RIP, Alan Cluer

If you are a fan of the ‘Mad Men’ era of advertising, then you may be saddened to learn of the passing of Alan Cluer.  What’s just as sad as his passing is that he died on June 18, but it was unreported until this weekend.  I came across his obituary “Fixer who linked creative sectors by putting stars into ads” written by Phil Davison in the Saturday, August 4, 2012 edition of the Financial Times.

In show business and in advertising, Alan Cluer was known as the celebrity Mr. Fix-It.  It was to him the west’s leading ad agencies turned if they wanted a star name to boost a brand.  Cluer, who has died aged 72, carved out a career as the consummate go-between.

He brought together Jamie Oliver and J Sainsbury (worth about £1.5m a year for the chef at the peak of that contract with the UK supermarket chain), The Sopranos protagonist James Gandolfini and American Airlines, comedian Rowan Atkinson and Barclaycard, and bruiser actor Bob Hoskins persuading Britons on behalf of BT that “it’s good to talk.”

Cluer even got Henry Kissinger to endorse The Economist in an ad without the US statesman saying a word or even being seen to read the magazine.  Under his auspices a septuagenerian Burt Lancaster was seen to learn that Australian hitchhikers preferred Foster’s lager to a 1929 Armagnac; Dudley Moore, Prunella Scales and Jane Horrocks gave the impression that they shopped in Sainsbury’s rival Tesco; and supermodels such as Naomi Campbell insisted they could get their long legs inside a Vauxhall/Opel Corsa.

Before he found his niche, serious actors looked on ads as a sellout best left to the has-beens or those struggling with their facelift bills.  And Cluer had no problem with the “fixer” tag.  “In showbiz parlance, a fixer is the guy who knows everyone, who’s good, who’s available, who’s not, what they cost,” he told Campaign, the UK adland weekly, in a 2006 interview.

As Dominic Mills, editor of Campaign at the time, described Cluer: “With something of the demeanour of a Bond villain – hawkish face, vaguely mysterious, a knowing charm, a manipulative mischievousness and a sense that it would not necessarily be advisable to cross him – Cluer in person comes with all the right accoutrements: the linen suits, Paul Smith glasses, Hollywood-style tan, teeth from central casting, gold lighter and the ever-present box of Davidoff cigarettes.”

Cluer long operated from London but latterly from Geneva, calling his company Talent Negotiating.  Until cancer struck, he was still found in frequent residence at The Dorchester hotel, socializing a stroll away at Les Ambassadeurs club, golfing at Wentworth in Surrey or being air-kissed by celebs en route to his table at The Ivy or San Lorenzo.  The death of Cluer, who was divorced and childless, came on June 18 but has gone unreported until now.  He is survived by a sister, Brenda.

The son of a pub landlord, Alana Blake Cluer was born in Peterborough, eastern England, in June 1939 and went to Stamford School in the nearby market town of that name.  His first job was as an accountant at the Massey-Ferguson tractor company in Peterborough before, in the 1960s, he bumped into a music promoter.  Cluer soon found himself promoting concert tours by such stars as Frank Sinatra and the Jackson 5 and producing films including Absolution (1978, with Richard Burton and Billy Connolly).

In the early 1980s he was contacted by Martin Boase, co-founder of Boase Massimi Pollitt, whose agency was having a problem with an advertising contract involving comedian Lenny Henry and Smith’s crisps.  “Call Al Cluer,” suggested Mr. Boase’s friend Gray Jolliffe, cartoonist for the Daily Mail newspaper.  Cluer soon found himself in demand from other big advertising agencies including Lowe Howard Spink and Abbott Mead Vickers.  They saw him as the fixer needed to deal with volatile, and often greedy, celebrities and their agents.

“Everyone says they want Caine or Connery and Alan disabuses you that notion very quickly,” Robert Campbell, former creative director of McCann Erickson, told Campaign.  “For American Airlines we wanted someone who personified a tough, unreasonable New Yorker.  We talked about Martin Scorsese or Rudy Giuliani, but we settled on James Gandolfini, who’d just finished a series of The Sopranos.  Not only was he available, but he was also very much in the public eye and perfect for the role.”

Yet Cluer found his own role increasingly marginalized as brands and agencies turned to computer-enhanced imagery, graphics, music and as few words as possible, for the sake of a gloal audience.  Celebreties became too expensive, or even negative factors, as they were prone to do unpredictable things off-screen.

“Perhaps Alan’s talent was past its time,” Sir Frank Lowe, his longtime friend and top adland executive told the Financial Times.  “Nonetheless, his contribution to advertising was not only invaluable, it was unique.”

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