Ian Single is the creative force behind Club Noir and an award winning producer and director. Here are his first five jobs.

Brooke Bond Tea

OK I’ve left out the holiday jobs at school and university but it’s fair to say that my time delivering soft drinks door to door for my Dad’s fizzy drink company was the basis of my education. I can still pick up and carry ten full bottles in both hands.

In addition to studying for a degree I was a more than competent fencer representing Britain in World Championships and the Olympics. So even though New College Oxford was an easy option I plumped for London so that I could train for the Games.

My first real job was a management trainee at Brooke Bond Tea; this was a rather quant company, you not only had to be approved by the board but also by John Brooke the chairman. As I entered his office he was sitting on the floor playing his guitar, we drank tea and talked about my fencing. I passed with flying colours.

It was old fashioned training, you worked in all of the major departments starting at the very bottom and then ending up as top dog. So cleaning the spittoons for the tea tasters on day one and six months later you were the chief tea blender.  Next up was the factory, working in the warehouse off loading tea chests from the Manchester ship canal eventually rising to factory manager and wearing a white coat. Something to aspire too. All the management trainees had to go on an outward bound course in the Scottish Highlands for two weeks.  This was with the company historian who went to school and shared a goat with the chairman.

The final phase of my training was in Sales and Marketing.  I delivered tea to all of the shops and supermarkets in a little red Brook Bond van.  They had 1200 vans at the time, now everything comes from a central warehouse.

It was decided that I was best suited to Sales and Marketing so they put me back on the vans for six months before finally calling me to head office and making me the Assistant Sales Promotions manager.  They gave me a company car plus expenses and put me in charge of the Brooke Bond Chimps and Billy Smarts Circus along with other responsibilities. I managed all of the Chimps tea parties and promotions. And whenever Billy Smarts circus was in town, children had a free show if they arrived with a tea packet. I can still remember the ‘Tommy the Teapot’ song after all these years.  We made the kids sing it three times.  Sometimes with me cavorting in a giant PG Tips packet. I was still fencing every day and trying to work and travel to domestic and foreign competitions. Brooke Bond merged with Oxo and the new managing director sent me to J Walter Thompson advertising agency for a year. I loved it.  I was meant to spend three days in the TV department and ended up hiding there for nearly six months. I made lots of friends and contacts and Terence Donovan the photographer was particularly helpful and became a life long friend.

I went back to Brooke Bond but shortly after that I resigned and went to:

Foote Cone and Belding

This was an American advertising agency that numbered British Airways and Dulux amongst its clients. I was in account handling, which meant I was the liaison between the client and the creative’s. I hated it, especially after my stint at JWT in TV and decided that I had to dig a tunnel to get out.  Fortunately I got on extremely well with all of the creative’s and spent most of my time in their company. It was here that I met Sandy Watson who was head of television and married to Ridley Scott at the time. She helped me tremendously taking me on shoots and getting me to do lots of voiceovers, since I had and have this ability to mimic. Adrian Rowbotham, the TV producer I spent time with at JWT was starting up a company called:

The Television Department Ltd. 

It served as a television department for ad agencies without one and a fire alarm service for agencies in need.  Adrian offered me a job as a trainee producer for less money and I jumped at the chance. AT the same time and fortunately Sandy Watson moved to the most creative agency in the UK at the time, Collett Dickenson and Pierce. They had struggled to find a voice to say “how do you do it Stanley?” in one of their Whitbread Tankard animated ads.  I did it, joined equity on the strength of it and was bombarded with pay cheques. The ad was on non stop for a year.  In three months I had enough to buy a Morgan sports car.

Meanwhile I was producing TV ads with the likes of Ridley Scott, Alan Parker, Adrian Lyne and Tony Scott. I gained so much knowledge during this period and it’s true that you will improve in anything you do if you are able to rub shoulders with the best.  This is true of Sports, Work, Cooking et al. I’ve always believed in the ‘Shop Window’ principle of excellence and trying to aspire to that zenith rather than broadening the base of the triangle.

I then had the chance to join a fully fledged Film Production company as a producer and I grabbed it with both hands and Adrian Rowbotham’s blessing.

TV Production

I initially joined a production outfit called Camera and Co it was run by Antony Rufus Isaacs who later produced 91/2 weeks. Shortly after joining I met Roger Vadim in Paris at a party.  I asked him if he would ever consider directing a commercial he gave me his number.  Incidentally he was working with Ursula Andress at the time, the importance of this will be revealed later.  The following week I lunched with a producer from JWT who told me he was trying to set up a massive LUX shoot with Ursula and that she was proving tricky to get hold of. Look no further I said I’ll call my mate Vadim, he’s working with her. I called him and he promised to get back. After about ten days I got a call in the evening from Vadim who rather casually said “I spoke wiz Ursula and she said no” big pause.  I said well you’ve done your best and thank you for trying. Another pause. But I had dinner wiz Brigitte last night, Brigitte Bardot and she would like to do it if you’ll have her. My voice went up three octaves and I adopted a cool stance with “I’ll see if they’re interested and get back to you.”  I thought if Vadim’s rather patrician telephone manner works for him it’ll do the same for me. I called the producer and mirrored Vadim’s conversation. The producer even copied my lines. When I mentioned Brigitte Bardot he was speechless. He called me back in two minutes and said it’s on fix it up Ian.  So lot’s of meetings in Paris and three star Michelin lunches.  Dinner on the terrace of Vadim’s apartment over looking the Eiffel Tower.

He was married to the richest person in France at the time. One meeting was in his mother in law’s house in the centre of Paris. The door was opened by servants in powdered wigs. Lunch in the garden.  Garden?  More like the Glasgow Botanics. Eventually we arrive in St Tropez to film.  I call Brigitte to give her some details of the shoot.  She said “It’s next week I think”.  Panic.  The JWT producer said don’t worry we had to wait ten days for Debbie Reynolds in Hollywood.  So we sat it out on Tahiti Plage and waited for Brigitte. The filming went well and Brigitte’s companion was perhaps one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen, an Italian actress. In fact we seemed to be surrounded with beautiful women.

On the final day of shooting Helmut Newton arrived to do the stills and when we wrapped Brigitte said “I’m off home and Ian’s taking me”.  I thought that’s me. Her house in was beautiful.  In the kitchen Brigitte took out three extremely large glass tumblers and said “Gin and Tonic”.  This wasn’t a question.  So several of those, dinner overlooking the bay, lots of wine and I woke the next morning with the curtains swaying in slow motion a la David Lean and the sound of the sea. I was also greeted with “Buongiorno” not bonjour I hasten to add. I thought I quite like this producing lark.  I think my next ad was for something like an underwater back projected oven stick commercial for Thailand.  Anyway I loved the variety of work and I was mixing with some of the best film technicians in the World.

The Campari ad “Were you truly wafted here from paradise?….No Luton airport” was produced by me along with several other iconic commercials.

During this time I produced a film for BBC 2 written by Ian McEwan and staring Ian Holm.

I produced hundreds of award winning ads during this period and in those days the producer’s role was far more varied than it is now.  However I believe that you’re the producer you want to be as opposed to what other people expect from you. I found myself working with Directors who allowed me to be creative so I would get involved with casting, second unit, art direction et al. This led to me think maybe I should direct myself as many creative’s suggested.

Directing & Show Business

I formed my own production company in London and started to direct ads for all of the top agencies at the time.

So I worked on brands like Audi; Heinekin; British Rail; Kelloggs; Tesco to name a few. I quickly became known as a comedy director which meant I was fortunate to work with the likes of Tommy Cooper; Max Wall; Spike Milligan; Peter Cooke and many more.  I cast Elizabeth Hurley in her first commercial as a secretary.  And I was often asked and still am to direct folk who haven’t acted before so Gary Lineker, Bobby Robson, Denis Law, The Duchess of York and the England Football team were added to my list. This was a great time to be directing and I managed to gain six D&AD silver, countless mentions in the book together with five Cannes Silver Lions and a prestigious Gold award from The New York Art Directors Club. Oh and the Cornetto ads, the one’s where they grab the cornet, are constantly in the top 100 on TV.

In the autumn of my career I moved to Scotland with my Scottish wife and son to work out of MTP, but tragically she died almost as soon as we arrived here. This inevitably changed my life but I still work with MTP in Glasgow and the exceptionally talented Simon Mallinson who is one the best producers around. I’m not as prolific as I once was but I think I’m better than I ever was in terms of creativity and output. And I’m still picking up the odd award.

I’m working on three feature film projects with some old friends of mine and I’m hoping that one of them will be shot in Glasgow next year.

The show business element takes the form of me co running the biggest burlesque club in the world here in Glasgow with Tina Warren.  Seven years ago we saw some can-can dancers in London at a burlesque night.  They were all out of step and the audience loved them.  I said let’s do this in Glasgow with proper dancers and we did. We now get around 2000 people for our nights, I compere the show and recently we were voted in the top ten cabaret shows by the TV Channel in New York alongside the Crazy Horse in Paris and Las Vegas. I’m very proud of that. If in doubt follow Abraham Lincoln’s maxim; “when you reach the end of the rope tie a knot in it and hang on”


We’ve asked professionals in creative industries what jobs they have had in the past to get their foot through the door (or at least pay the rent). For more in the “My First 5 Jobs” series look here.