Purdy - The Man Who Put
‘Pepsi’ On Top Of Kilimanjaro
MOST famous stunt for Pepsi-Cola was to parachute
men onto Mount Kilimanjaro - successfully launching
another AWARD WINNING ADVERTISING campaign
-- 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
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.
-- 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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.