There has never been a man more suited to the opulent 80s than Sir Tim Bell. Fast cars, fancy restaurants and bubbles were indulged in unashamedly during advertising’s glorious era by the man deemed ’the third Saatchi’.

There has never been a man more suited to the opulent 80s than Sir

Tim Bell. Fast cars, fancy restaurants and bubbles were indulged in

unashamedly during advertising’s glorious era by the man deemed ’the

third Saatchi’.

But Bell is back, having secured the pounds 21m merger with one of

advertising’s hottest agencies, HHCL & Partners, last Thursday. The

deal, which saw Martin Sorrell’s WPP take a 29.9% stake in the group,

pushes Chime’s value to pounds 65m.

The question is, why, after reaching the pinnacle of success in adland,

Bell should wish to re-enter a world which is arguably less attractive

than it was. Cynics have suggested that filthy lucre has been the

driving force, a suggestion dismissed by Bell, who is not exactly on the

bread line.

Instead, the need to grow the company following its mediocre share

performance is cited as a primary reason, along with the PR guru’s quest

for a new challenge and a desire to return to his roots. But after a

30-year stint in advertising, does Bell have anything more to offer the


According to Moray MacLennan, joint chief executive of M&C Saatchi, Bell

is by no means a spent force and he welcomes him back. ’There’ll always

be a need for audacious ideas and bold thinking just as there is a need

for his skills of entertaining and charming people. He’d bring a bit of

colour to an industry which has perhaps lost some in recent years.’

The combination of Bell’s colourful charm and Howell Henry’s Tango-style

radicalism could certainly add some much needed fizz to the ad


Bell’s foray into the industry happened almost by accident. He really

wanted to be a pop star - a jazz musician to be precise - but at 16, he

started logging commercial bookings at ABC television in London. He

avoided university because in those days, apparently, students all wore

duffle coats - clothing toward which Bell had a particular aversion.

After ABC, Bell worked in the media departments of three now-defunct

London agencies and in 1970 was hired as media director by the newly

formed Saatchi & Saatchi.

At Saatchis he built a reputation as a charmer, an exhibitionist and a

workaholic. Regularly putting in 16-hour days, staff joked that you

could hear him rattle with the pills and vitamins he took.

His lavish lifestyle included wooing clients at his favourite

restaurant, L’Etoile in Charlotte Street, where he would arrive,

chauffeur-driven, from his office 250 metres down the street. On

becoming joint managing director of Saatchis in 1973 he treated himself

to a red Ferrari - a source of consolation as much as a status symbol.

’When I have to take crap from a 23-year-old assistant brand manager,

the only thing that consoles me is that when we go home, he gets into

his Vauxhall Cavalier and I get into my Ferrari,’ he said to art

director John Hegarty.

He was once one of ten people selected to have Christmas lunch with

Margaret Thatcher. It was the Saatchi team, led by Sir Tim, that helped

secure the Tory victories in 1979 and 1983 - a result of their

innovative and controversial ad campaigns.

While the campaigns impressed the then Prime Minister - she called him

one of her ’laughing boys’ and sent him a thank-you letter and a photo

signed, ’From Margaret, with love’ - not everyone was impressed by his

flamboyance or his ideas. Sir Bernard Ingham, Thatcher’s press

secretary, found some of his ideas ’absolutely bloody barmy’ but was

grateful he didn’t interfere with decisions on government policy.

After 15 years with Saatchi & Saatchi, where he became international

chairman, helping Saatchis become one of the biggest agencies in the

world, Sir Tim set up PR firm Lowe Howard-Spink Bell within Frank Lowe’s

Lowe Group and in 1989 bought it out.

Since then he has built up the UK’s second-largest public relations

group, Lowe Bell Communications, which went public last year under the

holding name Chime Communications.

His services to Lady Thatcher were rewarded in 1990, when he received

his knighthood.

Having become a household name in the UK, Bell looks like he’s aiming at

the international stage now the WPP group is on board. Three years ago,

the idea was inconceivable to Bell, who said, ’PR doesn’t travel’.

Equally inconceivable was the idea of buying an ad agency. In PR Week in

1992 he said he would never buy one: ’I did run the largest agency in

the world. What would I want to do that again for?’ Why indeed?



Chart boy, ABC Television


Media director, Saatchi & Saatchi


Joint managing director, then international chairman

Saatchi & Saatchi


Chairman, Lowe Bell Communications


Chairman, Chime Communications


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