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Sir Nigel Sealy, Bt., theatrical agent

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  • Sir Nigel Sealy, Bt., theatrical agent

    Sir Nigel Seely, Bt, theatrical agent who talent-spotted Diana Dors and Roger Moore before becoming a leading light in the ‘Mad Men’ era of advertising – obituary

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    Nigel Seely and Henry the parrot


    Daily Telegraph
    9 MAY 2019

    Sir Nigel Seely, 5th Bt, who has died aged 95, was a leading player in the fast-moving London advertising scene of the 1960s and 1970s after a first career as a theatrical agent.

    Seely’s entrée into the ad business came in 1964 when he was asked to open a London branch of Papert, Koenig, Lois, one of a thrusting new breed of Madison Avenue creative agencies that would later inspire the Mad Men television series.

    “First horrified then intrigued” by the invitation – his only prior experience of the sector having been as a client – Seely accepted and became PKL’s managing director. Assisted by a brilliant young copywriter called Peter Mayle (author of A Year in Provence), he steered the new venture through teething troubles which included vastly over-optimistic estimates of its potential billing income.

    Patrician manners, titled connections and hints of hush-hush wartime work for Winston Churchill marked Seely apart from other admen of the era. “We all thought he was a toff because he took snuff,” recalled Mayle, who claimed always to wear brown trousers when travelling on aeroplanes with Seely for fear of arriving sprayed with scented tobacco.

    One historian of advertising wrote that PKL’s eponymous founders had opened the London office “for no better reason than that, according to Lois, Papert was an Anglophile who wanted someone to book his West End theatre tickets”.

    The film director Alan Parker, who also worked briefly at PKL, recalled that the third partner, Koenig, preferred Ascot and Newmarket and “never came near” the Sloane Street office, where the atmosphere was dominated by a brace of aggressive New Yorkers sent over by the founders to represent them.

    One Yuletide, just before the staff party, one of these Americans stormed into Seely’s office – “and it wasn’t to wish him a Merry Christmas”, as Mayle recalled. Fisticuffs and a broken champagne glass were followed, according to ad-world legend, by a dash to Middlesex Hospital with the American bleeding from a cut throat.

    Despite such ructions, the firm won work from Granada Television, John Player and Perfectos Finos cigarettes and Auto Union, the maker of Audi cars, for which PKL ran a promotion giving ignition keys – and if the key fitted, a free car – to Diners Club cardholders. Later clients included Harrods, Sony, Watneys and Gillette. Seely's parrot, Henry, could express firm views about guests

    But in 1969, when the New York parent agency suffered a dramatic loss of billings, Seely and Mayle took the opportunity to buy a controlling interest in the London arm and make it independent. “It’s hard to find that through no fault of your own, you might fail to get new business because of events 3,500 miles away,” Mayle explained.

    Two years later, they sold the business to another US firm, BBDO, for which Seely briefly became UK chairman. He went on to be managing director of James Garrett’s groundbreaking advertising film production company – where the young freelance directors he worked with included Ridley Scott – before moving again in 1973 to be deputy chairman and international head of the Dorland agency, which became part of Saatchi & Saatchi.

    Eventually Nigel Seely was forced out of Dorland. The executive tasked with breaking the news was invited for drinks at Seely’s Bayswater home, presided over by a parrot called Henry – who took an evident dislike to the guest, flew across the room to perch on the edge of his glass, flicked his tail feathers and dropped a deposit into it.

    Nigel Edward Seely was born on July 28 1923, the only child of Sir Victor Seely, 4th baronet, by his marriage to Sibyl (Nancy) Gibbons, who had previously been married to another baronet, Sir John Shiffner.

    Victor and Nancy were divorced in 1931 and Nancy took as her third husband the Labour politician Reggie Paget, later Lord Paget of Northampton and master of the Pytchley Hunt; Nigel’s childhood was divided between the Seely family seat on the Isle of Wight and his stepfather’s home in Leicestershire. Victor Seely married twice more during the 1930s, had three more children, and was a PoW during the Second World War.

    Nigel was educated at Stowe and also served in the Army – details of his secret work remain hazy – before embarking on a theatrical management career which first found him stage-managing a show called Residents Only at the St James’s Theatre, of which The Stage noted: “On opening night a cry of ‘Rubbish’ was heard.”

    He went on to work for Gordon Harbord, a grand theatrical and literary agent in St Martin’s Lane, on whose behalf he talent-spotted the young Roger Moore and a voluptuous teenage drama student, Diana Fluck, whom the agency renamed Diana Dors.

    Harbord himself was credited with finding a new name for a handsome Lithuanian-born actor, Laruschka Skikne – but it was actually Seely (by his own account) who suggested Laurence Harvey, the surname borrowed from the Knightsbridge department store, Harvey Nichols.

    In the 1950s, Seely worked as a cinema manager in Baker Street; later he was international sales director for a colourful Czech entrepreneur, Baron Rolf Beck, whose company manufactured a gearbox lubricant called Molyslip. Its US advertising was handled by PKL, which in due course poached Seely for its London opening.

    In retirement, Seely stayed largely in London but maintained the style of a country gentleman. He was chairman of Buck’s Club in Mayfair, where he enjoyed organising backgammon.

    On his father’s death in 1980 he inherited the baronetcy created in 1896 for his great-grandfather Charles, a long-serving Liberal MP for Nottingham. Nigel Seely’s first marriage, to Loraine Lindley-Travis in 1949, was dissolved; he married secondly, in 1984, Trudi Pacter, who survives him with three daughters of his first marriage. The baronetcy passes to his nephew William Seely, born in 1983.

    Sir Nigel Seely, 5th Bt, born July 28 1923, died April 25 2019
    Last edited by Maurice; 14th May 2019, 04:10 PM.
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