I studied for my BA in fine art at Loughborough College of art, initially accepted on to the painting course. In my second year I switched from painting to sculpture. When I graduated, that choice, and a bit of ability, enabled me to get commercial sculpting jobs.
After working on films and tv at a studio in Twickenham, I slipped into being a scenic painter and prop maker. I had my own studio in Old Stables in Richmond town centre for a few happy years, making things for Museums, films, shows, and commercials.
As business grew, I moved to a large warehouse in Blackfriars behind the Old Vic. Business was good, I employed my friends and built a good team.
For a few years my work mostly came to me from production designers or art directors. They commissioned me on behalf of tv film companies or exhibitions and museums and I built scenery or made props from their briefs and drawings. I started getting calls directly from producers and directors and my role began to change. I was now working, running the whole art dept on commercials, this meant I was taking on the responsibilities of an art director, so I sort of morphed into one.
I had a lot of help and support from my good friend Roger Burridge, a top designer and my favourite art director.
Roger and Mike Hall put me up for my art director ACCT union card without which it was impossible to work in a studio. It was only a couple of years later Thatcher emasculated the unions and the closed shop was finished.
I had painted some Irving Penn style sludgy grey backgrounds for a director who specialised in ‘Hair and Beauty’ type commercials. I got on with his producer,
My First Water Job.
John Nigel sent a job over to me. In those days, before fax and email, the script would arrive on a bike and was usually accompanied by a VHS tape of refs. This script opened on a stormy sea pounding on rocks. An Alka-Seltzer type tablet is dropped in and calms the waves to a beautiful day.
I agreed to make a simple fibreglass rocky outcrop, but, as usual, the job grew.
It was decided to shoot in Malta in the infinity tank at Mediterranean Film Studios. So far this was good for me I planned to take simple vacform moulds as hand baggage and from these sculpt the rocks in the tank.
Then they started talking about tablets!
They needed a large scale tablet to drop into the sea and fizz like a seltzer tablet.
At this I should have suggested they get an SFX company. My arrogance, and the naivety of youth, plus the appeal of a sunny location, made me volunteer to take on far more than my experience deserved.
‘Can you Scuba Dive?’ they asked,
Funny – I heard that as, ‘would you like to?
‘Of course I can,’ I said. How hard could it be?
So I called up a dive school in Putney and did a BSAC Novice Diver course over the weekend. I was off! It remains my only qualification after 30 years of diving all over the world.