WHEN the Glasgow Miles Better campaign was unveiled on June 20, 1983, less than two weeks after Margaret Thatcher’s second general election victory, the city had a lot going for it but was painfully aware that its image needed to be transformed.

In an article in The Herald in 1982, the then Lord Provost, Dr Michael Kelly, raised the question of how adversely Glasgow was affected by its bad image, how unfair it was, and how a promotional campaign might be a way out of the problem. There was no response, but he persevered.

The result, the following year, was the Glasgow's Miles Better campaign.

At its launch Dr Kelly made his feelings and objectives plain. 

“Glasgow’s old image as a city associated with drink, dirt and crime still plagues us", he said. "This does great harm. Apart from the frustration and anger this causes those of us who live and work here, it hinders the economic regeneration of the city. 

Read more: Glasgow's Miles Better: Is it time to bring back city's most successful slogan?

“Having travelled abroad a lot, I know that the problem of Glasgow’s bad image is the one which is always highlighted. People inside and outside the city want something done about this. It is time to proclaim the new reality”. 

The Herald: Dr Kelly with members of the city council staff who were preparing for the Glasgow Marathon in September 1983Dr Kelly with members of the city council staff who were preparing for the Glasgow Marathon in September 1983 (Image: Newsquest)

The reaction was generally positive. A leading article in the Herald began: "Glasgow has decided to remind the world of its existence in no mean fashion...", the 'no mean' an allusion to No Mean City, the 1935 novel by H. Kingsley Long and Alexander McArthur that had had a lasting impact on the way Glasgow was perceived.

The leader noted that the new campaign had been inspired by New York’s hugely successful ‘I Love New York’ campaign. 

Glasgow, it added, had cause to feel aggrieved about its poor image but said that there had been “real and remarkable changes” in recent years in Glasgow – massive regeneration in the East End, tenement facelifts, riverside landscaping, the soon-to-open Burrell Gallery, and ambitious plans to build an exhibition and conference centre at the derelict Queens Dock site at Finnieston. 

Scottish Ballet and the Scottish National Orchestra were also based in the city. 

Read more: Those were the days: 1992: Glasgow's alive, but was it better?

The campaign, which would send the Glasgow message worldwide, was devised by Dr Kelly and by John Struthers’s agency, Glasgow-based Struthers Advertising. Alasdair Gibbons, now 72, was a director of the agency and its account director throughout the campaign from its embryonic stages in late 1982/early 1983 until its conclusion in 1988.

It's time Mr Happy bared his teeth

“The campaign hit at the right time”, he says now. “People in and around the city were fed up with the bad press that Glasgow had had and people in the city recognised that a lot of changes had taken place. The campaign was so successful because it gave people a platform they could march behind, so to speak. They could see that the city, perhaps for the first time ever, was being projected in a positive light”. 

The agency had in 1982 produced a campaign for Scottish Health Education Unit, which featured Scottish players from the World Cup held in Spain and the slogan ‘The squad don’t smoke’. Later that year Dr Kelly was quoted by a newspaper as saying that he wanted Glasgow to be a no-smoking city by 2000. 

Letters: Miles better

Mr Gibbons said: “John picked up on that and contacted Michael to say, ‘why don’t we meet and we can possibly give you some pointers?’ Michael came to the agency at number 2 Blythswood Square and during the conversation he said, ‘I’ve always wanted to have a campaign for Glasgow. Glasgow deserves a campaign like ‘I love New York’ but I don’t know how to go about it’. John said he would give it some thought. 

The Herald: The campaign logo featuring the Mr Happy characterThe campaign logo featuring the Mr Happy character (Image: PR)

“John and I went back to Michael two or three times with different ideas, most of which missed the mark. Then one day John phoned me from London, where he’d travelled with his son, Mark.

"He said, ‘I’ve had this brilliant idea. I’ve written down these three words with Mark – ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’. I said, ‘That actually sounds as if it’s got legs’, and we talked about it as a comparator – Glasgow’s miles better than it was, it’s miles better than Edinburgh. When John came back he said he’d seen his grandson’s Mr Men books. He said ‘I Love New York’ has got the heart – why don’t we stick Mr Happy in there?’ 

“We took it all to Michael, who said he really loved it. When he said, ‘what do we do now?’ I can remember John saying, ‘Well, I’ll make you famous and you’ll make me rich’. Michael said, ‘There’s a bit of a problem with that – we’ve got absolutely no money’. But John believed in the idea and told him that we’d develop the campaign, we’d think about it, put everything together, and get to the stage where you could maybe make something of it”. 

Dr Kelly and Mr Struthers contacted the Glasgow business community to introduce the concept to them and the Lord Provost persuaded Hamish Swan, MD of Tennent Caledonian Breweries, Radio Clyde chief Jimmy Gordon and car dealer Ian Skelly each to contribute £10,000 as seed funding. "It's an investment", Mr Swan said at the time. "Anything that boosts Glasgow is good for every business in the city".

Those Were the Days - Mr Happy in Glasgow and Berlin, 1984 and 1987

"Michael was a free spirit in the council as the Lord Provost and in the early days, if I remember correctly, his idea of a campaign did not enjoy universal support within the City Chambers. But we carried on with it, and we got to the stage where we had enough money and were confident we could do something with it".

The Herald: Dr Kelly with an award, received for the campaign, in 1984Dr Kelly with an award, received for the campaign, in 1984 (Image: Newsquest)

Viral marketing was of course an unknown concept in 1983. The people behind the campaign, however, took the view that if every one of the 700,000 Glaswegians could spread the message to 10 people, that would mean a total of seven million, and if those seven million spread it to 10 people, that would be 70 million. It was truly a heady prospect. 

Glaswegians were encouraged to play their part in the campaign. "When people go on holiday we want them to take their duty-free in campaign bags", Mr Struthers said at the time. "We want them to wear our T-shirts, wear our badges and stickers, use our pens, drink out of our mugs, blow up our balloons, and carry our key-rings ..."

Obituary: John Struthers, advertising man credited with devising the famous Glasgow's Miles Better campaign

After the launch, then the Scottish Development Agency, forerunner of Scottish Enterprise, promised to match, pound for pound, whatever Glasgow raised, having recognised the city’s importance to Scotland as a whole. And Dr Kelly persuaded the City Council to cough up: £50,000 from the Common Good Fund. By now the campaign had banked some £250,000. 

“There would not have been a campaign if Michael hadn’t said he would love to have one”, said Mr Gibbons. “But there would not have been anything if John hadn’t picked up on that and developed it. They were a formidable duo. Michael was a consummate politician who could smell an opportunity for Glasgow at a hundred paces. He was a tremendous asset to the city at that time.

The Herald: A campaign bus, photographed in Edinburgh in 1986A campaign bus, photographed in Edinburgh in 1986 (Image: Newsquest)

“I was just a worker in the campaign, John and Michael were the architects. But it was fabulous. I spent 45 years in advertising and it’s a big highlight for me. It really did something for the city. 

“It launched 40 years ago and here we are, still discussing it. People remember the slogan. I don’t know how many ad slogans were written in the intervening period – millions, probably. A few of them stick in the mind but for ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’ still to be talked about, and still be recognised after all this time, is remarkable. 

“A whole number of circumstances came together. The stars aligned and the idea was the right thing at the right time. Glasgow still had this ‘no mean city’ image but that belied the reality of the city. 

“It was a great product, and all we did was shine a light on Glasgow, which people responded to. We weren’t telling any lies, we weren’t over-promising. If anything, the campaign under-promised”. 

Dr Kelly, in a 1986 interview with The Herald, argued that Glasgow had succeeded in recent years because it had been ceaselessly demanding. It won the Britoil headquarters, he said, and the SECC and other developments, because it never stopped demanding. It had also shown itself always ready to offer a warm welcome. "You must be aggressive in the market place", he said, "when these decisions are about to be taken".

"The slogan was a spot of genius, spot-on", he added. "The lesson was to take advice from the professionals".

In 1994, in the same newspaper, he reflected: "Glasgow's Miles Better was a phenomenal success as a tool for changing the city's external image and restoring Glaswegians' pride".

The Herald: John Struthers with a campaign bannerJohn Struthers with a campaign banner (Image: Newsquest)

Mr Gibbons for his part frankly acknowledges that he thinks Glasgow’s image today is poor. “Back then, Steve Hamilton was Glasgow’s Chief Executive. He was a pretty sharp guy. Bob Calderwood, who led Strathclyde Regional Council, was a formidable intellect. The SDA, as was, was led, just before the campaign, by Lewis Robertson, who was an incredible businessman. He handed the baton to Sir George Mathewson, who became the chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Mr Happy made redundant

“You also had people like Sir Norman Macfarlane, who were batting for Glasgow. Today, however, I struggle to find a Glasgow businessman who has the profile of some of these guys. I couldn’t tell you who is leading Scottish Enterprise, or who is the Chief Executive of Glasgow City Council. I struggle a wee bit with the politicians too. 

“There were lots of formidable individuals at that time, in the Eighties. Glasgow’s Miles Better sat on top of their collective efforts. 

The Herald: Alasdair GibbonsAlasdair Gibbons (Image: public)

“Devolution has hurt Glasgow”, Mr Gibbons continues. “Glasgow was the powerhouse of Scotland but with devolution the powerhouse is now Edinburgh. We don’t have the same type of people. Miles Better contributed in many different ways – to the decision to award Glasgow the 1988 Garden Festival, to the award of European City of Culture in 1990. It was probably one of the most visible things that led to all of that. 

The Herald: Dr Kelly with two visitors from Plymouth, Mrs Margaret Corey and Mrs Phyllis WelshDr Kelly with two visitors from Plymouth, Mrs Margaret Corey and Mrs Phyllis Welsh (Image: Newsquest)

“I think it made a big contribution to Glasgow in the Eighties and into the Nineties. I’m obviously biased but I don’t think the subsequent campaigns matched up to Miles Better. 

“You couldn’t run Glasgow’s Miles Better today”, he concludes, “because the promise isn’t deliverable. Glasgow is not Miles Better now. There’s not the same vibrancy in places like Sauchiehall Street or Argyle Street.

"From an economic perspective Glasgow has been emasculated by the focus on Edinburgh, with Holyrood and what is now the political power-base in Scotland. Back then, the political power-base was with Glasgow City Council and Strathclyde Regional Council, which together had half of the population of Scotland under them”.