Id always been interested in the film industry but
I had no idea how to get into it, so I found myself
working in a factory in Maidenhead doing all the
electrical wiring on missile testing systems. Then one
day my father mentioned that Gerry Anderson had come into
his shop to buy Cuban cigars, this was at a time when
they were making Fireball XL5, so I
got my dad to introduce him. I told Gerry that I was
doing electrical work but wanted a career in films and he
said Well come and see our electrician because
were about to start a new show called Stingray
, and if he thinks youre OK there may be a vacancy
for you. And so thats how I got my start.
David: When you
joined it must still have been a very small company.
Did you usually manage that or was there a lot of
Ian: There was a reasonable amount overtime, it would come at times when youd get the odd episode that was probably a bit trickier than normal, say like Attack of the Alligators. I think we actually worked day and night on that through a weekend because we were using live alligators in the water tanks. Those alligators - or crocodiles I believe - were quite difficult to control. When we put them in the tank they would disappear and you wouldnt see them for hours at a time, and then suddenly theyd come up and all you could see were their two eyes. Obviously for a film you wanted to see more of them than that so we tied them to the puppet control poles and pushed them out into the middle of the tank, so that you could see more of their bodies, otherwise they just didnt want to perform. Maybe we werent paying them enough (laugh).
|These things varied in size from
about two-feet long to one that was four-foot long; that
one spent most of the day sat in a box at the back of the
stage and we covered it in wet rags to keep it moist.
Over a period of several days you would forget that it
was there then one day someone shouted Look
out and we turned round to see this big crocodile
walking across the stage which cleared of people
Then there was the day when they were shooting some publicity photographs with it and a puppet of Lady Penelope. The puppet was standing right next to it and this crocodile was absolutely static, it was just stuck there without a single movement for what seemed like hours. Then suddenly it just turned round and got hold of this puppet and violently shook its head several times and there were bits of puppet flying in all directions (laugh). And I can remember the puppeteer, who was Christine Glanville, was in tears because this puppet was her baby. Poor Christine, but thats the fun of filmmaking!
everything you did storyboarded?
Was there any competition between the units to
see who could get the best shots?
Did you have any particular friends on the crew?
Roger Dicken worked on Thunderbirds
for a bit didnt he?
What sort of day-to-day jobs were you expected to do
there as an Effects Assistant?
Did you have a daily target for how many shots you had to
So the landscapes were literally just thrown together
from a collection of bits?
If we were doing the road we would colour the roadway not with paint but usually with grey and black powders. And you would put in the wear marks in the road where the cars had been; again doing it using brushes and powder paints so it was quite artistic to do that sort of stuff.
Behind the model mountains we would have cutouts of painted mountains and behind that we would have more mountains painted on the actual backing. There used to be a lot of work involved in doing it and we all used to jump in and get involved with doing the colouring of the set, which often meant changing the colour of the rocks if they didnt suit that particular story. The rocks might have been in a desert the previous episode, or the Moon, so you had to get a spray outfit out and change the colour to suit the episodes requirements.
We used to use different scales of grass matting and lots of real stuff too, like lichen. That was a great lifesaver because you could use it for trees and hedges. For some trees we would build them from real bits of small tree branch and then spray them with this white adhesive material, I cant quite remember what the product was but it was a bit like the snow-effect stuff we use today. Anyway we would spray this stuff onto the branches to create scale leaves and then spray it all green, and that used to work quite well for us.
The sky backgrounds always looked very good.
Did you ever have problems getting shadows on the
Who came up with the idea for the rolling backdrop?
Ian: The idea wasnt new as it had been used in films back in the 1930s, although it probably just had a bloke with a handle and not a motor like ours. We also had the horizontal one, which had an attachment to it so that there would also be a foreground one that ran at a slightly different pace.
I can remember working on the episode where the big plane (the Fireflash) had to come down and land on the vehicles, that was a pig to do, getting it to land and everything to work right. You had the models on thin tungsten wires and if one of them broke your model would go whoosh past your head (laugh) and you were picking up the pieces, then into the workshop to get the glue out. But it did all work out well in the end.
the belts ever come off?
I guess that one of your jobs would have been to light
the Jetex motors, I assume that they were ignited
David: In Alan Shubrooks book Century 21 FX: Unseen, Untold theres a good picture of you trying to catch the big Thunderbird 2 as it leaves the launch ramp (feature film version). Was catching the models a common job?
|Ian: Yes, you usually were due to the space restrictions in the studio. If you were shooting at high speed and you wanted a model to come through fast you had to get it up to speed very quickly. We pulled the models through on running wires, we had a running wire above, a very taught piano wire, and we used to run a tube along it with the model hanging from what we use to call a crucifix with screw-eyes in. That model had to get up to speed very quick, because youre shooting at high speed, and youve got to stop it quickly as well. So these things were hanging there on very thin tungsten wires and so we use to try and catch them, to save them from smashing into the tower that was supporting the wire and also to try and stop the wires from breaking. Because you often wanted to do a second take and you dont want to have to rewire the model again. So it was very important that you caught this thing.|
Did you ever build any of the models?
Ian: No not a great deal. I wasnt involved in the model workshop, I used to get involved in repairing them but I wasnt actually one of the model makers. If I remember rightly Ray Brown ran the Model Workshop and there was also Peter Ashton and they were both very good.
Apparently some of the models were made from Balsa wood
at the beginning to keep them light, before fibreglass
ones were used?
The worse one was Thunderbird 2, because it was so big it was quite heavy and then on top of that every time it crashed down on the floor it was a case of rushing it into the model shop for a quick repair with Cataloy (car body filler) and then back onto the set. As time went on this model actually got heavier and heavier (laugh) and it was falling off as much as it was staying in the air! So it was almost counter-productive to repair it in this way, but thats how it happened.
With it's crew disabled the massive Crablogger
ploughs a 'Path of Destruction' in a classic Thunderbirds
David: I guess the models were designed to look good and so were not always very practical. I was looking at the Crablogger photos and thinking how was such a massive model moved through the scenes.
|Ian: Well if we didnt
use a wire there were often times when we used to just
push these models in, we would have a rod and hide it
down the back and push it along. Or we would have a rod
going down through the set and someone pulling it
It was harder to get
the models to turn, the vehicles all had small axles on
them with a bit of steering so the wheels could turn and
suspension, which was usually done with foam rubber, to
get the movement. Basically we had a slot in the centre
of the set and they were pulled by someone underneath, or
someone at the side.
When people talk about wires they often think of just
did you attach the wires to the models?
Ian: A lot of the time if there wasnt a little hole or something we would put little dress pins into the model, and just go round the pinhead. But where you had to be careful with tungsten wire is that you mustnt kink it, you must not turn it back on itself, or it just breaks very easily. Thats actually how we used it, once wed run a length out we would just kink it and it would break. But obviously you didnt want that to happen on the model so you had to be very careful how you tied it on and we used to use things like a Fishermans knot where you wouldnt kink it.
With some models, like Thunderbirds 1 and 3, you could attach it with a single wire through the nose. On the take-off shots we use to try and get it so that the support wire was directly above the model so that it wouldnt want to move in any other direction. But sometimes you did see the odd one where the model used to spin a bit, but we usually got it looking pretty good with the rockets firing underneath.
Did the person holding the model activate the rockets?
David: Has anyone ever
pointed out to you that the four rockets that fired when Thunderbird
2 landed, or took-off, were actually put into the
holes for the legs not the holes for the
David: Were you often
pulling the models along?
I think Derek also referred to Thunderbird 2 as
being a bit of a pig too!
Talking of Pods, how did it actually stay in position,
did you just normally jam something like Plasticine
(modelling clay) into the gaps to hold it?
In a lot of these behind-the-scenes pictures we can
clearly see the roof and the crew are actually up against
Did they have extractors installed?
Did you usually wear masks?
So how big were these explosions and did you mix them at
Derek sometimes called them soft explosions,
did they have much power to them?
Ian: Well they could have power. When he says soft it usually means a pyrotechnic which is a powder, like black powder etc. And when you say hard you usually mean high-explosive, which is dynamite, plastic explosive, and things like that. You can make a little charge quite dangerous, or bigger, by just tamping it. Tamping means either wrapping it much harder or putting it in a confined space so that it has to work harder to get out.
And they worked fine in the water tank?
I noticed in some of the shots in Captain
Scarlet that when an explosion occurred all the
powder paints on the floor would lift into the air, which
looked very realistic.
John Richardson who did the first Omen film, where they cut the head off on the pane of glass and then the head spun on the glass, said to me We didnt do that, it just happened. Everyone said that it was Terrific but he said they just got lucky! Funny enough I thought Derek was one of the luckiest special effects guys I ever met because when we did things we would say to him Shall we do this, and that, to make sure that it works and he would say No forget about it and it would work just fine. But if you did it the next day it wouldnt work at all, he was lucky that way.
Did things ever go wrong?
They started making Thunderbird feature films, do
you remember much of this. You did actually get a screen
credit for Thunderbird 6, did that
mean you got more cash?
Ian (centre) working on the set during the
filming of Thunderbird 6. The camera
shoots through a partial model of the Tiger Moth wings to
get an aerial view of Lady Penelope's home.
you couldnt answer the question Why was Mars
Did the team split at this point because Captain
Scarlet was being done around the time of the
later Thunderbird film?
Ian: Yes, I started on Captain Scarlet but Derek was going to direct the effects on Thunderbird 6 and he asked me to go on it with him. Thunderbird 6 was good because obviously the budget was higher than normal and so you got to do things bigger and probably better than you had done before. For example we built a very big-scale motorway bridge out in a field near to Booker Airfield at High Wycombe, so that you could use the real background and sky as part of the model shot as we flew the model Tiger Moth underneath the bridge.
They also did it for real as they were still building the M40 motorway at that time. They got a pilot, called Joan Hughes, and she actually flew the plane underneath this new motorway bridge. She wasnt supposed to as she was only supposed to taxi it and the Ministry man, who was there at the time, went absolutely bananas (laugh), but she was a brilliant pilot.
Of course we could repeat the stunt in miniature and we used to fly our planes under the model bridge. But the model plane was thrown out of balance quite badly by the small puppet figures on the wings and it was very difficult to get that model back into balance, as a result it piled into the bridge on quite a few occasions.
What did you think to the puppet programs?
With Captain Scarlet they
introduced the more life-like puppets.
Heres another daft question but I have to ask. On Captain
Scarlet the SPV had tracks on the back
that pivot down, but they were never used. I wonder if it
was an effect that couldnt be made to work?
I remember one day that some comedian had gone up into the roof and put two large eyes there and underneath had written Derek Meddings is a Mysteron (laugh). But no one ever admitted to it.
I believe that you worked on Doppelganger.
Was it good to be working on a proper film
with real actors?
So it was more like the glamour side of the business and nice to be doing it, and once again the models were bigger and there was better stuff to do. Like for the rocket take-off where we built it outside between the two stages, and we had two big 40-foot towers with a ladder beam across for the rocket to be pulled up on, so you were looking up at real sky away from the Slough Trading Estate. Unfortunately something happened on the first take and it got jammed on the launch platform. When we fired the rockets the support arms were supposed to jump back to release the vehicle and then off it went. However when we were shooting it the arms didnt move, I cant remember exactly what the problem was but one of the cables must have snapped. So suddenly we were sitting there and found that we couldnt move it, and those rockets were going and once they ignite thats it. There were three 2-inch diameter rockets in that thing, they we BIG, and they did quite a lot of damage. And you couldnt really put it out easily, just trying to get up to the model in the first place was hard work and then spraying it to try and put it out, by the time you got there the damage was already done!
Did you have any problems keeping the miniatures in
When these new models appeared on stage were there any
times that you thought How are we going to make
I think UFO was the high point in the
effects work, the Shado Mobiles driving through
the forest looked pretty real.
The flying effects were slightly different this time with
what looked like real clouds.
Ian: Yes, we had a base layer of dry-ice and then we would mix it with different types of smoke, two or three smoke machines would be used as some would give you a better layer than others. Plus sometimes you would send the smoke down through the dry-ice to mix it, so that it would hang there that bit longer. And you had to time it, and wait till it was ready, and then you would say 'It looks good. Turnover, go'. It worked very well.
David: I think that you had
more space to do the UFO effects as
you had taken over the empty puppet stages.
Did you see Gerry or Sylvia on the sets much?
UFO was coming to the end did you
realise that it was the last show?
Ian: It was difficult to believe Ill say that. I was one of the last people there and I can remember having to chuck all these models in skips and I actually ended up with a Thunderbird 2! We were throwing everything out because in those days there wasnt a market for film memorabilia, it just wasnt valuable until years later. I saw this Thunderbird 2 and I thought Im going to have a memento and so I said to Gerry Could I have something and he said Take what you want, and so I had it and everything else was skipped.
|So I actually had this model but
unfortunately over the years Ive lost it!
I have had fans of Thunderbirds phoning me to say Were heard you have this model would you be interested in selling it. So I went to look for it as I thought it was in the loft, or down where I store my equipment, and I just couldnt find it. So I asked my wife and she said I think you threw it out during one of your famous clearouts can you believe me doing that?
would probably be worth about £50,000 now!
I would like to thank the following
Ian Wingrove for kindly inviting me into his home and answering every question I could think of!
Dennis Lowe for his enthusiasm and taking the time to arrange and film the interview.
|CLICK HERE to visit Dennis
Lowes website to view the filmed version of this
Martin Shubrook for
generously allowing the use of their photographs from
Other photographs supplied by Ian Wingrove and Phil Rae.
production photographs ITC Entertainment Group Ltd
No infringement of copyright is intended - non-profit fan interest site only.
David Sisson 2011
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