The Catacombs Catacombs Credits Guide
Century 21 Interview with Martin Bower

Century 21 No. 8 (Spring 1992) p22-25

Interview by Fay Symes


No. (laughs) Yes, I will. When I was a little boy, about seven or eight years old, I decided I wanted to be a model-maker, because I used to watch things like Supercar on the telly, and the films of Harryhausen like Jason And The Argonauts. I thought they were absolutely wonderful. My teachers used to say to me 'Don't be stupid, boy, there's no such job', and whack me round the head. I insisted I wanted to be a model maker, so they'd put me in detention, and hit me with things, but I still wanted to be one. I just always knew, like some people want to be train drivers, that all I wanted to be was a model-maker. When I saw >First Men In The Moon, Ray Harryhausen was responsible for me going to the toyshop and buying half a dozen rubber balls. I used to stick drawing pins in them to make the railway buffers and roll them along as the sphere does in the film when coming in to land. My father used to have his vegetable patch turned into the moon. I'm a self-taught special effects man too. When I was a kid I used to blow things up with weed killer and sugar, like all little boys do. One of my friends actually blew two of his fingers off with the stuff, but I was more fortunate. The blowing up of oil refineries on Thunderbirds was directly responsible for this. I made my own oil refinery model and decided to blow it up. I filled all the little pots and containers on it with petrol from my Dad's lawnmower and weed killer and sugar, then set the thing on fire. Behind the model I had an eight-foot piece of hardboard painted to represent the sky, and I was really close to it, taking photographs. A gust of wind came along and blew the background down on the model, and all the flames came out the front over me and the camera. I lost all my hair down one side, and had really bad scars. I was taken to hospital, but fortunately it was only superficial. When Fireball XL5 was on, I loved the flame coming out the back of the rocket, and the same on Thunderbirds, and I tried to get that effect on my own models. My workshop at that time was my parents' cellar. I rammed weed killer and sugar down into a tube and fixed it into a vice (my rocket testing device), with a bit of Jetex fuel in it. But instead of going whoosh, it went bang, and I couldn't hear anything for a long time, the noise in the enclosed space was incredible. I could shout! ...but I couldn't hear myself. I thought I'd permanently damaged my hearing, but it did come back. Those were two of my first experiments in special effects, but they didn't manage to put me off.


I don't know. Too dangerous to sell to children these days I suppose. People aren't allowed to have fun any more. I was always carving things too, which kids never seem to do these days. Me and my mates would start on these incredible enterprises, like trying to carve a full size war canoe. I remember seeing a film, something like Davy Crockett, and trying to make a canoe out of birch bark. So guess who got a thumping round the head from his father for peeling all the bark off the birch tree in the garden. The fact that the pieces were far too small was irrelevant; the idea was that we had seen it on the telly, therefore it was possible, therefore we should do it. It's funny how many of those techniques, especially the wood carving, come into model-making. When I left school my father decided I was going to have a proper job, so I went to work for the ILEA, the Inner London Education Authority, who used to run a closed circuit television network. The got me building scenery. The idea of scenery was building props, eight-foot by four-foot pieces of hardboard for painting backdrops. I only stuck it for three months. I had to travel from Surrey to Islington every day to be there at eight in the morning, and I thought 'blow that for a game of soldiers.' So I left and went to work for a model making firm in Carshalton called Scale Models International; they used to make aircraft models for the Farnborough and Paris air shows and for Hawker Sidney, and things like that. I stayed there for three years and got thoroughly bored out of my skull making Harriers day after day, because I always wanted to design things. I decided to leave, and become self-employed. When I'd done it I thought wow, great. I sat back and waited for the phone to ring, and I waited and I waited...


Eventually a friend of mine saw an article in a Sunday newspaper: Anderson Thunderbirds man to make a new series, Space: 1999. So I wrote to Gerry and sent him a load of nice photographs - not polaroids as Gerry always tells everybody, mine were nice 10 x 8 cibachromes. When he saw them he said great, very nice, go and see my special effects director at Bray Studios. I went to Bray and saw a guy called Brian Johnson. I took along some actual models which I'd made when I was a kid, and loads of photographs of others. He saw them and said fantastic, when we get a job that requires some spacecraft we'll give you a call. I was a bit sceptical by then because I'd had a few goes at trying to get jobs in the film industry, but Brian was true to his word. He sent me a script for an episode called ALPHA CHILD, which was the first episode I worked on. Actually episode eight of Space: 1999, if it was shown in the right order - take note ITC. And then I was off and running. I did eighty-six models for that show, and designed the majority of them. Brian sometimes gave me a sketch, and sometimes he let me get on with it entirely, depending on how busy he was. He was a great guy to work for and I had a terrific time making all those spacecraft. And that was how I got going in the British film industry.


I also worked on a film Gerry was involved with called The Shape of Things to Come, with a film producer called Harry Alan Towers. At first Gerry was going to do it, but it ended up being made by another film company. He got me to do some pre-production paintings for the film, and borrowed one of my existing paintings.


Well, there was one. Some people have said that the trouble with my models for Space: 1999 was that they fell apart. In fact the only model which did was the battle cruiser, and the reason for that was it was made when I was sixteen years old. When I started out working on Space: 1999 I was twenty, but I'd made this model which looked rather like the Discovery in 2001 because I'd built it at the time and I was riding the inspiration of that film, and this particular model used to fall apart periodically. But as it was never intended to be filmed for television I don't really think I can be blamed for it not withstanding the rigours of special effects filming. As it is, it can't have been too bad, as it ended up appearing in four different episodes. DRAGONS DOMAIN, WAR GAMES, ALPHA CHILD and in THE LAST ENEMY, revamped and painted yellow. Considering it cost five hundred quid, they got a lot of value out of that model. In series two there was an episode called THE A-B CHRYSALIS where I had to make five spherical buildings, like balls on stalks, three feet in diameter. We had a forty-four inch Eagle land in the middle of these things and a thunderstorm going on in between them, with lightning flashing around. I had to have ten 36" hemispheres made. The perspex company delivered them to my workshop, the garden shed of my parents' home, which was an old tractor barn and I built them into these wonderful balls, which were too large to get into the car. Brian Johnson's secretary came over in a van, and then we discovered they wouldn't come out through the workshop door, which was only twenty-eight inches wide. So I had to take the door frame off to get them out. I couldn't dismantle the models, because they were wanted for shooting the next day. I had a bit of egg on my face that time.


No, none of them at all, but I did some pre-production stuff. I made and designed a craft called the 'Tomahawk', a space interceptor fighter, and also made a 'Tree Hawk', which never actually ended up in the show. The last thing I did was sculpt a head for Ninestein based on Humphrey Bogart. They used different models for some reason. And I also supplied him and gave him the use of a female model I'd made called Gemini. He actually used a photograph of heron the front cover of a catalogue. We did two catalogues to sell Terrahawks, one had the 'Tomahawk' on the front and the other had the girl. I also did a tremendous number of designs for Terrahawks and one of the arrangements I had with Gerry in the case of the 'Tomahawk', was that as he had no available money, he would not pay for the model now, but would pay me double what it cost when the series came off. I was happy with this agreement and went ahead. I built the model, took it over to his house and he was really pleased with it. He promised to see me all right when the show finally came off. At that time Gerry was also looking for a financial partner in his business, as he was having trouble raising finance. We'd discussed this quite a bit as he'd had people promise money then pull out. It so happened that my father worked for the merchant banking group Hill Samuel in the City of London, and through him I fixed up a meeting with the bank, as they had a section that sometimes backed films. I went along with Gerry and my father, we had the meeting, but I'm afraid once again it came to nothing.


I thought I was as well! But then Gerry found this lad in Scotland called Stephen Begg, and said he wanted to use him instead. Stephen had done some designs as well , and in the end Gerry went with him. We've all seen the results in Terrahawks. Good luck to Stephen, he did okay. But bearing in mind all the time I'd put in to help him get the show off the ground, I felt under the circumstances it would be best if we went our own separate ways, and haven't seen or spoken to Gerry for the last ten years.


No, not the Swinton ones. I produced quite a lot of models and bits and pieces for the Jif Alien Attack advert, the desert fruit topping. I built the Alien flying saucer, which appears as dozens of them, but there was really only one. I also built three JIF dessert fruits, strawberry, raspberry and chocolate, I think, which were laser-beaming bowls of ice cream, and the three silos on the moon which these things lifted out of. Also the landscape around them which was built on the studio floor, mostly out of cement dust. (MARTIN ALSO BUILT THE MALIBU SPACESHIP TOWING AN ISLAND FOR THE TV CAMPAIGN). Not a lot of people know this, but I also worked on Gerry's Star Cruiser model which appeared in the shops as a toy. I went through three or four different designs of this thing. Needless to say, when it came in the shops it was advertised as 'Gerry Anderson 's Star Cruiser', but I had actually built it for Keith Shackleton of Gerry Anderson Marketing at Pinewood Studios. I was also involved in Gerry's proposed series called Rescue Four, which was another which didn't come off. Brian Johnson and myself actually designed and built a model of one of these craft, rather like an updated Supercar, which looked like a giant hovercraft. It could do everything. It could fly, go into space and underwater. I don't why the series didn't make it, I think Gerry had problems getting finance.


While we were working on the pre-production of Terrahawks, I was also doing the film Outland with my partner Bill Pearson. We had to build the refinery, a massive model twenty-seven feet across! Bill and I built that refinery in four and a half months, which was quite a feat in itself. Between 1975 when I finished Space: 1999 and 1980, I did quite a lot of other things. In conjunction with Brian Johnson I got more involved with special effects. We did the second series of Space: 1999, and this thing called Into Infinity, then of course I did Blakes Seven.I designed and built all the props for the show with the exception of the funny guns which had telephone flex on them, and the Liberator which was designed by Roger Murray-Leach. The other props and models were designed and made by myself. I repaired the Liberator many times, because they would keep leaving the light bulb on in the perspex globe and melting it. I also worked on the Tomorrow People, would you believe. I wasn't employed by any of these programmes, I was a self-employed outside contractor, which is why you don't get a credit mentioned, or so I'm told. I also worked on Doctor Who on and off for ten years, especially to do with Cybermen for some reason. I did the original film Alien, which I was on for fourteen months, which is the longest period of time I've spent on one film. Although I worked on Space: 1999 on and off for three years, Alien was fourteen months continuous work. It was a very heavy film to work on, quite a bit of hassle and a lot of time pressure. After that I was on the Dino De Laurentis remake of Flash Gordon for eight months.


I loved working on Flash Gordon because it was very light hearted. Some people like the end result, and some people hate it. I thought it was quite nice, I like the comic book approach. It was quite a change after Alien, which was becoming very hard work and people were really starting to feel pretty fed up with it. Looking at it as a piece of film history, I'm sure most people would think Alien was a far better film than Flash Gordon, but for me looking back, I had a ball on Flash Gordon. There was much more variety of models, we were making aircraft like the Dove that crashed at the beginning of the film and the model greenhouse. It wasn't just me, there was a whole team of model makers. It was a very union orientated film. We were also working at Shepperton which was much larger, whereas the model effects for Space: 1999 and Alien were done in Bray studios. Then we moved to Weybridge to the British Aircraft place at Brooklands racetrack, and used one of the BAC aircraft hangers thereto film the crash of the full sized Dove aircraft of runners into a full sized greenhouse; although there were model versions as well. That was really nice, but the best bit of all was the really lovely ladies, there were reams of these gorgeous women walking around in beautifully designed bikinis, with clear plastic see-through bits on them. We hardly got any work done at all, it was really great. Apart from that I also did some models for Ken Russell's film Lizstomania, working with Les Bowie, who was called the father of British special effects. He was a wonderful guy and I felt very privileged to work with him. I also worked on the Richard Burton and Lee Remick film The Medusa Touch, where a jumbo jet crashes into a tall building. We had three models of the jumbo jet, one four foot long and one tiny kit about ten inches long. Whenever actually had to make them, just paint the fictitious airline details on the side. If you know the film, Richard Burton looks at this jumbo jet and uses telekinesis to make it crash into the building, which was supposed to be Centre Point. Well, Centre Point's no good for anything else, is it? A company in Feltham made the building. We wanted a shot of the four-foot model approaching the camera for dramatic effect, and guess who got the job of standing by the camera holding his hand out to stop the plane hitting it. We were literally twenty feet up on a gantry. The plane flew down the wires on the first shot, I put my handout, and when the model hit my hand all the wires broke, and the model fell. Brian Johnson ran across the studio and caught it as it went down, and it was perfectly all right. Well done! Brian. He got a round of applause.


Another series I worked on for the BBC was The Tripods.I made a number of Tripods, the biggest of which was six feet high. In fact that doesn't give any idea of how big the thing really was, as it was this height with the legs folded down. If I tell you that the head of the Tripod was five feet across it will give you a much better idea of the size. It was monstrous, and the one they used for the close up shots of the Tripods moving around. When I took it outside and started photographing it by the river at Holme Bridge, which is a tourist spot, all the motorists driving by were screeching to a halt and backing up to look at me with this strange thing on the river bank. I got a lot of funny looks. The series was a real disaster though. They only made two of the three books. I was told the money ran out, but it generated a very small audience. Yes, it was far too slow. I thought the books were good, but they lost it completely in the transition. It also came across more like a rip off of the War of the Worlds than it actually should have been. In the later books when you see the aliens in the city it gets good, but they only just started to get into that, they spent far too long dwelling on the people who had regressed backwards to a life of ancient Britons, and I thought the children were terrible. But I did quite a lot of models for it. I also worked on a proposed TV series for children called Odd the Id. They wanted to change the title because everyone thought it sounded like Odd the Yid. I wrote and produced that, and we filmed it on 35mm for the pilot film. It concerned a little ball-like character that bounced around. I made it and got backing for it, which is more than we got for Starguard, but it's still kicking around somewhere.


I do a lot of private work. I've never made many Thunderbird models for private commissions, but I've made a lot for myself, some of which I've subsequently sold. I've also made eight or ten Dan Dare spaceship models for Alan Vince, a very good friend of mine who's a foremost enthusiast and leading expert on Dan Dare


Harry Harrison the science fiction writer once said he sits in a black room and closes his eyes, and the ideas come through the right ear! (laughs.) I don't do that. I actually get them from all kinds of things. On Space: 1999 some of the craft were suggested to me by household items. I think it's a well known fact that for the first episode of series two, the METAMORPH ship was actually made of a vacuum cleaner. I got the idea from looking at it and building up as I went along. Some of the models I did sketches for and some were made up on the shapes of various existing items. It's quite funny that I made a ship for series two, a tall green thing I can't remember the name of, a rocket-like ship which stood vertically with a conical bottom, and when I arrived at the studio and put it down, the first thing that happened was one of the special effects crew went and put a lampshade on the top. It wasn't supposed to look like a standard lamp, but it obviously did! I've tried not to be influenced too much by old films and existing things, I always tried to be as independent as I could, but obviously I was influenced a bit by the films of the fifties and comics like THE EAGLE. And now in later years, people say they've been influenced by me. And I'm often wondered how many of the models for things like Star Wars were actually influenced by what we did for Space: 1999.


DAN DARE, of course. I came into Dan Dare in the late fifties and early sixties, the comic first came out twenty years before I was born. I rather liked Digby actually. I thought Digby was great. It took my entire pocket money to buy THE EAGLE, and I also got TV Comic because it had Supercar. Mike Mercury of Supercar was my other real hero. And he never wore a cape with his tights inside his pants, he was just an ordinary guy. It's actually the one I have the fondest memories of, it brings back the time of real innocence and growing up, while I was a little kid about eight years old. I thought it was absolutely fantastic. I actually started out making models primarily because of Supercar, I always wanted to have a model of it. You couldn't buy one then, or if you could I couldn't afford it. The toy companies were notoriously lax, unlike today where they hype the thing to death. I used to make balsa wood models of Supercar. I had a ready supply of balsa wood. My grandfather was the chief electrician at the Whitehall Theatre Company for forty-two years, and he was working on a show called Dry Rot. A Brian Rix farce, who at that time was not the director of Mencap, but was famous for dropping his trousers. They used to smash up a door on every performance, two performances a day, and I used to get all the balsawood. And then when Fireball XL5 came on, that was wonderful, because you could make it out of loo rolls, Supercar was car-shaped and difficult to make, but FIREBALL was great, because it was more like a rocket. The nose cone was a salt pot. My mother used to go mad wondering where the salt pots had gone. It would plug perfectly into the loo roll to make Fireball junior, you could detach it and put it back on. Those are my earliest memories of model making.


Well, obviously. Absolutely. My own personal feeling is that television is thoroughly irresponsible now; this is something I feel very strongly about, with two daughters of my own. My eldest daughter who is ten years old thinks Hero Mutant ninja ooja whats its are the greatest thing since sliced bread, and it really grieves me because they're horrible, hideous things that live in sewers. When we go out, all she ever wants to do is eat pizza like the Turtles do. There's nothing wholesome about them at all, it's just a gimmicky idea, and I'm not even sure if these things catch on in their own right, they're just hyped and hyped to death. I can remember the Terrahawks annual coming out before the show was even on, and so did the toys, and it said 'The childrens' TV favourite'. But how could they know it was going to be a favourite, because it wasn't even on! That's a typical example. It happens with all of them now. You only rarely get a film which creates its own hype, as happened with Star Wars, which made it on its own merits. As far as I'm concerned, that's the way it should be. The publicity machine goes into full swing telling us how wonderful things are going to be, and when you see them, they're not. Look at Dark Star. I love Dark Star. No publicity, written by Dan O'Bannon when he was still at college, made on a shoestring and filmed in someone's garage, and it's wonderful. I mean, an alien made out of a beach ball, that's brilliant. People have often asked what's my favourite film, and it's certainly none of the recent ones, nothing like Total Recall. They're visually interesting and clever, but they haven't got that old magic.

I love H.G. Wells; he was one of the great influences over me when I was young. I read all his stories, and I still think he's the master of science fiction. First and foremost, H. G. Wells is my real life hero. I met Patrick Moore on a number of occasions, and Patrick said he knew H. G. Wells. It sounds crazy, but that was the biggest thrill in my life, shaking the hand of someone who'd known H. G. Wells. He was a visionary of rare quality, and there are very few stories and story lines he didn't come up with first. And I've got to mention Ray Harryhausen, of course, as one of my early influences. I've worked with Ray quite a bit recently, which has been great. What a lovely guy! It"s been a really refreshing experience to find that some one I idolized as a boy is also a decent person.


Starguard is my on-going project. It started off when I was at school with my friend Jeff Pigott. We came up with a television concept called Future Force, which was later changed because of 'May The Force Be With You'. It concerned an organization called the Universal Rescue Force, a rescue operation based in the Arctic, obviously influenced by Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet. It mulled around for years, but subsequently evolved into Starguard, which is now nearer production than its ever been. All the stories and a lot of scripts have been done for it, and at the moment there's a company in Japan interested in making it. Lots of different people say they will back you and put it on television, but when it comes to putting the money where the mouth is, that's a different thing entirely. Most of the experiences we've had with British companies have been very disappointing. We had a meeting with Disney UK, but they all thought it would cost too much. It was originally envisaged as a puppet show, but although I love puppets, they're very limited, and people these days seem to want live actors. At the moment we have a fifteen minute show reel made, and everybody loves it, but right now it's still in the hands of the Japanese film company. It's a very 'Century 21' type show really, and obviously riding on the back of my grounding in watching things like Thunderbirds, Supercar and Stingray.


Isn't the film industry always in a crisis? It seems to have been in trouble long before I started working in it. But yes, it's certainly not like it used to be back in the 1970s. At that time I could be working on 2 or 3 shows at the same time. But I still get quite a lot of stuff in. Mainly commercials; they always seem to be ongoing. You mentioned the Malibu commercial, that was ages ago. More recently I was heavily involved in the BSB satellite TV campaign, which unfortunately all fell through when they merged with Sky. I did some stuff for Coca Cola last year, but it only appeared in the States. The same was true for the big thing I did for the New Jersey bank. I built this massive spacecraft eight feet long shaped like the state of New Jersey! Outside the film industry, I do a lot of work for the Giftware industry. I sculpted much of the Scottish range for Lilliput Lane, you know, those cutesie little cottages. I loved doing them, as they were quite a change from spaceships! I also did over thirty figurines for another Cumbrian based company called Brush Strokes.


Not really, they were children, but fairies as well, so I guess there was a bit of the fantasy element. I've done some much more fantasy orientated things, more like Lord of the Rings. That's a big source of inspiration to many people, including me. I did a Nazgul for Ray Harryhausen. The winged creature a bit like a pterodactyl with a rider on its back. Very evil. I also did quite a bit of stuff for the Museum of the Moving Image in London, that was through Ray as well. Oh, and I've also done model cars for the 'Wheels' exhibitor at Beaulieu. I've done quite a cross section really.