Colman Prentis & Varley (UK)

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Colman Prentis & Varley - often better known by its abbreviation of CPV - was one of the leading British advertising agencies of the post-war years. It was formed in 1934 as a breakway from what was then the country's leading agency WS Crawford. Terence and Betty Prentis had managed advertising at Crawfords for fashion label Jaeger, and they set out on their own with that company's support. They joined forces with two other Crawfords executives, Robert Colman and Arthur Varley, who brought with them an important collection of other clients such as Norvic Shoes, cotton manufacturer Horrockses and Elizabeth Arden cosmetics. The business got off to a solid start before the interruption of World War II. Colman and Varley went off to fight - Varley rose to the position of Colonel - while Terence and Betty Prentis kept what little business was still available ticking over.

The agency restarted officially in 1945, though Terence Prentis passed away unexpectedly the following year. Varley was, as chairman, to be the main engine of CP&V's dramatic growth over the following two decades, playing a leading role in the drive to rebuild Britain's export industry in its traditional pre-war colonial markets. He was described later by one staff member as "the sharpest mind in London... so jolly clever he gets bored when things start running smoothly... that's when the trouble starts".

He was supported in this by Jack Beddington, appointed as deputy chairman in the late 1940s. Before the war Beddington had overseen global publicity for oil giant Shell, before becoming head of film at the Ministry of Information in 1940. There, he was responsible for production of propaganda films to boost British morale, but also served as the main point of contact between government and commercial film producers, such as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. His support contributed greatly to the artistic success of such classic movies as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and A Matter of Life and Death. At CPV in the late 1940s and early 1950s he championed the work of leading contemporary artists, who he commissioned to produce advertising work for the agency's clients.

In 1948, CPV was hired by the Conservative Party to rebuild its public image following the disastrous 1945 election, the first time any British political party had deigned to employ an advertising agency. CPV was widely credited with turning around the image of the Tories, resulting in three consecutive election victories between 1951 and 1959. The latter was especially controversial, for the Conservatives' unapologetic embrace of mass-market advertising to get its message across. It was CPV who came up with the long-running Conservative Party slogan "Life's Better With The Conservatives - Don't Let Labour Ruin It". This led to to accusations by Labour that CPV had sold prospective Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to the public "as though he were a detergent". Needless to say, they were just as quick to adopt the same techniques for the 1964 election that re-elected Labour under Harold Wilson with the slogan "Let's Go With Labour and We'll Get Things Done!"

By the early 1960s, CPV was Britian's most international agency by far, with offices of its own in 15 countries in Europe and Latin America, and associate partners in more than 45 more around the globe. As a result it was closely associated with international clients such as British European Airways, Shell and Unilever. However, like other "old school" agencies founded before the war, it was slow to adapt to television. This was partly because Varley, like others of his generation, found the new medium to be vulgar. CPV adapted reasonably quickly, but it was quickly eclipsed by smaller and younger competitors, many of them started by its own former staff. One of the most significant of these was Collett Dickenson & Pearce, itself a breakway from CPV in 1960.

In 1964, Varley negotiated an operational partnership with the New York agency Kenyon & Eckhart, sealed via an exchange of minority shareholdings. However, as CPV's fortunes dwindled during the course of the late 1960s and early 1970s, K&E gradually expanded its holding, buying out CPV's international network in 1971, before taking control of the London agency as well in 1973. The following year, it merged the business into another of its UK satellites, the upstart agency French Gold Abbott. Varley retired from the business, and died a decade later in 1985. The CPV name was consigned to history. Kenyon & Eckhart was itself merged with US rival Bozell a year after Varley's death.

Last full revision 31st October 2017

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