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Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Perry's Picture Post part 11

After about fifteen months of employment at Hamlyn Books, word began to spread that the company’s accountants were advising all departments that, to make the on-going operation viable, Hamlyn’s would need to cut their staff by one-third. I can only speak for the art department, but, in my opinion, had they got rid of dead-weights in the shape of Roger Garland, John Youe and the majority of the cowboys who did little more than chat all day long and drink tea, the company's accounting problems might quickly have been resolved.

I have to admit that I was a bit slow off the mark, for by the time I made it known that I would like to be included as one of the 12 designers who were to be made redundant, I discovered that I was the thirteenth to apply. Still, they agreed and, four weeks later, I saw the inside of Hamlyn House for the very last time.

In a way, it was a bit of a shame, for around mid-May or June that year, John Kingsford had finally made his mind up that enough was enough and made plans to move down to the West Country so that he could lay paving stones for the local council. Had he hung on for just a little longer, he, too, would have had the advantage of a nice cash lump sum – the agreement between publishers and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) being that in cases of redundancy, the recipient would receive one month’s salary for every full year of service, and in John’s case that would certainly have amounted to an extra three, maybe four, months-worth of tax-free ackers.

As a post script to all this, I recently discovered that, forty-five years on, the Paul Hamlyn publishing empire – launched by Hamlyn in 1950 with an initial investment of £350 – has now been turned into the Paul Hamlyn Hall Balcony Restaurant and Bar based in what was once the Covent Garden Market in Central London – he, to say the very least, has been a true visionary. Hamlyn House is now a multi-story block of apartments.

For my sins, after leaving Hamlyn’s, I worked for two-and-a-half months alongside Bob Prior whose offices were in St Christopher’s Place. No more than two hundred yards away from Selfridges super store, it’s all very “arty” and up-market today, but in 1970 it was rather a seedy spot, which probably had suited Bob Prior to an absolute “T”. A stinky boiled-cabbage odour permeated up through the floorboards from the vegetarian restaurant next door that quickly polluted the entire building; it was then that I made a vow never to have any qualms about munching on a lamb chop or a piece of veal ever again.

Although I had seen him from afar while working at 96 Long Acre, I had never physically met or spoken to Brian Lewis until I started to come into Bob’s office on a daily basis. Brian – who along with two others had been cramped into a room no larger than six-feet by six-feet – had been heavily involved in producing highly-detailed pencil illustrations of Quo Vadis-like sexual orgies in which well-endowed females with few inhibitions (and even fewer clothes) gaily romped, displaying all they possessed . . . and I do mean all. Were these drawings destined for the Gold brothers, I wonder, or were they commissions from some other equally sleazy contact that Bob had come upon?

If you care to tap into Eagle Daze: The Life and Times of Leonard James Matthews – Part Nine on the downthetubes website, you will read how it had been Bob Prior who had given Paul Raymond’s illicit first issue of Men Only a safe haven from the police, who were acting on a court order to confiscate and pulp the magazine.

The sordid concoction of arriving at the office only to find Bob still asleep under his desk, the appalling stink from the vegetarian restaurant next door, and being given “rubber” cheques by Bob that bounced unmercifully, made me wish that I had never left Hamlyn’s. So it came as a huge relief when I learnt that ex-Art Editor Dennis Hooper of TV21 had become the editor of a new boys’ magazine called Countdown and, according to Dennis Bosdet of Linden Artists, he was looking for an art editor to join him. I didn’t need telling twice, and five days later (the following Monday), I began working in Paddington Green for Polystyle Publications.

One of the first photographic assignments I had while being involved on Countdown was when Dennis Hooper and I were invited to Aldbourne in Wiltshire to watch a day’s filming of Doctor Who. The production was called ‘The Daemons’ and my chief role on that sunny April day in 1971 was to obtain colour transparencies, not only behind-the-scenes shots showing the BBC crew at work but also (and perhaps more importantly) to capture portraits of the leading characters.

When we arrived, the crew were already heavily involved on the village green and, with Jon Pertwee surrounded by an assortment of studio lighting, film cameras and other film-production paraphernalia such as microphone booms, this was precisely what I needed.

I’d been keen to get a shot that encompassed the entire crew, and as they’d parked their vehicles in an orderly fashion on the eastern side of the village green where scenes were not likely to be filmed, I saw that in the centre of a long line, there had been an official BBC Land Rover Series III (in the standard BBC livery of dull British Racing Green) upon whose roof was a convenient purpose-made filming platform. A piece of advice given to me by my father when I was too young to know any better was “don’t ask, for if you are told ‘No’, then you cannot”. In the hope of getting a wider shot, I’d climbed aboard.

Having fired off half-a-dozen shots, I looked around in the hope that something else might happen. Well, something else did. Two ‘gophers’ were dispatched from the nucleus of actors, film technicians and crew on the village green. One had been sent off to some spot well out of sight behind the church to tell the gardener up there to stop mowing his lawn as the mower’s sound was being picked up by the sound-recording engineer’s equipment, and the other had made a bee-line over to where Dennis was standing saying at the same time that the owner of the Land Rover was so pissed off at seeing me clambering all over his beloved BBC green machine that unless the offender got off his pride-and-joy – like right now – then all filming would cease forthwith.

Following on from that day, I had gone to White City’s BBC Television Centre several times to see Doctor Who being recorded in one of the many purpose-built studios.

On one of these visits, I had taken my son Marcus with me as I felt that he was now old enough and responsible enough not to go careening round the nearest camera-dolly or treat the place as if it was a new and exciting assault course. During a break from recording, Jon Pertwee was keen to pose while I took a number of shots of him playing chess with Marcus and with Marcus sitting on his knee.

But before that happened—and before anyone else had turned up—the two of us had been alone in the studio, me collecting reference shots and Marcus . . . well Marcus had suddenly become transfixed by something. Standing in front of one of the cameras, he could see himself, as large as life, on a nearby monitor. After about a minute, a hushed voice – not too unlike HAL from 2001, a Space Odyssey – murmured from a dozen speakers around the studio: “Would the boy standing in front of Camera 3 kindly move to one side as we are trying to colour-balance the cameras before the recordings begin”.

About a year after Countdown was launched, Dan Lloyd and I came up with the idea of creating an in-depth feature on the hovercraft, the result being that, on a particularly blustery day in late March 1972, we drove down to Pegwell Bay, close to Ramsgate in East Kent. On arrival, we found that  conditions were not at all favourable – gale-force winds whipping off the English Channel had prevented the hovercraft from flying. Understandably, Hoverlloyd, who operated the cross-Channel service, had reason to be cautious due to an incident that had taken place earlier that same month. On 4 March 1972, an SRN6 travelling from Ryde on the Isle of Wight to Portsmouth had overturned in strong gale-force winds. Despite the craft having been only 400 yards away from the shoreline, four of its 26 passengers lost their lives.

To compensate for our disappointment, Hoverlloyd's press officer made the promise that, next time we were in the area, both Dan and I would be offered a free ride over to France and back. An offer such as that is never taken lightly . . . at least, not by me it isn’t.

Some three months later, when returning back home from holidaying in Normandy, I discovered that a close cousin had died and that his funeral was due to take place in two days’ time in Stuttgart, Southern Germany. Phone calls to the Hoverlloyd press office were made and within an hour or so, an ‘all clear’ was given for my wife and I to travel over to France free-of-charge the following afternoon.

The funeral in Stuttgart took place on the Monday. After driving like a bat out of hell hack to the French coastal port of Calais, we caught a return flight to the UK late that afternoon. Back in the office bright and early on the Tuesday morning, I telephoned Hoverlloyd’s Press Officer to thank him for all the help he and his colleagues had magnanimously given, and asked if there was anything else that I could offer by way of thanks. The Press Officer told me that, on the Wednesday of the following week, Hoverlloyd would be unveiling the latest SRN2 in their fleet and that it was going to be launched by the original inventor of the hovercraft, Sir Christopher Cockerell . . . would I like to attend? I immediately said “Yes please,” and wrote down all the details on my layout pad.

For my third trip down to Pegwell Bay that year, I took along Bill Kidd, who had jumped at the chance when I asked if he cared to come along. Having taken both the Rolleiflex and the two Pentax cameras, and with both Bill and I capturing everything we saw, by the end of the day, we had enough material to make up a good half-page photo-feature. But as Dan Lloyd had already written a fair amount on the technical side of these craft, Bill and I decided to take a different approach, which resulted in my becoming “The Man from TV Action”.

The plan was that I was someone who asked the sort of questions that a boy might wish to ask should he have the chance to do so. Questions such as “What would happen if a hovercraft ran over me?” Answer: “Not a lot, for the down-pressure that keeps the hovercraft flying is little more than the weight of a sea-gull standing on your back.”

Sir Christopher was an interesting man who eagerly related (probably for the four-millionth time) the tale of how – in order to prove his theory – by using the combination of a cat food tin, an empty coffee container and a vacuum cleaner that had had its air-flow reversed (thus blowing rather than sucking), he’d had the satisfaction of seeing the empty Kit-e-Kat tin float on a cushion of air up and down his rain-soaked, muddy boatyard.

Editor Dennis Hooper re-wrote much of my text, but, all-in-all, it had been a good day out and one that had a most pleasing outcome . . . for it led to Bill and I doing several other jaunts.

Roger Perry
The Philippines

Coming Soon: In Part Twelve, stories about the days of creating features for TV Actionman that have remained hidden from TV Action readers . . . until now.

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