SFX. Behind The Scenes Special - 3
By David Sisson
Did you know anyone?
Terry: Not at the time, but in 1977 Pinewood Studios had their one and only open day and I went along with my dad and sister and during our visit we went into a studio called Westbury Design and Optical, run by a great guy called Cliff Culley. He was a well-established Matte Artist who did a lot of mattes on the Bond films, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and even the old B&W Norman Wisdom films. So I chatted to him, telling him about my interest in getting in the film business, and he asked me what I was doing now. Well the one good thing my careers teacher had advised me to do was go to art college and I had got into the Royal Berkshire College of Art and Design in Maidenhead, so I told Cliff that I was about to start my first year in 3-dimensional design. He said to go and do my first year and then come back and see him in my summer holidays, and if I still wanted to work in the industry I could work for him during that summer - which I thought about for a nano-second and said Yes please.
Unfortunately back in those days you couldnt get into the film business if you werent in the union, and you couldnt get into the union unless you were in the film industry through the ACTT. My dad and I had even gone up to London to the ACTT head office in Soho to find out what I could do, which shows how passionate I was.
So the following summer I worked for Cliff on films like The Arabian Adventure, Warlords of Atlantis and Disneys King Arthur and the Spaceman just helping out, doing bits of model work and watching the matte artists working on matte painting and stuff like that. When it came to the end of the six-week holiday Cliff said that I could either go back to college to complete my course and get a degree, or I could stay and work for him, but he couldnt guarantee how much work I would get. So I gave up college and took the job.
That was a bit of a gamble.
Terry: It was, but it was what I wanted to do and it got me in to the industry, I was working and I managed to get my union ticket. It was strange that although I had always wanted to get into art department work, I actually ended up in special effects, as Cliff started teaching me about matte paintings, model work and even doing things like titling, where in those days you painted it all on to glass. There was no CGI in those days so when we did credits we put the Letraset lettering on the glass and then painted the drop shadow in, you can imagine how long that took. These days you can do it all on your computer very quickly!
I actually only worked for Cliff for a short while and then found myself out of work, which I was to find was typical for the film industry. Then a friend of my uncles, a carpenter, said that he had a film coming up at Elstree Studios where they were needing people in the special effects department for a little known film called Raiders of something or other, and would I be interested?
As a film buff I knew that Steven Spielberg was in England doing Raiders of the Lost Ark, so I immediately said Yes and ended up working on my first big film as a trainee in the effects department under Supervisor (the late and great) Kit West. I was on it for around 9-months and it was a fantastic experience, even going over to Tunisia to blow up the German plane. At one stage during the shoot, I asked Spielberg to sign my crew hat, which he kindly did. Ill always remember that he asked me what I would like to do in future, to which I answered that I would love to direct, and he said Maybe Ill be working for you one day! We havent got to that point yet, but I live in hope!
In the film I was involved with the Well of Souls and the opening sequence when the ball rolls down after Indy. Out in Tunisia I worked with one member of the crew called Bill Warrington, who had won an Oscar for effects and explosions in The Guns of Navarone, and he took me under his wing and trained me in the art of explosions and other effects work. Being a Trainee I was doing a bit of everything, I was lowest-of-the-lows on the crew, making the tea, running errands, but I didnt care as I was working in the film business on a Steven Spielberg film! It was just a great time.
Afterwards I again found myself out of work. I did little bits here and there and worked for Cliff again, but I was mostly temping and signing on when another big film with Kit West came along called Revenge of the Jedi (as it was called then) and that was another great experience.
I was still a trainee, so I was helping out with the physical effects on stage, learning various jobs like welding and all that sort of stuff, but I wasnt very good at that! Being more artistic I was usually better at building things. One thing I remember doing was working on the second unit when the Emperor and Darth Vader fight at the end of the film. Theres a scene when lots of sparks are coming off the back of Darth Vaders cloak, they were tiny little squibs and I put them all in.
It must have been an exciting time for you.
What was your knowledge of Gerry Anderson at that time?
Terry: I was brought up on the Britwell Estate, just a-stones-throw from Stirling Avenue in Slough, so I grew up with Thunderbirds. I had watched all of his previous shows, I wasnt an ardent fan but I had enjoyed them all, so I knew the history. My favourite was Thunderbirds, watching that over and over again on television; and I can always remember my dad taking me to see the feature film Thunderbirds Are Go when I was about 7-years-old, and being absolutely knocked out by seeing it all on the big screen.
When did you actually start on Terrahawks?
Terry: It was November 1982. The production had been going for a short while but hadnt actually started shooting as they were still in pre-production. I do remember one day over the Christmas period, I was helping the props master Peter Holmes drill a hole in the Terrahawk and a bit of dust fell past my safety glasses and into my eye - so I ended up spending that News Years Eve night in Sloughs Wexham Park hospital getting it removed! I also remember when the show first came out in October 1983, I ran my first ever half marathon at Windsor wearing a crew shirt on my back saying Terrahawks on tonight at 6 oclock.
would you have been working under at that time?
Gary must have been pretty young at the time to be
handling that role.
Terry: Many people were, that was the thing. Even on Thunderbirds Gerry gave youngsters a chance to work. On 'Terrahawks' there were people like Steve Begg and Mark Harris, we were all in our 20s so it was indeed a youngish crew. But we also had old hands like Des Saunders and Alan Patillo directing, and Paddy Searle and Harry Oakes were involved on the cameras and lightning so it was a nice mixture of experience.
Also there were a number of other young people working at the studio because they had grown up watching those old Anderson programs and were fans, and thats why I think it worked so well. We all knew of Gerry and the chances that he gave to people, like Brian Johnson and Derek Meddings, and to be following in their footsteps was just great
|No strings here - Tina Werts and Jan King operating the new style rubber puppet characters from beneath the set.|
What would have been your normal days work?
Terry: When I first started it was building the sets and then dressing them ready for shooting. There was a pit in the studio floor around 5 to 6 foot deep and we would assemble the set around that. There would be steps leading down for the puppeteers, who would then operate from underneath the set using reversed monitors so that they could see how their characters moved on screen. This obviously restricted them a bit but the puppets could at least go through doors this time. Everything has its problems and while we had got rid of the wires we now didnt get to see the legs and feet very often.
The sets were mostly wooden and they were like a big jigsaw that you had to assemble on stage. They were very nice wooden structures made by a chap called Bill James, so I didnt make the actual sets, I just assembled them together with a chap called Simon Melrose. It was almost like flat-pack furniture, we would have a rough plan of what it should look like and then we would assemble it all and add any detail, under the direction of Peter Holmes, then disassemble and store them away for their next screen appearance. As time went on we got quicker and quicker, it was rather hard work because they were heavy sets, but we had to work as fast as possible because we had a schedule to keep too and so many episodes to get through, and the sets had to be ready on time. Gerry would often say If youre wasting time, then youre wasting money.
I would also be there to help out on other jobs - in fact if you watch the episodes very closely you will sometimes see my fingers in shot, because I was the one tasked with knocking the Zeroids off their perches. I would stick my arm up inside the pedestal and flick the Zeroid out of its sitting position, so occasionally you might just catch a glimpse of my fingers in the tube. The editors would then reverse the film to make it appear that it had actually jumped up into position. I would also use a divers air-bottle to blow the Zeroids out of shot, and again that could also be reversed to have them enter the scene and stop exactly where the director wanted them to. So I was doing lots of jobs there, and it was actually the closest that I ever got to working in the art department!
|Left: A night-time street set for 'Midnight Blue', the puppet is operated by Christine Glanville. ......... Right: The Spacehawk control cabin set being prepared.|
How did your move to the SFX department occur?
Terry: In the days before Health & Safely, some of the crew would go and have a drink in the bar at Bray Studios at lunchtime and more often than not we would all meet in the bar after work, and Friday nights would be the big one. It was there that I got to know Steve Begg (Special Effects Director) and we just got chatting and I told him about the films I had previously worked on. Steve had only just come down from Edinburgh and hadnt been on any films and then he heard that Id been on Raiders & Jedi. So halfway through the first series, when some of the SFX personnel left, he mentioned this to Gerry and Bob who then asked me if I would be interested in transferring departments, which I did and found myself working with a guy called Malcolm King, and his son Ross.
Malcolm King was listed as the SFX supervisor and Steve
Begg was the SFX director, it almost sounds like there
you had two bosses.
You often see behind-the-scenes photos of directors who
never seem to actually be physically working on anything,
but Steve always seems to be doing everything, holding
the support wires, handling the camera, etc.
Terry: Steve always wanted to be hands-on, so whenever he could get his hands dirty he certainly did. Im so chuffed at the success that Steves had because he does work so hard and hes the problem solver. In those days before CGI it was all done physically and he came up with all the tricks to create the shots like foreground miniatures, glass paintings, and even stop-motion, that was a first for Gerry Anderson.
In the space shots Steve would film the shot and wind the film back in the camera and do another pass, and we did loads of that. We didnt have motion control to do those shots, it was all about us pushing and pulling things along. When you think of the chances of a single mistake happening, which would ruin that days work, it was a bit scary. But it worked so well and Steve was always experimenting and trying to improve and take it to the next level. Which most of the time he did.
I noticed that you didnt get a screen credit for
being an art department assistant, but you did as an SFX
Terry: Yes I did finally get a credit. My first! I was an assistant for a while, doing jobs like pulling the Rolls-Royce Hudson along the miniature roads - where you had to make sure you had enough of a run to get to the end of the stage!
I remember doing another episode with the Overlander supply vehicle when it went over a bridge that collapsed. That was a really great set built by our very talented model makers; there was a tube that ran through the model bridge and held it all together, so when you pulled it out the whole structure would just crumble and fall, and I was the one who had to pull the tube out! I enjoyed my time there and when Malcolm King left I was asked if I wanted to step up and take a promotion, which, after I got over the shock of being asked, I did.
|Terry (seen on the left in both pictures above) on the SFX stage; whilst shooting the Overlander on the collapsing bridge for the episode 'Thunder Roar'.|
you then get to do the explosions?
Terry: Yes Gerry asked if I wanted to do the explosions. He said that Id been watching how it was all done, how careful you needed to be, and if he could trust me to do it, to which I said Yes, let me give it a go.
The explosions did get to look very good with
really big fireballs.
Terry: That was almost by accident because we used to use sand on the stage and also a material called rubber dust, which we got from a company that made tyres. This came in different colours so that we could use it to dress the sets, but we noticed that when we set off our explosions some of it would ignite it would just go up in a fireball and then quickly disappear. When we saw what was happening and thought thats interesting, so we started experimenting by putting the explosive inside a bag of rubber dust. The explosion would go off and the dust would ignite giving a bright orange flame effect before disappearing without leaving any residue. So we began using it from then on, as the big advantage was that it didnt create actual flames, which often tend to give the scale away in small model photography.
It sounds a bit risky now but we didnt really know if it was dangerous to use, though you probably cant use it today. I personally think that Terrahawks was almost the end of the belt & braces way of making films before Health & Safety really kicked in.
Unfortunately after a while I was pulled up before the union after someone found out that I was doing the explosions and reported me! I think if you do it now you would probably have to go through some sort of special training and receive certificates before you are allowed to handle explosives, but thats not what happened then.
|So there was a
special meeting that I had to attend with Steve and the
SFX department. Senior effects people like Derek Meddings
and John Richardson listened to what I had been doing and
it was decided that as long as I was only blowing up
models, not full-size vehicles, then it would be all
right for me to continue as long as I followed the
rulebook to the letter. Gerry was really supportive of me
at the time and said he would take responsibility as he
believed in my abilities. I think I might have been the
youngest pyrotechnician at the time, but I was only
allowed to do it on that one stage and nowhere else.
So once again it was a wonderful experience, we were very careful, no one ever stood in front of me, no one got hurt and it did look brilliant. Steve said recently that he thought that the explosions at the end of the series were some of the best he had seen, and coming from him thats a real compliment.
|Two Gerry Anderson fans get a day trip to the studio to see 'Terrahawks' being made. These pictures show David Smith (far left) and Barry Davies (centre) on their visit to the model shop. Picture right shows Peter Bohanna working on the police car plastic moulding for the episode 'Gunfight at Oaky's Corral'.|
So did you ever work, or help out, in other departments
at this time?
Terry: When I was in the special effects department then that was just my job, you got in there from 8:30 till 5:30pm and that was all you did. You might have got involved with the model makers, mostly chatting to them if you were going to blow up their models. The day-to day tasks were going in and building the model sets, and then dressing them by making all the scenery. Filming it and then moving it all outside, or throwing it away, to clear the space for the next scene or turning it into a black studio so that you could do all the space shots. It was a lot of hard work but the enthusiasm and fun kept you going.
It was also dirty work and you could rarely go straight out from the studio, and if you did you went to a pub that didnt mind the mess. We did one episode where we had a car that got caught in a landslide of mud (Zeros Finest Hour), which we did with piles of mud, gunk, and buckets of water so that we had a real landslide and we got in a right old mess.
Did you see Gerry Anderson very often?
| I always
remember the first time that I met him because I told him
that I was from the Britwell Estate in Slough and he
asked if I was one of the little buggers that used
to nick all my sets (laugh). I said No,
but a friend of mine once found a large
polystyrene rock from one of the old shows that had been
thrown into a skip at Stirling Avenue.
Thats always been a great disappointment to fans,
the knowledge that so much was just thrown away. I
suppose that you were also throwing stuff out on Terrahawks?
|Props were just
tools-of-the-trade and I never thought of taking them
home. On Raiders there was a bar
scene where Indy meets Marion again and there was a big
fight and a fire. There was one shot where a bullet goes
through his hat and we had to rig up that bullet hit. I
remember that afterwards someone asked me if I wanted the
hat, and I said No, what would I want an old hat
with a hole in it for! Of course it would probably
be worth £10,000 now!
I also remember that I was asked if I wanted to be an extra in a scene where Indy tries to stop the Ark being taken with a bazooka, as they needed some extra German soldiers in the scene. I had a beard and moustache at the time and was told that it would have to come off, so I declined the offer. The person next to me took the job and ended up in full view, right at the front. So every time I see that scene now I think that could have been me, but of course we didnt realise what a great film it was going to turn out to be, it was only supposed to be a little B-Movie adventure film.
What did you think when Terrahawks
first came out?
Terry: To be honest I wasnt too keen on the puppets compared to the marionettes of the previous shows but I of course enjoyed the special effects, which for what we had at the time were great. The Star Wars films had come out and so peoples expectations were much higher special effects wise than they had been on the previous shows, so we were trying to put more on the screen. We didnt have the expensive motion-control and bluescreen system, as Ive said ours was more a belt & braces production with things hanging on wires. But it wouldnt stop us from attempting to do Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica style space battles. In the episode First Strike we even did our own version of the space fighter launch sequence from 'Battlestar Galactica', although in ours we achieved it by mounting the launching bay vertically, so the fighter craft were actually either falling towards, or away, from the camera. We were pushing things as much as we could and I think we often pulled it off.
|It was my first
screen credit and I was proud of what we achieved. 'Terrahawks'
did get good viewing figures and what is the real test of
time is that here we are still talking about it over
30-years later. For me thats the good sign that
people, who grew up with it, still remember it fondly.
people still mention Zelda!
So how did you become involved with the new Terrahawks
Terry: After Terrahawks, Dick Spanner, and Space Police, I left the industry, got married, got a mortgage, and was out of work for a while before I got an opportunity to work for a local video company as a director and editor. All that time with Gerry had taught me that what I really wanted to do was write and when I explained that to him, he really pushed me to get into editing and writing - and I wouldnt be were I am today without Gerrys encouragement. Ive been with this company for 25 years now but I still miss the film industry.
When Gerry sadly passed away I was invited to the funeral and I got to meet Jamie Anderson again. The last time we had met was at my wedding and he was only 7-years-old, we got chatting and Jamie had a number of ideas about future projects. He knew that I was a writer so when the Terrahawks audio stories came up he got in contact and asked if I was interested and again it was an opportunity that I wasnt going to turn down. To actually be writing for something that 30-years-ago I had been doing the special effects for was brilliant.
How did you manage to get back into the spirit of the
show after all these years?
Terry: I watched the DVD box set! It was funny watching the series again because I wasnt really watching what was on the screen but remembering what had happened behind it, and how we had done many of the shots.
|It was surprising
just how much had still stuck in my memory, as I could
still hear the voices and the mannerisms even after 30
years. So to be honest the characters werent really
a problem for me, I had more problems getting back into
all the technical stuff that goes on in the show. Also
because it is just audio you do have the advantage that
anything can happen, but you do have to keep giving clues
as to what action is supposed to be happening
in the scene.
you have to pitch an idea to Jamie?
I thought it was a script that Tony Barwick might have
|They did make some
changes, for instance I didnt have the main
villain, Cy Splitter, as this northern comedian. When
Jamie asked me what the character was like I described
him as a cross between Groucho Marx and Robin Williams in
his delivery, the actors tried that but just
couldnt get the voice right. So then someone came
up with the Johnny Vegas sound a like and I thought it
was brilliant that the funniest alien in the galaxy
sounded like he came from Yorkshire. That delivery just
took it up another notch and made it work really well.
I did think that all the new episodes were good but yours
was my favourite, I just wish that they would now film
I should ask how Dick Spanner came
about because that was bigger for you than your work on Terrahawks.
Terry: We were coming towards the end of the last series of Terrahawks and Gerry was going to start work on Space Police but was also looking towards doing some commercials, so he needed a storyboard artist. Steve Begg had seen some of my drawings and informed Gerry, so I was asked to take my portfolio up to his office and have a chat with him. This was probably the first time that I had really spent time talking to Gerry, and he went through my old drawings and came across some that I had done of a robot detective and he said Whats this?
Well they were some drawings that I had done one wet Sunday afternoon after I had watched Blade Runner. So it was a Deckard-like character in an alternate universe, a robot called Dick Spanner and he would be a bit clumsy and go about making wisecracks during his investigations. And Gerry just said Why have you never shown these to me before I could make a series out of this!
I was shocked, to be sitting in an office with Gerry Anderson and him saying that he wanted to make a series using my ideas!
|The pilot episode
happened very quickly after that, we did it in the
workshop with just Plasticine characters (without
armatures), and then showed it to Channel 4. From that we
got backing for a series at which point Gerry asked me to
direct it, which was like WOW, yes!
So there we were with my brother-in-law Mark Wollard animating on one stage and Mark Harris on another, and with Steve Begg doing the lighting. It all just suddenly happened, right time and right place. It was a tough and very short shoot, but it was an opportunity that Gerry gave me and he was good at giving people a chance if they really wanted to work. He pushed me to do it and it got me on to directing and writing, and it was a great credit to have. To create a character and then make a TV show based on it is not something that many people can do and it was all thanks to Gerry Anderson.
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Many thanks to
Gary Tomkins for the use of his colour behind-the-scenes
Also thanks to Terry Adlam, Phil Rae, Bob Bailey, and James Winch for supplying photographs
Other photographs by Anderson Burr Pictures Ltd.
'Terrahawks' is copyright by Christopher Burr - No infringement of copyright is intended - non-profit fan interest site only.
'Terrahawks' is a Gerry Anderson and Christopher Burr Production.
David Sisson 2016