Alan Waldie was unforgettable for me long before I ever met him. My first creative boss, Ron Brown, told me stories about Alan from his time working with Alan at, I think, the Roger Pryor advertising agency. My first full time art director, Phillip Eldridge, also regaled me with the antics of Waldie, gleaned from the time when he was Alan’s assistant. That was in 1969. In early 1970, I moved to Charles Barker advertising, to work with John Sherfield. John had been at Allen, Brady and Marsh with Alan, and John, too, was a compendium of ‘Waldie Stories’. So, too, was the creative secretary at Charles Barker, Maureen. She also described dozens of adventures she’d had in the company of Alan Waldie when she worked with him. I couldn’t help thinking, who was this amazing character who led such a colourful life?
I finally met him in 1973, when I joined Collett, Dickenson and Pearce. He looked the very opposite of the person I imagined. There he was, the absolute epitome of the English country gentleman: tweed jacket, tightly knotted tie, Tattersall check shirt, V-neck cashmere sweater and corduroy trousers. He couldn’t have appeared more conservative if he’d tried. But when he spoke, he was more unforgettable than ever. That conservative exterior belied an anarchic interior. This was a man who was either barking mad or a genius. Or both. At times it was hard to tell. I was soon able to form my own opinion, though.
Almost a week into my sojourn at CDP I was invited by Terry Lovelock to join him, Phil Mason and Alan for drinks at the Caveau Club, a terrible dive in a basement somewhere in Soho. As I descended the steps to the front door I saw the headwaiter spot Waldie, and hastily lock up the club’s upright piano. We entered, and Waldie, undeterred, made a beeline for the cutlery tray. He took a knife, prised open the piano and proceeded to play the opening bars of Jerry Lee Lewis’s ‘Great Balls of Fire’. That was my induction – first hand – into the wonderful world of the unforgettable Alan Waldie. It’s a world that my life would have been all the poorer, all the duller, and all the less entertaining, if I hadn’t become one of its inhabitants. I guess the inhabitants of Heaven are now undergoing a similar experience to mine – and if anybody can manage to play Great Balls of Fire on a harp, it will be Waldie – assuming God doesn’t lock the harp up first.
RIP Alan Waldie, advertising art director,
June 12, 1940 — December 9, 2016.