Reminiscences of David Ogilvy

By employee, protégé and later partner, Drayton Bird 

1. He was intensely insecure
This was partly because his family was not at all well off when he was young. Although an old, distinguished Scottish family, they had fallen upon hard times.

But I suspect it was just as much because he felt overshadowed by his brother Francis.

A brilliant scholar who did very well in advertising, Francis ran Mather & Crowther, the London firm that helped fund Hewitt, Ogilvy, Benson & Mather, which David set up in New York.

Some years ago, a friend found a copy of “Confessions of an Advertising Man” in a second hand shop here in England.

Inside was a message:
“To Francis – The older I get, the more I admire you – David.”

David far outdid his brother. But we cannot eradicate what we feel as children.

2. He worried constantly about money
Shortly after I got to know him, I visited him at Chateau Touffou with my wife.

I was overwhelmed, to say the least. It is one of France’s loveliest chateaux.

“What a glorious place,” I said to David.

“Have you any idea how much it costs to run?” he replied before lamenting how much it cost to put on a new roof.

No matter how famous or celebrated he became, he never lost his fear of poverty.

He rang me up one day around 1992 saying, “I’m terribly worried about money. Do you think we could do some seminars together? What about getting me some speaking engagements?”

I was astounded, though obviously very flattered and said, “David, look—don’t worry. Someone will always pay for you to cast a cloak of respectability over their activities.”

His money fears made him very stingy in small ways.

When I made the video with him in Paris, he kept bumming cigarettes off the cameraman.
Afterwards he invited me to lunch. Followng the meal, he asked the waiter, “Est-ce-que vous prenez American Express?” (“Do you take American Express?”) The waiter replied, “Non, monsieur.”

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

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  • Ben Gay

    Loved and learned from it all, Denny. Thank you!
    But my favorite part came early on with your hotel/postcard story and "I had tasted blood."

  • jkattt

    Thanks for this, Denny! As a short-term O&M employee (in Dallas) during the mid-1980s, my favorite D.O. tale = allegedly, after hours, he would answer the telephone with the greeting, "This is Ogilvy. Mather’s dead."

  • Rod Fowler

    Still another reason I never miss one of your posts.

  • Bill

    A delightful article, absolutely delightful!

    Of course, any time one can draw together Denny Hatch, Claude Hopkins, John Caples, David Ogilvy, and Drayton Bird in the same article you’ve got my full attention.

    I used to teach courses in Advertising Copywriting, Direct Marketing, and History of Advertising at a nearby university. My chosen textbook for all three was Ogilvy On Advertising. That book never failed to blow the minds of students seeking to know How To Do It Right. I still pick it up and am astounded by the sheer brilliance of Ogilvy and his remarkable gift for copywriting. (Ogilvy strikes me the same way that Rod Serling does. When Serling spits out his ironic, poignant episode introductions or wrap-ups — especially for eps like "Walking Distance" — my mouth drops open and I shake my head in awe. Ogilvy’s copy also does that to me.)

    This 12-point list of Ogilvy’s behind-the-scenes personality traits was indelibly engrossing. I’m passing this along to other lifelong students of Ogilvy who want to know more about one of the world’s best wordsmiths.

    Thank you for sharing this, Denny. It made my day.

  • Peter Hochstein

    David’s bad manners in restaurants was a compulsion with him. There are numerous stories of him misbehaving in very upscale establishments. The guys who worked at Ogilvy/Houston once told this one:

    David was visiting town. They took him to the classiest French restaurant in the city, nervously warning the staff to please defer at every occasion to Mr. Ogilvy, while they silently prayed he wouldn’t do something outlandish. The dinner went very well. Then desert came. David tasted the creme brulee, then turned to the waiter and said softly, "Would you please send out the chef."

    A palable air of excitement ran through the restaurant. David, himself a former sous chef at the Crillon in Paris, was liking his desert so well, they thought, he was going to pay the chef a compliment. The chef, fully toqued, appeared at the table.

    David turned to him, glared, and asked, "Tell me, did you make this creme brulee with jello or My-T-Fine Pudding?"

  • Bob Bly

    I LOVE this Drayton Bird list from Denny Hatch, both of whom I know and respect as true pros of direct marketing.

  • Peter Rosenwald


    Draton is certainly good copy and the piece is interesting and enlightening.

    But when in your introduction, you mention the three ‘colossi’, I must take issue with you. Lester Wunderman certainly belongs up there on that list of direct marketing greats. In his nineties, he still goes to the office every day and continually takes direct marketing to new heights.

  • Sven

    I have read at least 100 e-mails, looked at the world news in two languages and this is so far the best reading of the day, thanks,

  • phil

    Great stuff, I’ve known Drayton for a long time and he writes the same way he speaks. Directly. strange that . . .