Opinions - Working capital. Do you have to be in London to be a proper creative?


by Magnus Shaw


Paul Burke is a writer and producer with AMV BBDO. In a piece for The Drum and Creative Circle magazines on 28th August he wrote this:
"If you work in advertising and call yourself a creative, why on earth would you move away from London, away from the very hub of creativity?"


Now, allowing for the distinct possibility he is being deliberately provocative, this may well be the most depressing statement I've read in quite a while. I've lived in a handful of cities, one of which was London. I was there in the eighties and for about five years in the latter half of the nineties. I don't live there any longer, but I do remember my time in the capital with affection and gratitude. After all, it was in London I managed to gain a foothold in the creative business as a copywriter - a career which has, so far, lasted about eighteen years. So this is by no means an anti-metropolitan rant. It is, however, a heart-felt contradiction of Burke's assertion.

Here he is again:

"It's (London) where whatever's going to happen, happens first."

This is simply incorrect. Of course, thanks to its size, many exciting and original creative projects issue from the city, but this is far from an exclusive situation. Consider The Hacienda, probably the best known club the UK ever hosted and very firmly sited in Manchester. Or the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (the clue's in the name) or the Baltic Centre For Contemporary Art in Gateshead. And just remind me where The Beatles came from .

This is just a snapshot of the creativity which has thrived outside of the M25 and far from being a boast, it is just a logical observation. Human beings, for complicated and little understood reasons, are inherently creative. Whether we write, paint, photograph, sculpt or direct advertisements, we are blessed and cursed with the need to be artistic. The idea that creative excellence would be hermetically sealed in a single city is nonsensical and bizarre.

Describing a friend who has moved away from London, Burke says:

"I can't help thinking his moving out betrays evidence of creativity losing its edge."

Why would he think that? Is there a sinister outpost at Brent Cross wherein the talented and inspired are stripped of their faculties before heading up the M1? A creative professional with flair and ability will carry those attributes to any location because they are part of that individual's personality, experience and knowledge. However, Paul Burke doesn't see this:

"Clever, interesting people ... value our capital city, contribute to it and couldn't bear to leave it behind."

I'm sure this is true. But one could also say the same about Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham or Bristol. Either the statement is hollow or, as I suspect, Burke imagines clever and interesting people can only be found in London - indeed, it is London that makes them that way.

I wouldn't be so cocky as to claim to be either clever or interesting, but I can state with absolute confidence that some of the most brilliantly gifted creative people I will ever know live north of Watford. And for my part, the creative work of which I am most proud has mostly been generated in the years since I left the capital. Certainly any awards I have won were acquired in that period. In truth, this isn't because the provinces have been more inspiring but because I have matured, learnt more and enjoyed better opportunities as I have aged. The location has had very little to do with it.

Paul Burke refers to London as "the very hub of creativity" but presents no evidence for this. Our capital is huge, much larger than Paris or Rome so, not unexpectedly, there is a far greater volume of creative businesses than in other cities. But does this make it the country's "creative hub"? It's all relative. If you live in the Home Counties, I'm sure London is your creative centre. But I am based in the centre of England and have clients in London, Manchester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield. So where is my "creative hub"? Probably between my ears.

I don't know Mr.Burke and I'm sure he's a splendid guy with a knack for sparking debate, but I do think he rather betrays himself when he says:

"I've never lived outside the North Circular ..."

Paul, with respect, if you think a creative career can only be successful if it's based in The Smoke, you really should get out more.

Magnus Shaw is a copywriter, blogger and consultant.

Visit Magnus Shaw's website
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