Maybe because of his age and years spent in our industry, or more likely because of his consistency, John Farquhar is difficult to describe from a single perspective. Memory has a habit of confusing truth with perception, so I had to merge all of the single instances that he and I had together that have remained in my conscious mind over 33 years. The endearing ones were never what he said (and he said a lot about a lot of things) but rather what he did.
Let me start near the end. During December he came into my office (an unusual occurrence even though we were a mere 15 metres apart) and asked whether I “liked Rin Tin Tin”. I confessed to a soft spot for Tin Tin and the following day he presented me with a perfectly carved statue of the man in the bowler hat. I was suitably gracious without being soppy; he hated that. He explained that he had been given it by a friend from “the Congo, years and years ago” and had always liked the series and the statue.
It was clear to me then as it is now that he was saying goodbye and thank you for the time we spent together. The gesture spoke volumes and the words we may have used to encapsulate our long standing relationship were not needed. Simple words would have spoilt a perfectly ordinary exchange of a gift and embarrassed us both.
And move to the middle. John had taken a great knock when he left Marketplace. A friend, Madelaine Rudram, suggested to me that I should employ him to assist with the launch of my first consumer magazine. Turned out that as a big picture guy, he wasn’t much use to me as an advisor on pernickety distribution details. So we decided to launch AdVantage magazine. It was risky but I had the best team – the late Louis De Villiers as investigative writer, John to open doors and a hot sales team.
What little marketing money I had was spent on a launch party in Sandton. The industry turned out in droves, over 500 people squashed into a Sports Bar that accommodated 350. The vibe was good and the big reveal came. The magazine was handed out as John and I stood by to gauge reaction. We hadn’t agreed this voyeur approach beforehand but we were in sync, it was important to us that the publication be well received. Glancing in his direction I saw his face light up, he gave me a subtle but pointed thumbs up and I know we were on to something good.
How I will miss those shared moments.
[Sandra Gordon is the publisher of TheMediaOnline and The Media magazine.]
Gordon Muller: “The Famous Grouse”
You either agreed with Farks or you did not agree with him. But you did not ignore him.
For over 60 years his comments and insights held a critical mirror up to advertising industry. We didn’t always like what we saw reflected in that mirror and that’s why he earned the nickname ‘The Famous Grouse’.
But Farks had no agenda other than his passion for advertising! He called it as he saw it. The pat on the back for a job well done could just as swiftly be followed up by a clip around the ear if he felt your performance was below par.
As media director of Saatchi & Saatchi, I commissioned a cartoon of Farks for his induction into our Media Hall of Fame. Farks graciously accepted the award and then quietly whispered in my ear that I should not expect him to cut me any slack going forward.
You had to earn the respect of The Famous Grouse. It was quite simply not for sale at any price!
[Gordon Muller is owner and head coach at GSM Quadrant.]
Gordon Patterson: “No place for bullshit.”
I’ve known John Farquhar almost as long as I’ve been in this profession. He’s been a lighthouse, the rock of Gibraltar and a staunch supporter of common sense.
With John, there was no place for bullshit and if anyone tried, he told them straight. He loved the cut and thrust of our industry and while he always seemed to have an equal number of supporters as critics, I don’t think enough people understood his contribution to the advertising profession. Maybe his charm and dry wit confused people.
Often I’d see John lurking around the major retail stores tracking price changes and making notes on in-store marketing activity. Completely engrossed, he’d walk by without so much of a sign of recognition. To this day I do not know what he was doing but whatever it was, it was important to John.
In case you think John was all work and no play, the reality was far from this perception. John loved ice with a good whisky, intelligent conversation and a comfortable chair and a good view of great legs!
On one occasion I recall John visiting my home and was completely taken with my menagerie of exotic animals. He had the curiosity of a teenager, full of wonder but blessed with the wisdom that only life offers.
[Gordon Patterson is managing director of Starcom MediaVest.]
Clare O’Neil: “A friend and mentor”
“John was a good friend and mentor to many young hopefuls in the media, advertising and marketing industry. I was fortunate and privileged enough to be one of those people! I met John way back in 1990. For some reason, he always took great interest in my career and the work I was involved with through the years.
At various points along the way, he would call me up, ask me to take him for lunch and would then proceed to quite bluntly share his views with me as to what he thought I should be doing, who he thought I should not work for and the reasons why! I appreciated that, as I appreciated our conversations and the fact that he quite simply understood where I was coming from.
I will always remember him with great fondness and care”.
[Clare O’Neil is a member of the SABC board]
Jeremy Maggs: “An irascible gentleman of the first order.”
John was an irascible gentleman of the first order who loved nothing more than debating the merits of a campaign with any over-egoed creative director I could find to put behind a microphone.
They’d warble on about tone, touch, texture, art direction and body copy and John would listen, ask one insightful question about strategy and then inquire how many units or product the campaign was actually responsible for selling.
Inevitably his opponent wouldn’t have a clue and John would remind them again that in spite of their smart clothes and the smart car they were nothing more than washing powder salesmen. He loved the game, so did I, and they were more often than not chastened.
I’ll miss his gruff laugh and the way he rolled out the word “rubbish”, accentuating the R when he critiqued a piece of work.
I’ll miss him.
[Jeremy Maggs hosts Maggs on Media, E-News Channel.]
Greg Stewart: “A great, remarkable presence.”
My first recollections of John were while he was less grey and I still had much to learn about the industry. His commentary on the media and advertising industry was always astute and while he could rub a cat up the wrong way, there was always within his words a deep sense of insight that was often a timeous challenge to the industry to do better, think better, and to overcome mediocrity in our industry.
My most fond memories are of one-on-one chats with John that often left me amazed at how sharp his mind was and how remarkable his memories were. I am certain that there will be many kind words said about John Farquhar and in my opinion, well deserved. His was a name that became synonymous with the advertising and media industry and he should rightfully be honoured in some significant way by our industry.
I am probably not the right person to write John’s eulogy, but I do have this overwhelming sense that we have lost a great, remarkable presence, and one that has made such a significant impact for so long that it is hard to imagine a replacement. Rest in Peace John, and if there are any advertising agencies or media up there, give them hell.
[Greg Stewart is publisher of The Citizen]
Karen Bailey: “Mentor, supporter, friend, legend.”
I absolutely adored John, and I will miss him so very much.
He was a caring man who always looked out for so many of us in the industry. Over the last few days, friends commenting on social media sites have all said how much of a mentor, supporter, friend, and legend he was, and I agree wholeheartedly.
I respected his opinions and just loved spending time with him shooting the breeze about our industry, and I relished in his knowledge of the advertising industry’s history. John would frequently pop into our offices for a pre-arranged drink at about 4ish, which “both Marisa and I loved.
On one occasion he arrived at 2pm, and our then new P.A (who didn’t know John) offered him coffee or tea. In true John style he opted for a bottle of wine instead! The PA was clearly floored but did what he asked. Needless to say the rest of the afternoon was history and fabulous!
None of us take that kind of time out for each other anymore – we should. I’ll miss him.
[Karen Bailey is director of Cinevation.]
NOTE: The family of John Farguhar have announced that a wake will be held on Friday, February 3, at the Bryanston Country Club from 12.30pm until 3pm. It will take place in the Bryanston Room. All are welcome.
Place: Bryanston Country Club, 63 Bryanston Drive.
Phone: 011 706 1361