Homage to ‘legendary’ George Smith

The direct marketing industry has once more paid tribute to one of its founding fathers, George Smith, who died late last week following a long battle against motor neurone disease.
Smith’s passing comes just weeks after the death of his old friend IDM founder Professor Derek Holder and the man who called George ‘a legend in direct marketing’.
Watson Phillips Norman managing partner John Watson said: “I knew George as two exceptional characters. First was a down-to-earth and very clever direct marketer. He understood the combination of creativity and results better than almost anyone else I knew, and, when setting up WWAV in the early Eighties, George (through his then agency Smith Bundy) was a worrying competitor as well as someone you could do business with.
“But the other character was as George the writer – not simply the copywriter, at which he was unnervingly good, but George the columnist. His regular columns in Paul Rowney’s original and scurrilous ‘Deadline’ were its best feature by far, and when Deadline sadly vanished to be replaced by much more grown-up publications, George’s columns were still unique.
“I don’t know anyone else who could make a serious point in quite such an entertaining way. They’re worth re-reading endlessly because what they say remains true today, and they’re just as funny as they always were. We’ve lost a real
star.
Terry Hunt, one of the key figures behind the launch of Tesco Clubcard, who now heads up Customer & Co, said he “was fortunate to meet George when I was young enough to learn from a master, absorbing all the wisdom he generously shared”.
He added: “I continued to benefit from his guidance throughout my career. George was a gifted writer and communicator, a sharp wit, a smart businessman and a true and kind friend. I’ll miss him keenly.”
Proximity London executive creative director Caitlin Ryan recalls Smith as “a true gentleman with a twinkle in his eye”. She said: “He taught all of us here at Proximity not only the craft of writing good charity copy – but gave us a love of the sector as well. His legacy, unlike his work, is immeasurable.”
Meanwhile Drayton Bird added: “George Smith was a man of rare talent and great wit. He was one of the best writers in an industry blessed with far too few. The published collections of his articles are well worth reading and rereading. They are both funny and extremely perceptive.
“He bore a dreadful illness with the most admirable serenity and courage. He was an ornament to a profession – or trade – with far too few. I knew him – but not nearly as well as I would have wished.”
As well as an agency man, Smith as a councillor on Lambeth Council, four of those as chairman of the arts and recreation committee, alongside Ken Livingstone.
When Livingstone went on to run the Greater London Council, Smith worked on the ‘Claim What’s Yours’ campaign in the early Eighties, using a mixture of advertising and direct techniques to educate Londoners on their rights and entitlements.
Smith used to say that it was the hardest campaign he ever worked on, but was also proud that it persuaded 140,000 people to claim their rights and really got up Margaret Thatcher’s nose.
Bird commented: “His politics were to the left, but I hope he would not have minded if I had said he really was a gentleman and a scholar.”
IDM chairman Simon Hall believed that George “was one of the cleverest people I’ve ever met. The IDM owes him so much. He had a big heart and was great company, being fluent in all matters of the day, from politics to footy”.
Hall concluded: “He was the only politician I’ve ever met who had a brilliant mind, wrote like a God and always believed in doing the right thing. An inspiration to so many – he will be sorely missed.”
A celebration of Smith’s life and work is planned for the summer.

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‘Legend’ George Smith passes away
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1 Comment on "Homage to ‘legendary’ George Smith"

  1. Charlie says: “The word ‘legend’ is often bandied around but rarely deserved. Yet for George it is entirely appropriate. Many of today’s direct marketing leaders learned at his side, and the industry would have been a much poorer place without him. George and his old friend Derek Holder had a massive influence on so many people; both true greats of the business.”

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