Bell Sells Control of HHCL to WPP

16 January 2006

Baroness Thatcher's favourite PR man Lord Tim Bell , chairman of Chime Communications, last week ceded control of his HHCL advertising agency to WPP Group - already the owner of 49% of the once-lauded shop.

HHCL opened its doors in 1987, headed by Rupert Howell (who these days presides over the EMEA activities of McCann- Erickson) with partners Steve Henry, Axel Chaldecott, Adam Lury and lower-profile business brain Robin Price.

If not the best agency in London it was certainly the trendiest. Voted in 2000 as UK Agency of the Decade by Campaign magazine, the accolade proved a Wicked Fairy Godmother's kiss. 2001 proved to be the worst year in HHCL's history as a raft of major accounts moved elsewhere.

In dire straits, the agency was acquired by Chime, which in 2003 transferred 49% of HHCL into WPP's Red Cell Network and although it has never regained its former glory, the shop's fortunes have recovered somewhat since then. In 2005 it was hived off into a new WPP network, United.

According to Lord Bell, Chime exercised the option to make the sale on December 31. "We will use some of the proceeds to start a share buyback programme," says His Lordship.

Last week's deal confers a final indignity on the once-great agency. The HHCL name is unceremoniously consigned to the trashcan of history, to be known henceforth by the pedestrian moniker United London.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff