoulders, and shouted: 'THUS UZZ A RUSK FREE ZORN!’. That woke them up”.
This one is from Rae Burdon, a top old school gentleman account handler from both my Saatchi and JWT days. He wrote: “I first met Charlie when Red Spider were appointed to work on a famously ‘uncertain' Diageo brand. He set out the directional options to the client and explained the merits of each of those.
'Thank you', said the client.
'Not yet', said Charlie. ‘Make a decision.’
‘Er, which one?', asked the client.
'Doesn’t matter’, replied Charlie. 'Just make a bloody decision’.
Following this session Charlie, quite rightly, told me to ‘cowboy up’ on the business. He sent me a little plastic cowboy which sat on my desk for many years until succumbing to loss in the depths of one of the many black bin bags that punctuated my career. Now we’ve lost the real thing. I wasn’t as close as some of you will have been, but close enough to know how special, how precious, he was”.
Hear hear Rae, and Charlie. All planners should all be more cowboy.
There will be an obituary in the Times Scottish Edition (and possibly UK) on Monday 8th October. Charlie’s much loved wife Theresa predeceased him in 2011 – apparently he once placed an ad in the Times Classified on February 13th saying to her “I love you so much I cannot wait for tomorrow”. He was always creative and so very, very funny. Our thoughts go out to his family at this very sad time; dear Charlie, you have left us too soon, too fast.