September 08 - 14, 1995


 Coastweek   Kenya

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Bill Purdy - The Man Who Put
‘Pepsi’ On Top Of Kilimanjaro

His MOST famous stunt for Pepsi-Cola was to parachute
men onto Mount Kilimanjaro - successfully launching


Coastweek -- Bill Purdy was one of the key figures on the advertising scene in Kenya during the Sixties, with his public relations firm and agency, Skyline Advertising Limited.

It is no exaggeration to say that from his premises In Bank House, Government Road, his creative talent and energy applied to his display and design sector of his agency, Manhattan Displays, dominated and successfully challenged such international competitors as J. Walter Thompson and S.H. Benson.

Such was his reputation that Bill Purdy often produced stands for clients of the opposition at Nairobi’s former ‘Royal’ Agricultural Show at Mitchell Park.

Year after year, Manhattan Displays swept the board; these were frantic times in his life, he worked hard and expected no less from his employees for habitually Bill always strove for perfection; his drive and impatience brought rewards aplenty for his clients.

It was not uncommon for Manhattan Displays to take First, Second and Third prize at this event for such coveted accounts as B.A.T., Air France, Caltex and Pepsi-Cola.

Coastweek -- Bill Purdy.

On another occasion, Bill even re-constructed a steaming tea-pot for the award winning Brooke Bond stand.

One of the most impressive of the BAT. stands was a replica (maybe 50 feet high) of both Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro with swirling clouds around them and tunnels through which a model steam coal fired locomotive travelled, driven by the chairman on a double gauge track, it featured beside it the old Nairobi railway station, model tobacco pickers infields and colonial types setting off on safari in solar topees.

His famous stunt for Pepsi-Cola was to parachute men, onto Mount Kilimanjaro, successfully launching another campaign.

Such feats required not only vision but courage.

In this instance there were oxygen problems yet his spectacular ruse paid off.

Bill applied that same inventive fervour to building a tree house for his children, arranging a birthday surprise for one of them, or for a party for friends.

He also loved to fly, piloting himself and during one flight, Bill brought down a faltering aircraft, without damage, landing on the Lake Road, Naivasha.

Boldly and coolly in an emergency he had recognised when rules needed to be broken.

William Kilpatrick Purdy was born on November 26, in 1916 in Beatrice, Nebraska and was reared at Redlands, California spending his summers working with his brother Bud, In Picabo, Idaho on their grandfather’s ranch.

He attended California Military Academy in Los Angeles and Long Beach besides the University of California Agricultural School in Davis, California.

However, his college career was cut short when a professor advised him that he would probably never pass a math class; he should go to art school.

So he went as a student to the Otis Art Institute In Los Angeles where he turned that natural ability into a thriving career.

He took first piece in an All-Orange Country Art Contest before graduating from the prestigious establishment in 1939.

Next Bill was accepted by the Grand Central School of Art In New York City and subsequently earned a second place award in the school’s annual exhibit.

Here the under famous illustrator, Harvey Dunn, who had a deep and lasting influence on Bill’s work, he earned his living early on, doing covers for pulp magazines; in his mature years he believed in the value of the role of illustrator, which indeed was his strength in his display work

He continued to paint portraits and to rnake charcoal sketches to the end of his days, in which Dunn’s teaching was still felt

The Purdy family, Christopher, Nicholas, Victoria, Anthony and Samantha all sat to him, their mother, Lysbeth, Bills third wife was painted numerously.

Like so many Europeans who made Kenya their home, chance played a part in settling there.

Bill Purdy served in the U.S. Army during World War II, taking his discharge in Germany; after many wartime experiences, including meeting the legendary General, George Patton, Bill was discharged in 1946 remaining in Europe to work as a civilian for the American Red Cross in charge of their programme for arts and crafts in Europe.

Afterwards he crossed the Austrian-Italian border by trading some of his canned gasoline for red wine, offered by the Italian border guards, and joined the Upper Austrian Government in Lindz so as to organise arts and crafts clubs and to raise finances for youth centres with the result that Father Flanagan travelled from Boys Town, Nebraska to award Bill Purdy in a personal commendation for these accomplishments.

From Austria, accompanied by his second wife, he drove by jeep, camping en route through North Africa, the Sahara.

In Egypt their Great Dane dog was huge enough to pass for a cow, when Bill discovered that dogs were not supposed to enter the country.

After meeting Prince Alludin-Bey-Moktah, a cousin of King Farouk, they made their way across the Sudan, by selling Bill’s illustrations of tribesmen, British Officials and African scenes.

After a formidable journey, nine months later Bill reached Kenya and chose to stay.

‘The Best African Colony’ is where Bill Purdy made his home and founded the successful, Skyline Advertising with branches in Tanganyika and Uganda.

Later he set up the Kilpatrick Development Company through which he indulged his passion for design as an architect manqué and which he used for various construction projects, for the building and conversion of houses and swimming pools.

In l962 when he was interviewed by Newsweek magazine, Bill Purdy was referred as ‘the white huckster’ and that autumn, delighted his audiences at the Boise Ad Club and Hailey Rotary Club when he was invited to speak.

Talented though he was at public speaking, with his fascinating and varied life and multitude of creative talents, he found that time was always of the essence; 

there never were enough daylight hours in which to pursue his favourite occupations, painting in oils and sketching in charcoal.

Bill also developed into a skilled caricaturist and with his knack for lampooning close friends, some were slightly taken aback to find themselves displayed in his one man exhibition at the New Stanley Art Gallery in 1977.

Those reflected the liveliness of his mind, his acerbic humour, and an enthusiasm for their strong points.

Bills energy and the turbulence of his nature-equally charming or difficult as the mood took him, the colour he brought to the lives those close to him will be deeply missed for no-one could remain indifferent to him.

In September, 1964, Bill Purdy retired to live at Tiwi on the south coast of Mombasa where he and Lysbeth set about constructing the villa of their dreams overlooking the Indian Ocean.

Upon his completion, his devoted time each day either to writing one of two books in first draft or painting as his easel.

Until he died on April 23, aged 78 his drive for artistic fulfillment never faded.

Indeed an unfinished page was found in his typewriter, ready to be continued …

Bill Purdy is survived by two brothers and a sister, four sons, three daughters, numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren and by his wife, Lysbeth.

- Errol Trzbinski, Mombasa.





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