Advertising executive

Born: February 2, 1931;

Died: March 24, 2016

PETER Marsh, who has died aged 85, was known at the peak of the British advertising industry as Mr Showbiz. Flamboyant co-founder and chairman of the Allen Brady & Marsh ad agency (ABM), one of the top five in the UK in the early 1980s, he did not just give prospective clients punchy straplines. Donning white tails and white top hat, he often gave them, literally, a song and dance to demonstrate jingles he thought could help them sell their products.

Having started as a teenage actor in amateur theatre, he lived up to the part by driving his white Rolls Royce Silver Wraith around London's Soho district, at the time the hub of the UK advertising industry, often, although he was not Scottish, wearing his favourite tartan suit. He insisted on being dressed in that same suit in his coffin recently as mourners tapped their feet to one of his favourite songs -- Give 'Em the Old Razzle Dazzle, from the musical Chicago.

In the 1950s Marsh had razzle dazzled his way into the life of actress Pat Phoenix although their marriage lasted only a year and Phoenix had not yet become the sex bomb of the soaps as divorcée Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street.

He also dazzled ABM's clients, and ultimately the public, with ads for such products as Guinness, Harp Lager, Whitbreads beer, Woolworths, Weetabix, B&Q, the Milk Marketing Board, Midland Bank and British Rail. He and his team came up with the straplines Harp stays sharp; Midland, the listening bank; and Milk's gotta lotta bottle for the Milk Board. Marsh was personally responsible for the famous I'm a Secret Lemonade Drinker ad (1973) for R White's lemonade, in which a bespectacled man in pyjamas shushes his dog and sneaks downstairs to get some R White's lemonade from the fridge. (The song and music were performed by Elvis Costello's father and the ad, making the lemonade naughtily attractive, gave a massive boost to R White's sales).

But by far ABM's most famous ad campaign was for then state-run British Rail in 1977, not just for the cleverness of the ads themselves – This is the age of the train – but for the fact that they starred Jimmy Saville. Hard though it is for us now to contemplate without squirming, Saville at the time was one of TV's most-loved faces. But the British Rail campaign is best-known in the global ad world for the now-legendary way ABM won the contract from under the noses of the bigger Saatchi & Saatchi agency. It has been described as "the greatest ad account coup in British history".

Marsh and his ABM co-founders invited British Rail chairman (later Sir) Peter Parker and his advisers to the ABM offices, where the BR team were left in a grimy reception area stinking from full ashtrays and tables littered with half-drunk paper cups of cold coffee. After 15 minutes, Sir Peter walked up to the receptionist and asked how much longer they had to wait. But the over-made-up receptionist just kept smoking her fag, filing her nails and telling a girlfriend on the phone how great it was to get hammered last night.

As Sir Peter got up to leave, Marsh burst out and said: "So, my friends, now you know how your customers feel about BR conditions and staff. ABM can win them over!" Sir Peter signed the contract.

Peter Marsh was born in Hull on February 2, 1931, son of a dock worker, and attended Hull Grammar School until leaving "as soon as I could, aged 15. All that stuff about a romantic working-class background is bullshit."

With the war just over, he did his national service before opting to take to the stage in amateur theatrical productions, mostly around his native Hull or the north of England. One of his early roles was as the title character Prince Karl in the operetta The Student Prince, perhaps most famous for its popular chorus of Drink! Drink! Drink! with Marsh singing lead tenor.

In 1955, aged 24, he moved south to London. Seeing that TV, still fledgling at the time, was the future, he joined BBC TV as a writer and producer in the documentary film department. He soon realised that, although the BBC did not carry adverts, TV in general was bound to become the perfect vehicle. In 1965, he hooked up with his friends Rod Allen and Mike Brady to launch ABM.

The upstart ABM, initially seen as a bunch of chancers by the big names of the UK ad world, razzle dazzled their way into British street language with their jingly ads, at the same time making the Madmen of Madison Avenue, New York, sit up and take notice of the new boys on the British block. Perhaps because of his flamboyance and often arrogance, Marsh was never the most popular man in UK advertising. His peers from other "shops" (ad agencies) said he spent as much time advertising himself as his clients' products.

Having run out of clients and ideas, ABM was sold to the Lowe Howard-Spink agency in 1987 and Marsh retired to a mansion by the river Thames at Barnes, with the white Roller in the driveway and his beloved collection of suits of armour from theatre and films inside.

He is survived by a son and daughter from his second wife Nicolette Grey, from whom he was divorced in 2003 after a 40-year marriage.