In 1980, Bill Irish was given the first Canadian Television Commercial Festival Spiess Award for “...an outstanding contribution to the cinematic art of the television commercial” and in 1990, he received the Les Usherwood “Lifetime of Excellence in the field of
Communication Award” by the Toronto Art Directors Club.
Bill was born and raised in Alberta and British Columbia. He worked farms during summer holidays and found he enjoyed working out-of-doors. He left home the day school ended and worked as a labourer and catskinner (NFB documentary) for Waterton Lakes National Parks trail crews. When that work closed for the winter, he bought an old car for $50, drove it to Vancouver, sold it for $50 and found work as a chokerman for B.C. lumber camps and draftsman for an engineering firm. His mother’s admiration for the men in red convinced him to join the R.C.M.P. He passed through training with good marks and soon learned he had chosen an occupation that did not suit him. He resigned and after a time as a bouncer in Toronto’s infamous Ford Hotel, he returned to Calgary and decided to learn more about his favourite hobby, drawing.
He did not graduate from Alberta’s Provincial
Institute of Technology and Art. Instead, he took advantage
of the art school’s open system and for two years was allowed to attend the classes he saw as most relevant to his needs. One day in the second year, he attended
a ‘third year class on drawing’ and was given an assignment for
three pencil landscapes. His timing was off and knowing he had
to suffer a five percent reduction in grade for lateness, he handed
in the project, two days late. The drawings came back from the
instructor marked with a bright red 100%. Feeling guilty, Bill took
the drawings back to the instructor, Dr. Illingworth Kerr, and drew
his attention to the absent, five percent discounts. Dr. Kerr
looked up from his desk and said, “I am the president of this
school and if I want to give you 100% for your work, I get to do
that.” All reservations about his visual strengths went away and
Bill stepped into the business world with confidence.
- CIBC Shutterbug Loan Ad -
An advertising agency hired him and
became the first in a line of agencies
ending in Toronto with McKim Advertising,
Canada’s first advertising agency. As a member of the McKim Creative
department, Bill became responsible for construction of communication concepts.
A concept which got much attention
was a series of ads for Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. Banks had not
previously advertised. Recognizing an opportunity, C.I.B.C. decided to lend
less scrutinized and smaller amounts
of money to consumers and put out
ads to back up the promise. The
Shutterbug Loan, The Boots and Saddle
Loan and the Red Convertible Loan
arrived in newspapers, streetcars and
The series won Marketing awards and Bill got a hefty raise in salary. The ads were copied throughout the States and inflation was born in North America. Bill says it wasn’t his fault.
A simple newspaper announcement for Union Gas gave McKim’s creative department a great deal of difficulty. The agency wrote many concepts, the client refused them all. Finally Bill was told, “These are the words the client wants in his ad and he doesn’t care how you display them.”
The ‘Jousting Knights’, was the much appreciated result.
Curiosity pushed Bill into more changes. First a photography studio and eventually a film studio. In the film studio, Bill, who had been hired as an assistant’s assistant, arrived for work five hours before everyone else to set up still life shots and put them on film. In time, the collection of still life moments was used in a promotional reel and sent around town. Bill began to bring in jobs for people who needed a still life moment. Soon a human was added to the shots. Eventually several humans were added and Bill became a director of vignettes. The vignette director soon progressed to speaking humans and people began to call him a Director.
Directing commercial messages for marketing purposes captivated Bill for the next forty years.
After several years of film direction under the careful eye of his business partners, Bill was recognized as a person who made valuable contributions to his work.
Only Bill’s name was engraved on the Award he was given but he will tell you that he would not have won a nod of approval from the industry without the support and co-operation of his wife Kate. He would have never seen an accolade without the years of help from his family and instruction provided by his first cameraman George Morita and all of the members of a generous, able and supportive crew.
Bill and Kate wanted to take their family away from the pressures of Toronto so they designed and constructed a house in a maple bush north of Belleville, Ontario. At the age of fifty-five, still enjoying the accumulation of information, Bill decided he should learn how to paint. Knowing it was a little late in life to start, he chose to paint only large Canadian landscapes in glazed oils.
As the collection grew, stories
from years of travel with family
and gregarious companions,
began to attach themselves to
each of the illustrations. Around
the tenth year of painting, the
collection began to look like a
book and by the fifteenth year, a Wiro-bound book entitled Our People Our Places, filled with illustrations and their attached stories, was on the shelf. A Toronto Art gallery sold enough paintings to pay for limited self-publication. That book has gone through three versions and is now called CANADIANS. Availability through Friesen Press.
© 2016 William A. Irish. All Rights Reserved.