AAC founder and ‘father’ of ad land in Bermuda, dies at 78

November 8, 2013    

Royal Gazette – November 11th 2013

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‘Father of advertising in Bermuda’ and Um Um Show creator, John White, dies at 78

John White, a former advertising executive, musician and writer who pioneered topical comedy and satire in Bermuda, has died at the age of 78.

Mr White joined the fledgling Advertising Associates-Compton (AAC) company in 1964 and after taking charge transformed the business into a market leader with a string of international clients and was eventually bought out by Saatchi & Saatchi. By the end of his career Mr White had become known as “the father of advertising in Bermuda”.

But he perhaps gained even more recognition as an entertainer. Along with Joe Pimental and Robin Spencer-Arscott, Mr White formed The Travellers, a folk band that performed throughout the Island’s hotels during the 1960s. He went on to create The Um Um Show, an annual concert in aid of charity that combined music and satire.

Born in Maine in 1935, Mr White moved to Bermuda at the age of 14. He attended Warwick Academy, becoming Head Boy in 1951 — the same year that his future wife, Beatrice Hart, was Head Girl.

After graduating with a degree in commercial art from the University of Texas, Mr White returned to Bermuda making the Island his home for the next 40 years.

Although developing his career and raising a young family consumed much of Mr White’ time, he still found the energy to pursue his musical interests, forming The Travellers in 1961.

The band, which was heavily influenced by the Kingston Trio, recorded a number of albums and drew in fans from the US and Canada. They also took the stage as the opening act for a number of international stars who performed in Bermuda in the 1960s.

But it was their ability to adapt covers of folk standards with fresh and often humorous lyrics, reflecting topical events on the Island, that sealed their reputation among residents.

And when Mr White eventually left The Travellers, that blend of music and humour inspired him to create another show that became a “must-see” event.

First performed in 1972, The Um Um Show combined hit songs by an accomplished band of professional musicians, interspersed with sketches that took irreverent swipes at the politicians of the day. Mr White, a talented guitar and banjo player, wrote most of the material and performed in the band.

Last night, Um Um cast member Gavin Wilson described Mr White as a “warm, gregarious and very approachable man” who, as an organiser, had the gift of getting everyone on his side.

“John was a great administrator and leader of men,” Mr Wilson said.

“People just loved working for him because he was so approachable and had this enormous enthusiasm for everything that he did that was infectious. He had that gift of being able to get everyone on-board working together.”

Mr Wilson also praised Mr White’s creative talents both in the world of advertising and entertainment.

“He was very much the mastermind of The Um Um Show, but in a good way, he created a monster,” Mr Wilson said.

“Every year he would put on a great show but at the end of it would say, ‘Well that was great but we’re going to have to do something even better next year’.

“It became such a challenge and a commitment for him that eventually he had to stop putting the show on every year and instead run it every two years so that he could have a break.

“John’s two daughters were always in the shows and they always speak of him with great affection. I think that’s a pretty good measure of any person.”

The curtain finally came down on The Um Um Show in 1992 and Mr White left Bermuda in 1995, spending his retirement in New Mexico and then Florida.

He is survived by his third wife and two daughters from his first marriage.

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