Obituary: Tom Jago

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Obituary: Tom Jago

Marketing wizard who transformed drinking with Baileys Irish Cream and Le Piat d’Or


CREATIVE FORCE: Tom Jago
CREATIVE FORCE: Tom Jago

Tom Jago, who has died aged 93, helped form drinking tastes as the creative force behind brands such as Baileys Original Irish Cream, Malibu and Le Piat d’Or.

Jago was head of product development for the drinks group International Distillers & Vintners when it was acquired by Grand Metropolitan (now part of Diageo) in 1972. One of IDV’s Irish products was Gilbey’s Red Breast whiskey and another arm of Grand Met was Express Dairies, which linked to Avonmore Creameries here. It was Jago’s brainwave to mix whiskey, cream and emulsifiers to create a smooth new liqueur, while also taking advantage of Irish tax incentives for exports. The brand was launched in 1974 and today sells some 84m bottles annually with Glanbia providing the cream.

Next, Jago set to work on IDV’s loss-making wine label “Le Piat de Beaujolais”. He kept its curvaceous bottle but commissioned semi-sweet table wines to suit the untutored British palates of that era.

Thomas Edwin Jago was born at Camelford in Cornwall on July 21, 1925, the elder of two sons of Thomas Bennett Jago and his wife Violet. Tom senior was manager of the Camelford branch of Barclays Bank.

Among young Tom’s childhood memories was a friendship with the family of the author JB Priestley, who kept a holiday home at nearby Bossiney Cove. Tom was educated at Camelford Grammar School, where he and the headmaster’s son were the only pupils in the sixth form and Tom was encouraged to sit for a scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford, which he won.

It was the same scholarship that in 1921 had set the path of the future historian AL Rowse, himself a Cornishman of humble origins, and it was on Rowse’s insistence that Jago studied history. Among his best friends at the House was the bon vivant philosopher Anthony (later Lord) Quinton, who by one account “set about ridding Tom of his Cornish accent and introducing him to the finer things in life”.

But war service soon interrupted: Tom Jago joined the Royal Navy, and after training at HMS Ganges and Osborne House, served as a lieutenant on the World War I destroyer Wolfhound before being sent on North Atlantic convoy duty.

Returning to Oxford after demobilisation, he embraced undergraduate life to the full – on one occasion dancing with Audrey Hepburn – and graduated with a Third.

He thought of making a living as a photographer, but an interview mix-up led him to a copywriting job with the advertising agency Mather & Crowther, later Ogilvy & Mather, where he specialised in work for clients in the wines and spirits sector. One of them was Gilbey’s Gin, which in due course offered him a permanent job – and merged with United Wine Traders in 1962 to become International Distillers & Vintners. One of Jago’s first projects for IDV was reviving the faded brand of Croft Pale Cream Sherry. After leaving IDV in 1982, he worked first for the cognac house of Hennessy before shifting his focus to Scotch. With his long-time business partner James Espey he worked on the marketing of single malts for United Distillers, the creation of Johnnie Walker Blue Label (originally a blend of 15- and 60-year-old whiskies) and the repositioning of the Chivas Regal and Whyte & Mackay brands.

In 2007, when Jago was 82, he and Espey created the Last Drop Distillers, a venture dedicated to marketing small and rare parcels of whisky, cognac and other spirits. Jago declared The Last Drop 1960 Blended Scotch Whisky to be the best Scotch he had ever tasted. The business is now run by his daughter Rebecca with Espey’s daughter Beanie.

Tom Jago, who died on October 12, married, in 1952, Penelope Vaughan Morgan, who had been a copywriter at J Walter Thompson. She died in May this year, and he is survived by their three sons and a daughter. The second son Dan is chief executive of the wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd.

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent

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