Big Cheese: The Dormer-Beck Agency

In Anacin, Biscuits, Butland Industries, Campaign Advertising, Carlton Carruthers Du Chateau agency, Charles Haines agency, Chesdale Cheese, Clifton Firth, Dick Frizzell, Dormer-Beck, Four Square Supermarkets, Gregg's, Griffin’s, J. Ilott Agency, J. Inglis Wright Agency, John Wyeth NZ Ltd, Kolynos toothpaste, Pam's Products, Reckitt and Colman, Saatchi & Saatchi, Television Advertisement, The Harvey Cameron Agency, Waikato Ales on December 24, 2011 at 10.46

Still from a Chesdale TV advertisement by Dormer-Beck in 1966

It was generally agreed there were three main  firms who ruled NZ advertising in the earlier part of the 20th century ; J. Ilott , Charles Haines, and J. Inglis Wright. (Carlton Carruthers Du Chateau also deserves inclusion in the top agencies, and by the early 1970s CC du C was out and Dobbs-Wiggins-McCann-Erickson was considered one of the “big five”).

However by the late 1950s, Dormer-Beck (who had been around nearly as long, but was perhaps considered the runt of the quintuplets), had become strong enough to be not just a rival – but a real threat to all, eventually with offices in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. Author Maurice Duggan, who worked as a copywriter at D-B in the early Sixties remembers “The agency had a solid reputation; its presence in the city was considerable”.

Dormer-Beck created some of the most memorable Australasian media campaigns of all time.

courtesy of the Auckland Council heritage images collection  34-D270P-12

I was able to obtain a history of Dormer-Beck from the daughter of a former managing director Alec G. Robson, who started in 1936 as an office junior and by 1964 was chairman and managing director of the company. Jill Rowdon was kind enough to send me a copy of his notes for my research. It is a bio history as opposed to a memoir, and as such is focused on structural and financial business matters rather than the creative grind or the amusing bon mots you would expect of those crazy ad types; and unfortunately barely skips over important accounts and iconic brands with no more than a passing mention.

The New Zealand operations of International John Wyeth NZ Ltd, that produced health and cosmetic products like Anacin, were a client in the 1940s.

Dormer-Beck was borne of T. L. Hathaway Ltd., An Auckland agency with a number of retail advert writing contracts. L. M. (Case) Beck had worked as a “writer-visualiser” there for two years. An account they held with the Auckland Star newspaper, where R.C. Dormer was building a reputation as a sales representative, is how the two met. Hathaway commenced operations for a new business venture in Australia, after a radical product/coupon scheme was scuttled by introduced government laws, (The Coupon Trading Act took effect in 1932, making it illegal to redeem coupons for anything but cash or discount), leaving a bankrupt company in the charge of Beck – because he was the largest preferential creditor in terms of owed wages. The two scraped up sum capital of £50.00 each, and well into The Depression, the business had literally nowhere to go but up. Ray Trenchard Smith, who had both newspaper and advertising agency experience, became the third shareholder, and Dormer- Beck Advertising Ltd., was “officially” formed in May 1932.
I stumbled upon the Dormer-Beck story whilst researching “Pam’s” which was launched by Four Square Stores in 1937 to offer lower price, quality goods to the New Zealand public under a strong brand image. Yes – it really does go back that far. Although there were several “self” brands from chain stores at the time, “Pam’s” has lasted into the present day as a stand-alone brand, probably the only surviving one – and has a pretty nifty website to boot.


courtesy of the Auckland Council heritage images collection A2338

Four Square was an early client of Dormer-Beck’s along with Aircell (baby blankets) ,  Milne & Choyce (clothing and milinery), Silknit/Slimtex and Iris (lingerie), Berger’s (paint), Dresswell (clothing), Pyradent (toothpaste, mouthwash), Du Maurier (cigarettes), Defiance (men’s clothing and shoes), May and Belle/Slicks (underwear), and N.Z. Wallboards Ltd (Gibraltar Board).

courtesy of the Auckland Libraries Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 34-D270L

In the 1940s there was Kolynos (toothpaste),Neopol (polish), and John Wyeth NZ Ltd, that marketed products like the pain medication Anacin; and in the 1950s Chelsea Sugar (CSR) were an important account. There were of course legions more.
Many of these products are recorded in digital archives as photographed by Clifton Firth, who had a longstanding contract with Dormer-Beck from the early 1930s into the early 1960s. As such he subsequently made an inadvertent record of accounts and the accompanying products they were dealing with on a bread-and-butter basis. The sheer volume of images that survive really denotes that Firth deserves his own stand-alone post covering his career and work.

Dormer-Beck advertising including Pam’s and Pyradent , photographed by Clifton Firth between 1930-1939, courtesy of the Auckland Council heritage images collection 34-D270S

From a photograph of products that Dormer-Beck were handling in the late 1930s I was able to find an early Pam’s baking powder poster (this product launched the brand) and along with a rough newspaper advertisement,

as well as a piece from a A4 square promotional jigsaw puzzle showing packaging and accompanying point-of-sale material,

             A clipping from Four Square Stores promotional jigsaw puzzle cover showing Pam’s baking powder and point-of-sale display material – Likely designed by Dormer-Beck. Dated as 1950s, but I believe it is from a little earlier; the late 1940s. Courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library collection.

I now had all the pieces in place which enabled me to finally reconstruct the paper label for the product – something I’ve been wanting to do for ages.

Recreation of a poster (also used for the can label for many years) for Four Square’s “Pam’s” baking powder, designed by Dormer-Beck in 1937 as a campaign to launch the brand’s first product.

After the labour government came to power in 1935 it immediately introduced commercial radio to New Zealand, and as in later years with the advent of television, Dormer-Beck was amongst the first agencies to develop this new medium. Amongst the earliest TV ads they created were for a major client – Griffin’s biscuits and confectionery- Mallowpuffs, Krispies, and Snax amongst other classic and fondly remembered treats.


According to a company report of the time, 12 months before Channel 2 was due to begin transmission in 1960 – “Dormer-Beck was engaged on the production of the first television commercial to be made in New Zealand”. Further to that, Robson recalled in 1970 “there were in fact quite a number “in the can” and ready for scheduling when Channel 2 opened in June 1960″, but it’s not clearly conveyed whether they were all D-B productions or there were other companies making ads too, which he was referring to in general. Certainly in the first decade, D-B produced more television commercials than any other agency in the country. Apart from legions of ads for Griffin’s – Reckitt and Colman was another major client and Dormer-Beck created ads for everything from hamburger seasoning (French’s), to perfume (Goya, Cedarwood), and Cleaning products (Janola).

Dormer-Beck’s Mini-Magic Hosiery Campaign, 1970

By 1936 D-B were already successful enough to move from Horne’s buildings in Vulcan Lane, Auckland to bigger digs in the National Insurance building in O’Connell street. One contributor to success was a long-term business relationship with the J. Walter Thompson Agency of which Graeme Martin, who worked in the art department in the late 1960s recalls “…the highlight for me was the Creative Director from J. W T, Sydney, a man called Bryce Courtenay (yes the famous author!) came to give us a talk and general jolly up. He praised a little advert that I designed which I thought at the time was awful. Little did I know in those days!”.

It’s highly likely that this 1963 packaging was redesigned for Griffin’s in the Wellington art department several times over the years.

Strong direction and forward planning meant that by the early 1960s Dormer-Beck was a serious force to be reckoned with in the country, and by 1970 owned all the properties and buildings between 52 and 60 Ponsonby Road, however although D-B did construct new offices (as well as requisitioning older buildings on site), it wasn’t all glamorous “cringing under the smell of vinegar from the factory behind, and Creamota from the undertaker next door “ as David Burke-Kennedy, of Communique Publicity, who worked on the creative side at D-B as a teenager around 1964, remembers. Far from bustling with uber-cool hipsters in that time,  Graeme Martin says “I actually found working in Ponsonby Road a little too far from the hub of Auckland in those days. It was a short time for me, and I didn’t really enjoy it”.

Possibly the most famous campaign that Dormer-Beck was responsible for, was the Chesdale Cheese clips of the mid-late 1960s, the ” boys down on the farm ” advertisements featuring “Ches” and “Dale”.


One famous name that was involved in the design and illustration of the two characters for the campaign was of course now famous pop artist Dick Frizzell who was working off site at the time for Sam Harvey Animations, but later did work for Dormer-Beck in their art department. Wayne Senior, one of New Zealand’s top jingle writers- producers throughout the late 60s through to the early eighties (he wrote the “Hip H Panty Hose” introductory jingle that was a big hit) remembers he was “… included in the Art studio staff. I still have the going away card he designed – my personal Dick Frizzell. It must be worth quite a lot now, hailing from Dick’s early period.”

Wayne Senior’s farewell card from Dick Frizzell, late 1960s , photo courtesy W. Senior

Other clients of the 1960s besides Chesdale and Griffin’s and also names well known to Kiwis were Gregg’s, Coca-Cola, Fisher & Paykel, Reidrubber, Kelloggs, Fibremakers, Wrigleys, Hanimex, and IGA Supermarkets.

Dormer-Beck Company Newsletter ON THE CLIPBOARD, 1968, showing recent campaigns.

Dormer-Beck campaign for the Waikato Ales account, 1964

In the 1970s, the account roster included behemoths Choysa Tea, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, and Pan American airlines.

The Harvey Cameron Agency merged with D-B in 1972, not very long after the last original founding member of the trio had retired for good. In 1980 it merged again, and both the “Dormer” and “Beck” bits were dropped into the propwash of history to become simply “Campaign Advertising”.  Saatchi and Saatchi bought the agency in 1985 and so on, in a series of complicated mergers and buy-outs which I always find fascinating – when nobody else does. Something quite unrecognisable today from the pioneering Antipodean agency of media with many iconic, well-remembered campaigns that won’t be forgotten too quickly – even if people don’t know where they came from.

This was the most complex story research-wise I have worked on to date – yet just about everyone I contacted returned my messages and was willing to talk to me. I have to thank Wayne Kitching, David Burke-Kennedy and Graeme Martin for being patient whilst bombarded with questions, Jill Rowdon from The Nielsen Company for documents and images, Wayne Senior for being interviewed and lending his image of the Dick Frizell artwork. Keith Giles, Photograph Librarian, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Central City Library, Auckland, and Sue de Lange at The Royal Philatelic Society of New Zealand Inc. Without everyone’s participation and contribution I wouldn’t be able to dredge these stories back up. 

  1. You misssed the merger with Stuart Werne Advertising in the early 60’s Stuart Wearn became Managing Director and later set up the merger with Campaign Advertising. For 12 months the agency was called Dormer Beck Campaign. When Stuart Wearn left, the Dormer Beck bit was dropped and Campaign Advertising was the new name – until the Saatchi puchase. I replaced Stuart Wearn as Chairman of the merged company. My origins were as a founding member of the Campaign Advertising Group and lead the group into the merger with Dormer Beck..

  2. I really like your works, it give all the details of the past advertisements of nz food brands. Could you give some more information about Pam’s advertisements? Because I am researching about how Pam’s advertise their products from 1930s to nowadays for my school works. However I can’t find much except from you. If you could, it will be a really big help!

  3. Hi Khye, you can’t find much – because there just isn’t that much to find. Whatever I have found in the last four years I put into this article.

    Pam’s is still a Foodstuffs (NZ) Ltd brand, the same company that own Four Square, New World, Pak’n’Save and a slew of other stuff. From what I’ve seen of their archive collection via a friend who worked for them, there is no Pam’s stuff in it. You could try to contact




    and ask them if they can put you in contact with someone who handles any historical archive material, or if they know anyone who does.

    Or try looking in the Auckland City Library – they may have some copies of “The New Zealand Grocergram” which was the official magazine of the Four Square Grocers and staff that was published up until the early -mid 1970s and that may have some things in it. i think they are quite hard to find, though.

    Good luck and let me know if you find anything interesting! Cheers.

  4. I started as office boy at DB in Wellington in late ’67. Took 15 months to make it to the art studio [Peter Cullinane was office boy for only a few months so I guess that says a lot of what was to follow in the years to come], and I still remember Wayne Kitching and Graeme Martin giving me wee projects to do. I always remain greatful for that. There was a lot of talent in the studio apart from these two. Brian Quinn, Bob Owen to name a few and from all the Griffin’s pack handlettering I fell in love with type [and freehand lettering] Wayne’s lettering was extraordinary and Brian was a perfectionist doing the finished art. Bob was the joker and was a great cartoonist. It was a neat intro to my ad career, also helped by our fantastic lady on reception, Anne Marie Murray [now Gold] and Stu Boyles secretary Heather Rush. Those two were such a hoot and many a great fun time was had.

  5. Thanks for your interesting comment Kevin. I heard there’s a group of ex DB staff that still meet for lunch on the regular in Wellington to chew that fat, figuratively as well as literally! Did you keep any of your work on various products? I am hoping to get a post done on Wayne Kitching’s memories of the industry before the year is out. Sadly all the work he kept from Griffin’s etc went missing at some point.

    • Is Cliff Thomas the ring leader of this get together group/ Would love to know who is and where they meet. May make a surprise appearance. Have nothing from that era apart from the memories. Funnily enough, I left DB to join Dobbs Wigans, where the late great ‘Neddy’ Newlands resided. Great place that was too. Remember May and Baker wanted a new matchbox design and I think about a zillion designs were done, everyone was involved. The one which was picked was one I did, and is still going. I thought it was awful but hours of so called research proved it to be the most liked. Think that was the only time Fred Dobbs ever spoke to me [in his imitation American accent], Or Angela Austed his…um…secretary. Doug Wiggans was a neat kiwi bloke, drank at the Duke public bar with another real bloke there, Jimmy Ell. I think the best thing to come out of DB when I was there was the Gingernuts commercial, great tune. Also loved the Griffin’s Fun bar song and the Big Ben one. Wayne I think did the pie packaging and I loved it. He was so good.

      • Hi Kevin, Wayne Kitching is involved in that group so he has all the details. I am not sure who organizes it. I am pretty sure I have kept his details.
        I think you will find that’s the case, there’s no accounting for taste – especially when left to the public! I bet I have a late 1970s-early 1980s issue of that matchbox (I think you meant Bryant and May).
        What was Griffin’s Fun Bar – I assume some kind of confectionery product as opposed to a biscuit? Cheers

      • Der me. Of course it was Bryant and May. May and Baker were a client when I was at Thompson’s… a farm ag product manufacturer…brain fade. Yep Fun bar was a Griffin’s confectionery bar. I should get hold of Skitch [as I called Wayne]. He worked freelance in later days with Quinny, Paul Simpson and a good friend of mine Ev Purdie

  6. Was that the very graphic blocky kind of beehive in alternating colour segments? Featured here at Owaka Museumm’s online collection:

    Which version of Dobbs Wiggans was it you were with (Goldberg, or McCann Erickson?) Cheers

  7. Wow – thanks for the great article. My dad Geoff Collier used to work at D-B in the 60’s and 70’s. Started in Dunedin and lasted up until the final merger when they became Campaign. He used to take my sister and I into the office occasionally on the weekend. We’d play with the IBM Selectric typewriters in the typing pool on the first floor, have a game of pool in the staff bar room down the back, and of course run around all over the place. Great memories – thanks!

  8. Hey thanks, this was a great bit of research you did.

    I worked for Carlton Carruthers Du Chateau (earlier there had also been a ‘King’ in that lineup) as a Media Buyer for a year in 1970. Sometime prior to that one of the Directors, Don Donovan, had invented ‘Cookie Bear’ for a client, Cadbury’s I think.

    PreviouslyI was with two little known agencies, Bookman Compton Goldberg in 1969 and McKnight Oliver and Bryce in 1967-68. Back then the earlier mentioned Peter Cullinane and his family were our neighbours.

    Those years were good fun and a good grounding for a lot of future work.


    • Yes I was aware of Carlton Carruthers Du Chateau & King. In the 1950s some of their clients were Durolac, Fletcher. Goldberg had been around since the 1910s and notable clients were Pascall, McKenzies, and St George. But they were never as big as the others and had more obscure accounts. It became Dobbs Wiggins Goldberg after Bernard Bookman, Fred Dobbs And Doug Wiggins are said to have acquired Frank Goldberg’s business in the 1950s and that in tiurn became Dobbs Wiggins McCann Erickson. Not sure where Bookman Compton Goldberg come into that history or how but obviously they dropped Goldberg at some point further on.

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