Recently I wrote that I thought Richard Littlejohn was a funny writer.

Some people said they were surprised and disappointed with me.

Because he was a reactionary dinosaur.

My response is “Yes, and what’s that got to do with his writing ability?”

I didn’t say I agreed with his politics.

Or his taste in ties.

Or his eating habits.

Or his personal hygiene.

Or his choice of motor car.

I said I thought he was a funny writer.

End of story.

I also think Rommel was a great general.

That doesn’t mean I agree with him.

That doesn’t mean I think he was a nice person.

I don’t admire every fibre of his being.

Churchill and Montgomery also thought Rommel was a great general.

And they tried to kill him every chance they could.

Because they thought he was a great general.

And he was on the other side.

They understood you don’t have to be on our side to be good at what you do.

Surely we can hold that thought in our heads.

I think Caravaggio was a great painter.

He was also a thug and a murderer.

I’m not saying I want to go out drinking every night with Caravaggio.

I’d don’t want him as my best mate.

All I am saying is I can learn a lot about chiaroscuro lighting from Caravaggio.

Not morals, not ethics, not humanity.


I can learn a lot about camera movement and film editing from Leni Riefenstahl.

She made ‘Triumph Of The Will’ for Hitler.

I can learn from the way inserts are used, shot the next day and dropped into a master shot, to add pace and mood to a piece of footage.

That doesn’t mean I want to find out how she voted so I can copy her.

I think Noel Coward was a great lyricist.

It doesn’t mean I want to be gay like him, pose with a cigarette holder and call everyone ‘darling’.

It means he can teach me a lot about writing words to music.

Not lifestyle.

Not fashion sense.

Not cooking recipes.


Can we only learn from people we like?

Aren’t we a little more intelligent than that?

Or do we have to pretend that people we can learn from are always admirable in every detail?

That seems a bit football-supporter mentality to me.

“My team’s great, your team’s shit!”

Not really the basis for an intelligent discussion, is it?

It’s a variation on “My country, right or wrong”.

All the intellectual depth of Sarah Palin or fundamentalists.

Some of the greatest people in our business have been complete arseholes as human beings.

Would I want to spend my leisure time with them?

No way.

Would I work for them?

In a second.

Respecting someone is not the same as liking them

Because working with someone is not the same as relaxing with them.

Whitehead said, “It is the mark of the educated mind to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it.”

So why must supposedly intelligent people reduce everything to just one dogmatic point.

Why can’t we hold more than one thought in our head at a time?

Because, unless we can manage to do that, our business becomes just about winning arguments.

Not about getting the right answer.

Years ago Tim Delany said about a client “He might win the argument, but that doesn’t make him right.”

We learn that lesson in our business more than anywhere.

We sit in rooms full of intelligent people, everyone’s got a degree.

Clients, account men, planners, creatives, strategists, consultants.

Then we debate every single dot and comma of every single ad.

The nuances, the details, are argued to death.

As much thought and debate goes into the ad as any university thesis.

Eventually the person who is best at arguing wins.

And the ad runs on the street.

And it’s invisible.

Because every other ad alongside it was arrived at in exactly the same process.

Those people confused winning an argument with being right.

And so, in the real world, they were wrong.

Because they couldn’t hold two thoughts in their head.

What works inside an ad agency.

And what works outside in the real world.

If we really cared about that, we might not be so concerned about winning arguments in the agency.

We might be more concerned about what works on the street.

But for that we’ve got to be able to hold two thoughts in our head at the same time.