Yesterday’s ITV programme on 30 years of Now initially made me cross, then sad, and then….well, it came and it went, so, philosophical! Having been involved at its concept (my posting from earlier this year is repeated below, though my reader my already have seen it!) I knew the story of the first ten years, the TV-advertised compilations that preceded it, and the cover version LP’s that sold so well in the 1970’s (can those minor celebrities really not have known about them….everyone is so young these days!). I didn’t know that Sir Richard Branson bought that poster from a shop girl who subsequently became his wife, but I do know that Dickie Pickles’s only involvement was a) to have had the poster in one of the Virgin offices and b) maybe to have asked Jon Webster to make that call to me in autumn of 1983 (Note from my diary: September 28, 1983 – Virgin come to us with the idea of a co-op TV advertised hits album. Could be a great idea). Somehow the NOW story became the Richard Branson How I Met My Wife story! After that, to the best of my memory neither of them were involved any further. For the anally minded, the first two albums (LP & cassette) were masterminded by EMI’s TV division – John Cavanagh and Brian Berg, and Strategic Marketing, under my leadership, took over after that. The key players and hard workers were Ashley Abram, who at least got a second on the programme and whose ability to acquire 90% of the tracks, deal with the trade-offs and put the whole thing into a logical and interesting running order, I think continues until this day; Barry McCann and Jane Chalmers (now Willis) who both worked for me and who spent hours so above and beyond their official weekly quota, overseeing the mastering, the TV commercial and print and instore advertising that they really deserved recognition (and both would have made good TV), London Media, who spent the advertising budget so well (how we looked forward to being in the first ad break in Coronation Street) and Shoot That Tiger who created the artwork. The “pig” story you can re-read below, though I would have loved our original non-music TV advert for NOW 4 to have been seen and reacted to. It was great to see Peter Duckworth and Steve Pritchard. Once I and Barry had both left EMI Peteandsteve, who had, with Ashley Abram, created Virgin’s “The Best….in the World, Ever” series, took over and thankfully for everyone, have sensibly been retained by the new partnership of Warner Brothers and Sony to carry on the brand. It’s fascinating that NOW sales are once again lauded as the best in the industry. In the 1980’s we were pre-selling over one million copies – wonder what the equivalent figure is today.
Here’s the earlier story
Today’s news (Telegraph Business Section) that Sony is likely to buy the EMI share of the NOW series, a sale forced upon Universal by EC idiots, but one of the few that make sense, as Universal were the other 50% partner in the series, prompts some more “where has the time gone” memories.
Thirty years ago I was Marketing Director at EMI and mid autumn 1983 took a phone call from my compatriot at Virgin (then still a highly successful stand alone company), the mighty Jon Webster. The brain fades fast these days, but this conversation still sticks.
Basically it went like this: “You’re having a lot of hits, we’re having a lot of hits. Instead of giving them all away to Arcade or Ronco or K-Tel (independent companies who were first to realise the power of television to sell records), why don’t we do it ourselves”
I was as excited as Jon about this, and we both quickly relayed the idea to our bosses, Richard Branson and Peter Jamieson respectively. They met in Branson’s office off Ladbroke Grove and chewed it all over, but were stumped for a title. On Richard Branson’s wall was this poster. A series was born, courtesy the Danish Bacon Company.
The first two LP’s (LP and cassette in those days, friends) were masterminded by others, but come NOW 3, I was leading a division at EMI which had catalogue exploitation as its hub, and we took over. The pig was King, so for NOW 4, we decided we could walk on water and came up with a TV ad (someone must still have it) which featured virtually no music! It was the pig, swaggering along singing badly to some fuzzy sounds emanating from his headphones (Walkman era), with a very posh voice saying “This swine is listening to NOW 4, 32 of the finest hits….etc”. The only audio track I remember is “Who you gonna call, Ghostbusters” sung in the actor’s very Northern accent. We thought it was the bee’s knees, the dog’s bollocks or indeed the pig’s trotters, but the men upstairs went ballistic and immediately consigned it to the trough. The pig didn’t care – we still featured him as if in the proverbial sun sh*t in the “Music Week” advert, and the record still sold a million plus copies.
Peter Jamieson was probably right to veto our creativity, but definitely wrong when he said he couldn’t see the series going into double figures! It’s now rapidly approaching Vol.100. The pig was laid to rest decades ago, but we will always remember what he started.