Like many children, I enjoyed playing with fireworks, blowing up toys and models in our
sandpit. As a teenager, with a Polish friend called Biro, we found a chemist in
Stoke Newington that would sell us dangerous chemicals like magnesium powder and potassium
chlorate. (I think we forged a letter from Biros mother to persuade the chemist). We
got quite good at making our own fireworks. At Cambridge I met the Bicknell family, who
did their own firework displays joining individual fireworks together with fuse to
make elaborate set pieces and quick-fire sequences of aerial shells and rockets. Inspired
by this I started doing my own firework shows for the Cambridge balls and other events.
At the time there were no regulations anyone could let off fireworks almost
anywhere. The main problem was getting hold of the fireworks as Brocks and Standard were
very slow old fashioned companies. Imported fireworks (at first just from Malta) became
available in the early 70s.
A show for a farmer. The milk pail gradually filled up, getting brighter and brighter.
BRITAIN'S FIRST LUNAR LANDING
Display for Cambridge university engineering dept 1973
Wilf climbed into the rocket, which then tipped over
and slid along a steel cable to the moon, where Wilf reappeared. I met Wilf Scott while
doing a show at Camden lock. He was living in a caravan on the site. Wilf joined me doing
shows and went on to make a whole career out of it. He is brilliant at talking about
fireworks and persuading people to spend large amounts of money on them.
All the sets were made of thick
cardboard, which didn't burn well. For this show we put a flame thrower (just a pipe from
a propane cylinder without a regulator) in the finger.
DISPLAYS FOR BARSHAM FAIRE, SUFFOLK
Wilf had met Simon Loftus, the organiser, and told me
the budget was £500 (the largest we had ever had). Simon was horrified when he saw the
invoice after the show, he had actually said £50. Fortunately the faire had made a
healthy profit so we got all the money.
The next year Wilf wrote a story called 'The curried eggs of Barsham' to accompany the
show. I dont think the audience ever followed what was going on, particularly
because the eggs (40 huge hydrogen balloons with fuses attached, so they exploded in
mid air), flew horizontally in the strong wind and were never seen by the audience, or by
me. Years later I met someone who had been driving home and saw them all explode. He said
it was the best thing he had ever seen.
|I stopped doing public firework shows in 1980 after a
ghastly incident. One of my assistants had been asked for a banger to start a running
race. I gave him a spanish galapadores with precise instructions how to use
it. He in turn gave it to the race organiser who in turn gave it to a fourth person to
light. By this time the instructions had become completely garbled and the man, not
realising that fuse burns almost instantaneously down piped match, was still holding the
banger in his hand when it went off. He lost part of a finger. He also happened to be an
off-duty policeman so I spent a terrifying afternoon being interviewed in
Aerial pigs and sheep