in conversation with British advertising legends

Sir Alan Parker CBE

Born 1944, London

Sir Alan has written and/or directed many iconic films including Bugsy Malone (1976), Midnight Express (1978) Fame (1980), Evita (1996) and The Life of David Gale (2003). Over the years, his films have won nineteen BAFTAs, ten Golden Globes and six Academy Awards. He received the CBE for services to the British Film Industry and was knighted in 2014 for services to business, charitable giving and philanthropy.

But it was working in advertising in the 1960s where his talents first developed.

Sir Alan Parker grew up in a council flat in Islington after the war. He left school at 18 and gained a position working in the mailroom of a small advertising agency in 1962, where his creativity and talent for writing and drawing was noticed. His colleagues encouraging him to write ads in his spare time and he became a copywriter for the firm – Maxwell Clarke.

By 1968 Sir Alan had joined Collet Dickenson Pearce as copywriter where his directing talents evolved. He formed his own film production company and under his creative guidance, it grew with the production of award winning commercials for Bird’s Eye, Cockburns, Benson & Hedges and Cinzano, starring Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter.

Sir Alan made the step to making films. Like other filmmakers of his generation, such as Ridley Scott and Hugh Hudson, commercials had proven the perfect training ground for film - it was the only way to learn the skills in the UK as there was no British film industry at the time. 

Sir Alan Parker’s ethos: “Commercials have to compete with the programme material around it, and our mantra always was that our commercials would be as good as the programmes they were interrupting. So rather than be an irritant, which commercials had been at that time, people started to look forward to them. They started to talk about them, because they were miniature stories.