David Reviews

 "You're not an artist, Peggy. You solve problems." Don Draper.

RINGAN
22 November 2021

In Paul Simon's song 'The Late Great Johnny Ace', he describes how he learned from a stranger of his friend John Lennon's death. Simon perfectly captures the sense of swooning disbelief which possesses us when we are told something so shocking that it completely overwhelms our senses. So it was in Berlin when I was told – by a friend, not a stranger – that Ringan Ledwidge had just died.

I didn't really know Ringan that well. His was always a welcome face to see across the room at advertising industry events, and inevitably we'd talk about the possibility of catching up properly... which we'd never do.

I remember the first time I met him. He wasn't at all what I expected. By itself, his unusual name created an idea in my head of someone with that brittle self-assurance provided by a single-sex public school education. Instead, to my huge relief, I met this surprisingly shy, polite, quietly spoken man with an accent suggesting that the only time he'd been to a public school was to deliver something from the back of a white van.

We'd met because Ringan was taking part in a panel I'd organised for Thinkbox. The topic was the 'director dividend' and Ringan sat alongside Dougal Wilson, Siri Bunford and James Rouse. My abiding memory of his contribution that day was of someone slightly baffled that anyone would care what he thought. But he was funny, self-deprecating and notably generous about the collaborative nature of film-making.

At Ciclope in Berlin, the terrible news spread like a virus, and you could see the hurt in the pinched faces of those who had just learned the news. Most distressed were his Rattling Stick family, and they understandably hurried home to be anywhere other than where they'd been when they heard. They knew he had been ill, but this didn't lessen the devastation one little bit.

The second time Ringan appeared on a panel for me was at a CraftWorks at the LSE, where, among others, he sat alongside former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger; Droga's David Kolbusz; and Dav Karbassioun.

We were talking about the 2012 'Three Little Pigs' commercial, and I fondly recall Ringan's riposte when I described Dav as the "unsung hero" of the project... after half a beat, Ringan gruffly observed that Dav was "quite sung actually", and the resulting laughter from panel and audience alike took the discussion into that zone of reminisce and playful recrimination that makes these reunions so much fun.

Afterwards, Ringan had a beer and a chat with anyone who wanted to talk to him. This shouldn't be a big deal really, but the reverence the industry shows to its 'stars' sometimes prompts them to think they're above that sort of thing, and it's always enormously gratifying when you discover that someone doesn't see it that way... and Ringan definitely didn't.

The word we often use to describe our feelings of grief and loss at a time like this is "unbelievable". It's the right word, and it's literal. Right now, I cannot really believe that I won't see Ringan again.

For those closest to him, this will take on an agonising form as – on learning about some trivial thing or other – they find themselves thinking : "I must tell Ringan that!"... before realising that they can't.

It's the nature of mortality that none of our stories have happy endings, but for most of us, our stories will, at least, be more or less complete. Ringan was just 50. He was born in 1971 – a year of that many of us remember happening. His story was desperately incomplete.

The only consolation for his friends, and it really isn't much, comes from knowing that the sense of loss they feel comes from knowing that he was important to them... and that they were important to him. And knowing, because of that, that if they were given a choice between suffering the agony of this loss, or avoiding it by never having known him... that they'd take the pain in a heartbeat. It's not much, but it's not nothing.

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