Lenore Nicklin, The Sydney Morning Herald, August 20, 1977, p. 11.
You know you’re getting close to Doyle Dane Bernbach when you hit the car-park. There are six cars there — the boss’s Rolls-Royce, a Jaguar, three Porsches and a Mercedes.
Proceed to reception. A beautiful black girl sits behind a roll-top desk in a total-tan office. And then upstairs to what used to be a Bonython child’s bedroom in the old Bonython Art Gallery days but which is now the office of John Singleton, managing director of DDB, genius of ocker advertising, disciple of Ayn Rand and co-founder of the Workers’ Party. A small “l” libertarian.
Singleton, charged with light and energy, is a sharp contrast to the blackness all around — black carpet, black curtains, enormous black leather chairs, black walls, ceiling and light-fittings. He is 35 years old, with true-blue eyes and bleached blond hair and a ruddy suntanned face and a cut above his left eye and a light-coloured safari-style suit which Mark Treloar should have left on the cutting-room floor. You know he is wearing an Yves Saint Laurent tie because it’s got YSLs all over it. His watch is a $3,000 Patek Philippe.
That’s not a skier’s suntan he’s wearing — he is just back from a week of campaigning in the Northern Territory for the Progress (formerly Workers’) Party. Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs.
Singleton beams a 300-watt g’day-cobber welcome and introduces you to a man in a black blazer and check trousers who is Johnny Raper. Singleton’s football coach and good mate and star of the Singleton Jax tyres television commercials. Singleton and Raper are talking football talk — Singleton plays hooker with the Lane Cove fourths and the semi-final is on Saturday. They’ve had 18 wins in a row. Hooker’s a bad position — you get knocked around a bit. “I have a new face every Monday morning,” says Singleton.
The next minute he’s on the phone to his mate John Laws and the next to mate Joe Martin who had put on a dinner party the night before and in between, on a second phone, he’s talking to a television station asking for an option on the film The Graduate until late Monday afternoon.
Mateship may have been born on the banks of the Murrumbidgee but it thrives here amid lushness and blackness and chrome. Singleton’s mates include Sinclair Hill and Kerry Packer, and Ian Kennon, a television executive and Charlie McMo[????], a contact lens specialist, and a whole bunch of footballers. Singleton would put his hand in the fire for his mates. The tea lady would tell you that.
At 11 am the tea lady arrives — with lunch. Healthy Vogel bread, ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches. Singleton has to appear on the Mike Walsh show at 12 to promote his Rip Van Australia book, then catch a plane to Melbourne for an appearance on Mike Preston’s program. Eleven o’clock will be the last chance to eat for a while.
Lunches don’t get a big priority at Doyle Dane Bernbach. The staff — there are nearly 60 of them — are not allowed lunch hours, not allowed to entertain clients, not allowed to drink before 5.30. They get paid too well to complain.
No one has to ask for a raise; one of the reasons Singleton set up his own agency was that when he deserved a raise, his employers didn’t give him one, and he wasn’t going to ask.
If Singleton, the man who hates rules, bans alcohol it is probably because he knows its demon qualities — the sunny, milkshake-drinking Singleton of high noon has been known at midnight, after too many whiskies, to become somewhat obstreperous.
Two things are worrying Singleton as he munches his sandwiches. Why aren’t his Private Collection records selling when the previous Masterpiece series was a sellout —probably the most profitable record series of the year. He holds up the records to show off the covers — gems of good taste from the DDB art department. Liszt, Verdi, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and the rest. Gentle landscapes. Soft romantic colours.
“Why don’t you people write about the beautiful things we do?” he asks. Munch, munch. He decides to take out a couple of boxes to Channel 10 and give them away on the Mike Walsh show — “If I’m going to flog books I may as well flog records as well.”
The other problem is how to sell fourteen million square feet of Sydney’s empty office space. What would I do? he asks. “Turn some of the office towers into living areas — half and half.” It’s the wrong answer. Too expensive; rents would be too high. The phone rings again. “The only reason for doing anything is to make a quid — right? What we’ll do is …”
Sometimes he forgets to drop his gs. He was born in Surry Hills but those working-class-kid-made-good stories are a bit exaggerated. His father was factory production manager. Singleton was educated at Fort Street High; when he couldn’t get a cadetship with a newspaper he became an office boy for J. Walter Thompson. He embarked briefly and part-time on a couple of university courses. He failed the advertising section of the economics paper.
It is a splendid day so Singleton presses a button and the soft top of the black Rolls-Royce Corniche magically disappears. He doesn’t fasten his safety belt. “I used to wear them before they made them compulsory,” he says. “Kill myself to prove a point. Not too bright.” (The self-deprecating final sentence is almost a speech pattern.)
Is this a nice car to drive, I ask. “No, it’s just like a Holden. You put it in D for Drive.” He’s not even joking. Anyway, it was end of Rolls-Royce’s reputation when he and John Laws bought ’em. He selects a cassette — Tex Morton singing the Where d’yer get it song. Among the other cassettes are The Doobie Brothers, The Rocky Horror Show, Gladys Knight and the Pips. Mozart is missing.
Over the bridge we go, the sun sparkling on the water, the Opera House gleaming. “It’s a great harbour, a great city — this country has everything except bloody people,” he says. The sight of the buses lined up outside Channel 9 depresses him. “Mike’s got his buses of blue rinses here. Mike the mediocre man.” First, he has to attend a meeting with production executives to discuss an idea for a special program. (I am asked not to reveal the details.) Singleton is wildly enthusiastic. “It would set a new low in Australian television,” he says and he is right.
Down to the studio. Dame Enid Lyons emerges and Singleton, who has been watching on the monitor in the make-up room, says: “You were great, love.” Dame Enid looks pleased, which is more than the blue rinse set do when he announced on camera that the Queen is merely an attraction like Disneyland, that beaches should not be free and that Australia is the most apathetic country in the world. The women sniff their disapproval. Singleton is also displeased Walsh hasn’t been bothered to read his book.
Singleton’s next meeting is at 1.30 in Frenchs Forest. His general manager, Col Dennis, will also be coming. There’s time for a milkshake. “The best milkshake spot is at Tamarama,” he says. “Never go to a fish-and-chip shop for milkshakes.” He tells me what to expect at the meeting. The main idea of meetings is how quickly you can get out of them — it’s more important to get out within half an hour than to get the account. He doesn’t know who he will be seeing or why — that would be too dreary.
The meeting takes place in the boardroom. Col Dennis and the would-be client do most of the talking. Singleton seems a bit bored (can he be this laconic — this lazy?) and suggests that DDB would probably not be the best agency to handle this particular product. Maybe this is a boardroom game. The would-be client mentions what his budget would be — $300,000. Singleton shows a flicker of interest. Maybe … maybe … We leave after half an hour, having arranged for two of the creative people from the agency to come and discuss a few possibilities.
“We get more people ringing us about business in a day than most people would in a year,” says Singleton, walking out into the sunshine. Back at the television studio a young singer on the program had written him a note, photograph attached, which said, “I am desperately in need of management …”
Sometimes it is as if people look on him as a miracle worker, a talisman — be touched by John Singleton and you, too, can be successful. The magic? “He’s a natural, brilliant copywriter,” says an (opposition) agency person I talk to. “A walking brainstorm.”
“He has a completely open mind on any subject he looks at, is able to see the opportunities and then go all the way with them,” says bearded Duncan McAllan, who has worked with Singleton since both were in their early twenties. (Singleton once got a £100-a-week job being advertised by Berry Currie by offering both himself and McAllan as art director for the money — Singleton took £30 and paid McAllan £70.)
McAllan gives an example. Singleton sees funny discount place. Discount shops are at the time very unrespectable. Singleton asks how would you make such a place respectable — you’d need God on your side. Or next best thing. Singleton spends three months finding a minister of religion to do the commercials. Enter the Rev Barry Howard who wouldn’t do these commercials if they weren’t genuine. The great success saga of Norman Ross discount stores is begun.
“It’s not a typical day,” says Singleton. He’s back at the wheel of the Rolls on his way to the airport. Maggi Eckardt, the television compere and former model who became Mrs John Singleton last November, is along for the overnight trip to Melbourne. Miss Eckardt, elegant, willowy and unocker, is wearing a head-turning mink coat over black velvet pants and a grey satin shirt. She is a little wary of the press since a Melbourne newspaper ran an unfriendly interview describing her as The Bride of Frankenstein.
Unfriendliness is everywhere. In the first-class compartment a passenger, recognising Singleton, hands him a marked copy of the day’s Melbourne Herald in which Singleton is described as “openly, unashamedly, theatrically, exuberantly silly.”
Singleton is not too worried by these comments. “To tell you the truth I’m getting pretty bloody bored with this book — maybe the Russians have got the right idea with just one bloody news service.” It is after 6.30 but he is sticking to tomato juice. He notices that a horse called Free Enterprise has won the fourth at Randwick. “There’s hope for us yet,” he says, then buries his head in a copy of Rugby League Week.
(Singleton’s interest in football is being challenged by his interest in horses. In the past 12 months he has become a part-owner of 20 brood-mares, and a filly called Genuine Offer is soon to have her first run.)
There’s time for a quick meal and two bottles of French champagne on the way to the Channel O studious. Singleton pays the bill and the waiter says: “You are not only handsome, Mr Singleton, but generous as well.” The taxidriver worries about getting to the studio on time.
“What’s your name, mate?”
“Where are you from, mate?”
“Good on you, mate.”
Emil turns out to be as anti-government as Singleton. Singleton invites him in to see the show and Emil accepts. Emil may well end up in a television commercial.
Singleton is in a buoyant mood. He comes after a demonstration by a RAAF security dog on the show. “It’s good to know Australia has more than two ships — it’s got a dog.” (Defence is the one area in which he would have governments spend big money.)
Mike Walsh, bludgers and those with literary grants all come under attack. Australia is a land where mediocrity is the new God. Walsh is the Messiah of mediocrity. Mike Preston and the audience are both enjoying the performance. A Channel O employee regards the audience and says: “For once they haven’t got rent-a-corpse.”
The next morning at 6.15 Singleton is for the first time subdued. He wasn’t able to get to sleep, he says, after reading Les Carlyon’s review of his book in The Age.
(Carlyon says Singleton wants to play comedian and serious philosopher in the one act, that he is slick, shallow, unsubtle, and that in striving for seriousness he has ruined a great gag book.)
Ouch. Carlyon hurts. It is a cold, windy morning, the sky streaked with spectacular red. Singleton regards the dawn: “There — that’s worth getting up for,” he says, and then corrects himself. “No, it’s not.”
On the plane, steak for breakfast cheers him up a bit. The day ahead will be full of meetings. Office space and mattresses have to be thought about. That evening he is to address a real estate dinner at North Rocks. He gets invited to speak all the time — charges $500 for the ones he wants to do, $1,000 for the ones he doesn’t want to do. “The funny thing is I’m such a crook speaker,” he says. At 7 o’clock the following morning he will be back on a plane to Melbourne.
What he enjoys most about his work is solving the problems. How to sell office space, mattresses, Kung Fu pyjamas? Concept is all. The Thorn Birds, he argues, would have been a very dull book has Colleen McCullogh not been paid a record $1.7 million for the paperback rights and Babe a boring fragrance has not Margaux Hemingway been paid a million to promote it.
And he enjoys the writing, too. It can take him just 60 seconds to write a 60-second commercial. He loves writing the Women’s Weekly commercials when they let him.
Is he surprised at his own success?
“Yeah, it’s ridiculous,” he says.
The big surprise was the $2 million that Doyle Dane Bernbach were prepared to pay for his agency SPASM. A Sydney financial wizard had arranged the deal.
“I couldn’t have kept a straight face and asked that much for it. I’m the absolute walking, talking example that anyone can succeed.”
I tell him I don’t believe it would be that easy. And it wasn’t. Ten thousand metres up in the air he tells me about that fresh-faced young Singleton who at the age of 20 got sacked because he wasn’t good enough. And the young Singleton figured he might be good enough and started to work hard indeed. And young Singleton and young Duncan McAllan formed SAM, and then the son of SAM which was SPASM.
And young Singleton worked from 5 am and 6 am to 9 pm and 10 pm and weekends and Christmas and Melbourne Cup days and one year he bawled out member of his staff for watching a man take a walk on the moon. He was ashamed of that later and apologised. He realises now he was fanatical.
“But there was no reason for us to survive or to succeed or get where we did. The only thing that did it was energy. I was only 26. At that age you can do any bloody thing. You can later on, too, but you think you might fail.”
On Saturday Singleton played with the Lane Cove fourths and the team lost. Down 6-3. Saturday’s papers showed Rip Van Australia in the best-seller lists, but Sunday’s papers showed that the Progress Party didn’t a get a seat in the Northern Territory. It’s hard to play comedian and philosopher and hooker as well. Some weeks John Singleton wears his Monday face right through till Friday.
- Governments Consume Wealth — They Don't Create It
- Singo and Howard Propose Privatising Bondi Beach
- Singo and Howard Speak Out Against the Crackpot Realism of the CIS and IPA
- Singo and Howard on Compromise
- Singo and Howard on Monopolies
- Singo and Howard Support Sydney Harbour Bridge Restructure
- Singo and Howard on Striking at the Root, and the Failure of Howard, the CIS and the IPA
- Singo and Howard Explain Why Australia is Not a Capitalist Country
- Singo and Howard Call Democracy Tyrannical
- Singo and Howard on Drugs!
- Simpleton sells his poll philosophy
- Singo and Howard Decry Australia Day
- Singo and Howard Endorse the Workers Party
- Singo and Howard Oppose the Liberal Party
- Singo and Howard Admit that Liberals Advocate and Commit Crime
- Up the Workers! Bob Howard's 1979 Workers Party Reflection in Playboy
- John Whiting's Inaugural Workers Party Presidential Address
- John Singleton and Bob Howard 1975 Monday Conference TV Interview on the Workers Party
- Singo and Howard on Aborigines
- Singo and Howard on Conservatism
- Singo and Howard on the Labor Party
- Singo, Howard and Hancock Want to Secede
- John Singleton changes his name
- Lang Hancock's Foreword to Rip Van Australia
- New party will not tolerate bludgers: Radical party against welfare state
- Singo and Howard introduce Rip Van Australia
- Singo and Howard on Knee-Jerks
- Singo and Howard on Tax Hunts (Lobbying)
- Singo and Howard on Rights
- Singo and Howard on Crime
- Singo and Howard on Justice
- Singo and Howard on Unemployment
- John Singleton on 1972 cigarette legislation
- Singo and Howard: Gambling Should Neither Be Illegal Nor Taxed
- Holed up, hold-up and holdout
- The libertarian alternative vs the socialist status quo
- Workers Party Platform
- Singo and Howard Join Forces to Dismantle Welfare State
- Singo and Howard on Business
- Singo and Howard on Discrimination
- Singo and Howard on the Greens
- Singo and Howard on Xenophobia
- Singo and Howard on Murdoch, Packer and Monopolistic Media
- Singo and Howard Explain that Pure Capitalism Solves Pollution
- Singo and Howard Defend Miners Against Government
- Singo and Howard on Bureaucracy
- Singo and Howard on Corporate Capitalism
- The last words of Charles Russell
- Ted Noffs' Preface to Rip Van Australia
- Right-wing anarchists revamping libertarian ideology
- Giving a chukka to the Workers Party
- Govt "villain" in eyes of new party
- "A beautiful time to be starting a new party": Rand fans believe in every man for himself
- Introducing the new Workers' Party
- Paul Rackemann 1980 Progress Party Election Speech
- Lang Hancock 1978 George Negus Interview
- Voices of frustration
- Policies of Workers Party
- Party Promises to Abolish Tax
- AAA Tow Truck Co.
- Singo and Howard on Context
- Singo and Howard Blame Roosevelt for Pearl Harbour
- Singo and Howard on Apathy
- Workers Party is "not just a funny flash in the pan"
- Singo and Howard on Decency
- John Singleton in 1971 on the 2010 Federal Election
- Matthew, Mark, Luke & John Pty. Ltd. Advertising Agents
- Viv Forbes Wins 1986 Adam Smith Award
- The writing of the Workers Party platform and the differences between the 1975 Australian and American libertarian movements
- Who's Who in the Workers Party
- Bob Howard interviewed by Merilyn Giesekam on the Workers Party
- A Farewell to Armchair Critics
- Sukrit Sabhlok interviews Mark Tier
- David Russell Leads 1975 Workers Party Queensland Senate Team
- David Russell Workers Party Policy Speech on Brisbane TV
- Bludgers need not apply
- New party formed "to slash controls"
- The Workers Party
- Malcolm Turnbull says "the Workers party is a force to be reckoned with"
- The great consumer protection trick
- The "Workers" speak out
- How the whores pretend to be nuns
- The Workers Party is a Political Party
- Shit State Subsidised Socialist Schooling Should Cease Says Singo
- My Journey to Anarchy:
From political and economic agnostic to anarchocapitalist
- Workers Party Reunion Intro
- Singo and Howard on Freedom from Government and Other Criminals
- Singo and Howard on Young People
- Singo and Howard Expose how Government Healthcare Controls Legislate Doctors into Slavery
- Singo and Howard Engage with Homosexuality
- Singo and Howard Demand Repeal of Libel and Slander Laws
- Singo and Howard on Consumer Protection
- Singo and Howard on Consistency
- Workers Party is born as foe of government
- Political branch formed
- Government seen by new party as evil
- Singo and Howard on Non-Interference
- Singo and Howard on Women's Lib
- Singo and Howard on Licences
- Singo and Howard on Gun Control
- Singo and Howard on Human Nature
- Singo and Howard on Voting
- Singo and Howard on
- Singo and Howard on Education
- Singo and Howard on Qualifications
- Ron Manners on the Workers Party
- Singo and Howard Hate Politicians
- Undeserved handouts make Australia the lucky country
- A happy story about Aborigines
- John Singleton on Political Advertising
- Richard Hall, Mike Stanton and Judith James on the Workers Party
- Singo Incites Civil Disobedience
- How John Singleton Would Make Tony Abbott Prime Minister
- The Discipline of Necessity
- John Singleton on the first election the Workers Party contested
- Libertarians: Radicals on the right
- The Bulletin on Maxwell Newton as Workers Party national spokesman on economics and politics
- Singo and Howard: Australia Should Pull Out of the Olympics
- Singo and Howard Like Foreign Investment
- Mark Tier corrects Nation Review on the Workers Party
- The impossible dream
- Why can't I get away with it?
- The bold and boring Lib/Lab shuffle
- Time for progress
- The loonie right implodes
- Max Newton: Maverick in Exile
- John Singleton on refusing to do business with criminals and economic illiterates
- Censorship should be banned
- "Listen, mate, a socialist is a bum"
- John Singleton on Advertising
- John Singleton on why he did the Hawke re-election campaign
- Sinclair Hill calls for dropping a neutron bomb on Canberra
- Bob Howard in Reason 1974-77
- John Singleton defends ockerism
- Singo and Howard talk Civil Disobedience
- The Census Con
- Singo and Howard Oppose Australian Participation in the Vietnam War
- Did John Singleton oppose the mining industry and privatising healthcare in 1990?
- Bob Carr in 1981 on John Singleton's political bent
- John Singleton-Ita Buttrose interview (1977)
- John Singleton on elections: "a Massive One-Day Sale!"
- John Hyde's Progress Party praise
- King Leonard of Hutt River Declares Defensive Just War Against Australia the Aggressor
- Singo says Lang Hancock violated Australia's 11th commandment: Thou Shalt Not Succeed
- Singleton: the White Knight of Ockerdom
- John Singleton bites into Sinclair Hill's beef
- Save Parramatta Road
- 1979 news item on new TV show John Singleton With a Lot of Help From His Friends
- Smoking, Health and Freedom
- Singo and Howard on Unions
- Singo and Howard Smash the State
- Singo and Howard on the big issue of Daylight Saving
- Come back Bob - It was all in fun!
- A few "chukkas" in the Senate for polo ace?
- Country Rejuvenation - Towards a Better Future
- Singo and Howard on Profits, Super Profits and Natural Disasters
- John Singleton's 1977 pitch that he be on a committee of one to run the Sydney 1988 Olympics for profit
- Thoughts on Land Ownership
- 1975 Max Newton-Ash Long interview on the Workers Party
- The Electoral Act should allow voters to choose "none of the above"
- The great Labor Party platform: first or last, everybody wins a prize
- The politics of marketing - laugh now, pay later
- Singo and Howard call Australia fascist and worse
- The mouse will roar
- Viv Forbes and Jim Fryar vs Malcolm Fraser in 1979
- Quip, Quote, Rant and Rave: four of Viv Forbes' letters to the editor in The Australian in 1979
- Australia's First Official Political Party Poet Laureate: The Progress Party's Ken Hood in 1979
- Hancock's playing very hard to get
- Harry M. Miller and The Australian disgrace themselves
- Ocker ad genius takes punt on art
- John Singleton 1976 ocker Monday Conference Max Harris debate
- John Singleton mocks university students on civil liberties and freedom of choice in 1971
- Murray Rothbard championed on Australian television in 1974 (pre-Workers Party!) by Maureen Nathan
- John Singleton profile in 1977 Australian MEN Vogue
- I think that I shall never see a telegraph pole as lovely as a tree
- Ralph Nader vs John Singleton on Consumer Protection
- John Singleton's first two "Think" columns in Newspaper News, 1969
- Singo and Howard on Ballet
- Product innovation comes first
- Protect who from a 'mindless' wife?
- A party is born
- Tiny Workers' Party gives us a hint
- John Singleton on the ad industry, consumerism and innovation
- Workers Party Economic Policy Statement, December 1975
- Lang Hancock on the Workers Party, secession and States Rights
- John Singleton and Howard on Government Largesse
- Counterculture must exclude government handouts
- John Singleton's 1974 Federal Liberal Election Campaign Ads
- John Singleton believes in the Workers Party
- Write-up of John Singleton's 1978 speech to the Australian Liberal Students Association
- Singo in 1987: "Joh doesn't go far enough ... I want absolute deregulation of the economy"
- Maxwell Newton chapter of Clyde Packer's No Return Ticket (1984)
- Singo and Howard on Totalitarian Socialism and Voluntary Socialism
- Rip Van Australia on Ripoff Vandals Taxing Australia
- Singo and Howard beg for tolerance
- John Singleton's 1985 advertising comeback
- Singo and Howard Demand End to Public Transport
- John Singleton and Howard on Fred Nile, Festival of Light, FamilyVoice Australia and the Christian Lobby
- Capitalism: Survival of the Fittest
- Return Australia Post to Sender
- Singo and Howard on Public Utilities
- John Singleton and Howard say monarchy should be funded by monarchists alone
- John Singleton on cigarette advertising
- Singo in 1972 on newspapers' demise
- John Singleton farewells Bryce Courtenay
- John Singleton on Australian political advertising in 1972
- Gortlam rides again
- Announcement that Lang Hancock will be guest of honour at the Workers Party launch
- John Singleton on trading stamps, idiot housewives and government
- 1975 John Singleton-Sir Robert Askin Quadrant Interview
- Singo asks two prickly questions
- VIOLENCE, TV BAN, DRINK - SINGO SPEAKS HIS MIND
- Why John Singleton can't keep a straight face
- Why John Singleton Defends Smokers Rights
- Tony Dear on Paul Krutulis, the Workers Party and murder
- An Ode to Busybodies
- Progress Party and Workers Party lead The Australian
- How many tits in a tangle?
- Viv Forbes in 1978 on loss-making government, the Berlin Wall and misdirected blasts of hot-air
- John Singleton wants the Post Office sold and anti-discrimination legislation scrapped
- A speech from the Titanic
- A crime must have a victim
- John Singleton vs Australia Post
- Minimum wages the killer
- Has Fraser got his priorities all wrong?
- John Singleton says "the royal family should be flogged off to the U.S."
- John Singleton vs Don Chipp and the Australian Democrats
- John Singleton vs Don Lane
- John Singleton. Horseracing. Why?
- John Singleton's 1986 reflection on the Workers Party
- Bob Howard in 1978 on libertarianism in Australia
- John Singleton on the stupidity of anti-discrimination laws
- Thou shalt know the facts ... before thou shoot off thou mouth
- Charity: An Aesop Fable
- Bob Howard announces the Workers Party in freeEnterprise
- New improved moon
- Announcing people ... YES, people!
- Creativity in advertising must be pointed dead on target
- John Singleton on barriers to, and opportunities for, effective communication
- Wayne Garland on John Singleton on Advertising
- John Singleton schools ad course
- John Singleton: advertising awards
- Mr Singleton Goes to Canberra for Australian Playboy
- John Singleton on his TV career for Australian Playboy
- John Singleton sacked for telling the truth about Medicare