Saturday, May 14, 2016
Perry's Picture Post part 3
I had not been made fully aware of the financial predicament our Mother Company (Century 21 Productions, where the Supermarionation films in Slough were being created) had found itself in. (A more in-depth account on the reasons behind all this can be found in “Eagle Daze: The Life and Times of Leonard James Matthews – Part Eight”).
Earlier in the year – on Wednesday, 18th January 1967 (but cover-dated Saturday 21st), “Century 21 Publishing” launched a comic for the very young entitled Candy. Along with several other merchandised characters that were regularly being seen on television – Tingha and Tucker, Topo Gigio, Bengo and Winnie-the Pooh – the main characters featured in Candy comic were based upon the lives and adventures of two life-sized dolls – one called Candy (so what else could it have been?) and her twin brother, who had been blessed with the similar name, Andy.
Their parents (Mr and Mrs Bearanda) were a pair of “Melungeons” – an animal species made up from the genetic mixing of a Chinese giant panda and a Russian brown bear – and the family lived very happily together in a two up, two down above a magic toyshop.
These four main characters had been created by the model-making division at Century 21 Productions, based in Stirling Road, Slough, where in-house carpenters, furniture-makers, painters and decorators had constructed a number of stage-sets that had been kept permanently at the ready in Slough for instant and on-going use.
The puppets were a third life-size, which made designing sets for them ten times more difficult than for human actors because everything had to be made to scale. The problem of producing cups, glasses, radio sets, control panels, chairs, tables and the like had to be solved by Bob Bell. As he has said: “Each item is specially made, for substitute toys do not look real enough under the critical eye of a film camera.”
The stage-sets for Candy magazine comprised the main toyshop (complete with shop-counter, shelving towards the rear, and a selection of toys that could be re-arranged to make it look as though the place had been fully stocked with product), a comfortable lounge area with a stone-built fireplace and mantelpiece that included, amongst other things, a bright orange deep-buttoned settee with white piping at the seams, and a kitchen-cum-dining area that came complete with a stainless-steel sink (with drainers each side, but not physically plumbed in). There was also a solid, 2-inch-thick pine-wood table that was surrounded by four Windsor-style pine chairs.
Leading out of the lounge there was a short stairway giving the impression of leading upwards to places unseen. However, rather more conveniently placed elsewhere had been Candy and Andy’s bedroom (but, please note, the pair had separate beds!). The whole stage-set had been fully-furnished with a variety of props including a large dark-blue kettle, pots and pans, a wicker shopping basket, pictures on the wall, and a designer table lamp. There were mugs, bowls and plates with an artistic ABC design printed in blue, and the knives, forks and spoons had been of such good quality that it was evident that no expense had been spared. Anything you care to name was probably there, tucked into one of the kitchen cabinet drawers somewhere, ready to be photographed should it be needed.
Finally, the Bearanda family drove around in an Austin Se7en Mini, lovingly nick-named “Stripey” due to its psychedelic colour-scheme of four-inch-wide diagonal stripes of blue, red and yellow onto what was once a perfectly plain and ordinary white-painted car.
I assume scripts were sent well in advance for the attention of the film studio’s resident photographer, Doug Luke, who, along with his set-dressing assistant, supplied the editorial department (based on the 5th floor of City Magazines in Fleet Street) with a selection of 2” x 2” colour transparencies to match the half-dozen or so pre-written captions he had been supplied with.
It has been said elsewhere that Doug Luke found the whole process “very frustrating, what with toppling pandas and awkward dolls to deal with on a daily basis,” but at least he didn’t have to put up with temperamental, self-opinionated and egotistic stars who relished in keeping studio crews waiting by sleeping in and consequently turning up late! Personally, I didn’t agree with his views on the subject . . . but then, perhaps Doug Luke never thought of utilizing lengths of stick (strategically positioned out of the camera’s line of sight) – all done to prevent these starring characters from falling over flat onto their faces. If they did, then most certainly “heads did roll,” with the result that a certain amount of touching-up had to be carried out.
Due to the scaling down of filming operations in Slough, TV21 Art Editor Dennis Hooper approached me one day with the view to asking if I would be interested in taking over the photography of Candy particularly as the book department – of which I had been the Art Editor for more than a year – was in the midst of producing quite a number of “Candy and Andy” story books. I said that I would, but that the first thing I needed to do was to find a suitable barn large enough to house all the prefabricated sets. In the end, it was my father-in-law, Arthur Edscer (of whom I have spoken about in Part One), who found exactly what I had wanted.
The stage-sets were delivered by a furniture removal van from Slough and over the next few days and weeks, I strung up half-a-dozen 2,000 watt and 5,000 watt studio lamps about the barn using some pretty hefty S-shaped meat-hooks. Eventually the barn was ready for me to photograph anything that might be required of me by TV21 Art Editor Dennis Hooper or by Gillian Allan, the editor of Lady Penelope, who had also been in overall editorial control of Candy magazine.
It might be nice to give mention to Angus Allan (Gillian’s husband) at this juncture. He was a comic strip writer who had worked on TV21 during the Sixties and on Look-In magazine for much of the Seventies. His output was truly prolific: the vast majority of comic scripts for Look-In were his work. While working at Pearsons during the late '50s, he met and eventually married Gillian, after which he had made the decision then to become a freelance writer where (and these are his own words) he could visit the local pub as and when he wanted rather than be stuck behind a desk in some office and be confined to the task of editing from 9 to 5.
Being freelance – and therefore a free agent – Angus also wrote for other publishing outlets and penned several “Garth” adventures for the Daily Mirror. “Garth” was drawn with great dexterity by Martin Asbury, someone I had known well at a time when he still had hair! And while I speak of Angus, I have this desperate urge to tell you this eye-watering tale.
It was lunchtime and I was visiting the comics’ combined art and editorial department down on the fifth floor so that I might have a quick word with Junior Sub-Editor Howard Elson. Upon occasion, a TV21 reader would place a telephone call to the Century 21 Publishing offices with a request to speak to “Brains”. Knowing that I had a knack for mimicry, Howard would ask me to take on the voice of “Brains” and kid the caller into thinking that he was speaking to the man in question.
Most of the occupants of the art and editorial department had gone off to appease the empty feeling in their stomachs, but remaining behind were John Ayres (assistant to Art Editor Dennis Hooper), Peter Corri (assistant to the Art Editor’s assistant), Peter Covington (the office boy), Angus Allan and (when I finally got there) myself. It became clear there was a problem. A script that Angus had written was being kept in the adjacent office and was sitting on Dennis Hooper’s desk. But Dennis was out and about somewhere and both his office door and the one beyond – Alan Fennell’s – were locked. For some reason that was not fully explained to me, Angus was desperate to get his hands on the script before heading off somewhere else. (You will, I hope, understand that there are quite a lot of facts about this story that I had not been privy to).
But now back to my original story.
The 1¼” thick partitioning between the offices had been constructed from sturdy battle-ship grey pre-fabricated steel panels above which were sheets of frosted glass that allowed a certain amount of light to brighten up the place. The one metre square pane was topped by a second pane, a metre wide but trimmed so that it fitted very neatly under the ceiling. The sheets of glass were held in place by bevelled metal glazing bars (set at 45°), some of which were very definitely coming adrift from their moorings.
Following a short discussion between Angus Allan and John Ayres, the master plan had been that if John turned his desk around and pushed it up against the steel panelling, had then topped it with a suitably sturdy chair, then Angus could climb up, dismantle and remove the upper sheet of glass thus allowing him access into Dennis’s locked room.
Viewing it all from afar, it appeared to be going well. With his head brushing against the white-painted acoustic ceiling tiles, Angus carefully removed the four glazing bars and passed the smaller sheet of glass down to Peter Corri, who in turn had placed it so that it wouldn’t get kicked or knocked over. With the opening now free of all extraneous obstacles, Angus gingerly attempted to climb through.
But in order to do so, he was obliged to place his feet on the lower set of bevelled glazing bars – his left on the art-room side of the partition and his right in Dennis’s office. Then, of course, disaster happened! His foot slipped off the angled moulding and in thumping heavily down onto John’s desk, the sudden downward thrust of his six-foot frame – which must have been around the 12-stone mark – had quickly bent the narrow framework that should have supported little more than a simple pane of glass. Protesting wildly, the centre of the lower sheet of glass disintegrated into a dozen or more shards leaving a number of jagged pieces still firmly attached to the bottom and the two sides of the frame.
John and Peter rushed to help Angus, but not before a particularly ugly-looking splinter had ripped through his trousers and gouged a nasty two-inch-long cut in Angus’s inner left thigh. I suppose one has to thank one’s lucky stars that the pointed spike hadn’t made a bee-line for Angus’s femoral artery, for that really would have taken some stopping!
Amazingly, Angus made light of it all and had declined all suggestions of having the cut seen to and stitched up. Feeling a little like a spare what-not at a wedding, I quickly returned to the security of my own office three floors up
On my very first day there in June 1966, despite having been engaged as the new Art Editor for Books (no less), I still felt as though I was being somewhat ‘put down’ by having been given a hurriedly-found desk that was placed in the furthest corner of a room filled with around twenty others. It wasn’t just that, but the desk was as far away from any natural light that it could possibly get. To give me something to do, I was given the “Thunderbirds Are Go!” souvenir booklet to make a start on designing, during which time Peter Covington – the resident Office Boy – had been dispatched to the local art supplier with a hurriedly written list so that he might acquire items that would certainly be needed while carrying out the intricacies of my chosen craft. One of those fairly vital items had been in the shape of an Angle-Poise Lamp.
When Covington eventually returned back to the Editorial-cum-Art Room, I was handed the purchased items including the Angle-Poise, but it was then discovered that the electric flex had been so short that there was no way it could do much more than sit on the corner of my desk – un-connected, un-wanted and un-used. So Peter was sent off once again – this time to the hardware store for a length of electrical wire, some electrical tape, and a couple of screwdrivers.
Being the new-boy, it was not my want to interfere, but I felt that John Ayres’ directive to Covington for him to remove the 13-amp plug from the Angle-Poise; attach the new length of wiring onto where the plug had once been, and that he should (using John’s precise words) then “join all the wires together” was a disaster just waiting to happen. To give Peter his due, he did exactly what John had decreed, and on plugging the new length of electric cable into the nearest wall socket, coinciding with the loud bang that seemed to have emanated from some other part of the City Magazines building, all the lights suddenly went out and had remained that way for the next half-an-hour or more.
Naturally I just kept my mouth tightly closed and had said precisely nothing, for this had been my introduction to the world of Century 21 Publishing!
Coming soon: In Part Four, while daughter Rae fills hers, I split mine!