During 1964 I remember being summoned to the office of the general manager, the late Douglas Stewart Baker. He instructed me to hand deliver a letter to a recent trainee manager applicant for the office. Some nerve I thought, did he consider me; a probationary projectionist to be a postman? It seemed strange that we needed two trainees in the office at that time, one was the usual complement allowed, particularly as a reduction of projection room staff was rumored.
At least it got me away from the daily routine of the projection room. He must have deemed it important that this letter reached the successful applicant quickly and safely. It was usual that candidates for trainee management positions were selected from external applicants. Trainees were recruited by the manager and under his direct influence.
I was to learn shortly that this trainee manager was Dennis Davidson, a young teenager exactly my age. Little did anyone imagine at the time that he would, within six years, form a media Public Relation company that was to become successful on a global level with offices in London, Los Angeles, Cannes, Sydney.
He appeared to be shy and introvert, but once you worked with him you quickly discovered he was the complete opposite. It was apparent that Douglas Baker had identified a quality in Dennis, and that he intended to nurture his prodigy.
It was at the time when pop concerts were staged up to three times a week. Dennis quickly showed an interest in promoting these locally. Although a youngster, he had the ability to confidently converse with people of any age or background. DS Baker started to hand over a lot of responsibility to him which Dennis took in his stride. He was soon promoted as one of the assistant managers. His involvement with the press was impressive, with the cinema’s promotions featured prominently in all the local newspapers, much to the annoyance of our local competition. With Douglas Baker’s appointment as manager of the new ABC Centre Bristol in November of 1966, Davidson worked alongside Ken Cooper, another assistant manager with a genius for generating the right sort of publicity. Within eighteen months Dennis Davidson departed for London where he worked in Public Relations in the TV-Radio publicity department at the Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC) Group from March 1968. The TV-Radio publicity department serviced the exhibition, distribution and production interests of ABPC in London. These included the ABC Theatre Circuit, Warner- Pathé Film Distributors and Elstree Film Studios. The person who recruited him was David Jones, who managed global communications for ABPC. He ran the department like a family, and although he was very old school, he understood new media as it was then. He could get any editor from Fleet Street around a table or on the phone. He sat on the top boards of all the cinema companies, all the studios. David Jones was a very powerful individual and taught Dennis much – for example, that Public Relations could influence the strategy of major companies.
In 1970 Warner Pathé split and the business became MGM EMI. ABPC wanted to move him off the payroll across to MGM EMI. Davidson resigned his position. He was to admit “ with the arrogance and naivety of youth, I set up Dennis Davidson Associates. It was a leap into the dark”.
Later, while on holiday in the Bahamas, he met someone who, until his death, became a business partner for the next 25 years. “At first, Tony Franklin invested in DDA, but soon joined us when he realized he wouldn’t get his money back. He was incredibly influential in the success of the company”.
“Lew Grade was another influence. ITC became our biggest clients until he left”. Davidson recounted “I’ve always been amazed by the man, his energy and work ethic. Again, Lew was someone who, though based in Britain, could straddle the world”. He recounted an anecdote at a lunch celebrating DDA’s 25th anniversary. “He had called me into his office one day and asked: What’s one and one “It depends on whether you are buying or selling, I replied. And after that he gave me all his business”.
In a Guardian interview, Dennis Davidson stated that he had three mentors, Douglas S Baker, David Jones and Lew Grade.
The company can list hundreds of major film & TV releases in their PR portfolio. DDA (the name was changed to DDA Public Relations Limited in 2003) has become the most successful entertainment industry public relations consultancy operating on a global basis. At Cannes, the company has tremendous influence, it matters not where the venues are worldwide from LA to Singapore you will find DDA as the leader in media PR.
The DDA Group companies are now involved with event management, marketing and creative services.
Dennis served on one of the six committees that formed New Labour’s Film Policy Review.
He is a Fellow of the Institute of Public Relations, the Institute of Directors and the Royal Society of Arts, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, of BAFTA UK and LA, and the Variety Club of Great Britain (he held the pro-bono position of Press Guy for Variety Clubs International for a six year term).
Married to Janette Day, a film producer, Dennis has one daughter and three sons.
In recent years Dennis Davidson wrote to me following a cinema article appeared in the Chester local press which had been forwarded to him. He asked “did I remember the immaculate appearance of Douglas Baker?” How would I ever forget that? The image is etched clearly in my memory! He continued to modestly informed me on how his career had progressed from the day I delivered that letter!