Ad legend Bob Isherwood never forgot the RMIT scholarship that supported him years ago, so he returned the favour. Here he tells his story:
I was born down in South Melbourne, long before it was a fashionable place to live.
I was an only child and my parents used to argue a lot so I spent a lot of time in my bedroom just drawing. I left school at 13 to become an apprentice motor mechanic, which I was very unhappy doing.
A guy who grew up in the same street, Alex Stitt, was going to RMIT, and he encouraged me to apply. Alex went on to become a famous animator [he created the Life. Be In It. campaign in the 1980s, among others].
I applied to RMIT and did the entrance exam. But I hadn’t finished school, so I didn’t have much chance of getting in.
My stepmother showed my exam paper drawings to Victor Greenhalgh [an Australian sculptor who was Head of Art at RMIT in the 1960s]. He went to extraordinary lengths to get me in. He called up my employer and asked them to break my contract. He said I could start class right away, on the condition that I do matriculation English at night school.
But then there was the question of how I could afford it.
There weren’t any grant systems in those days. But then I actually won a scholarship, which I seemed to win every year, which paid for my tuition every year.
At RMIT I suddenly found a world of people like me. It changed my life completely.
Advertising wasn’t really developed in Australia then. After graduating, I worked for a year in graphic design. Then I went to the UK. I discovered the power of words – putting words and pictures together that separately say different things, but together they say a third thing. That is powerful. I wanted to get into advertising where you could use that as a medium.
I started at Young & Rubicam when I was 24 years old.
Within a year, I was made Creative Group Head on their largest account. It was actually a very bad experience for me, because I didn’t know much about politics and leadership, and it was very difficult. All I wanted to do was create great work.
Years later I returned to Australia and started an agency in Sydney with people from Melbourne. It was called The Campaign Palace. But it was with Saatchi & Saatchi Sydney where I really made my career.
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