Paddy's Second KBC Article


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[The following article was Paddy's second for the KBC Newsletter, and appeared in the sixth issue (Spring 1980).]


Lisa [Bradley, secretary of the Newsletter] has been on me over the last few days to get another little article together for the Newsletter, but so much has been happening that I can't fit it all in, so Lisa suggested that I talk about the Dr. Hook show, when the BBC asked for two numbers that would appear on the album. We chose Delius and Babooshka. This was great from my point of view: it meant drum-machine prgramming, multi-tracking balalaika, playing the sitar and doing backing vocals. But when it came to the visual performance it called for a different approach, and props were required.

Delius was based around Ken Russell's film of Delius's life, and his connection with Eric Fenby. At first it seems a strange subject-material for a song, but the images of that TV production grew to haunt us over the years.

The portrayal had a two-fold problem. Firstly, how were we to convey the character Delius? And secondly, Kate wanted to create the impression of floating on water in a BBC studio. It's well known that Delius spent most of his last years of composition confined to a wheelchair, so with the help of the BBC Props Department this became the foundation of his portrayal. To portray his character authentically could have presented a multitude of problems, so we chose a sun for his face and I made a sun mask [later used again in the video for Breathing]

How to make Kate glide like a swan, though? I tried several ideas, strapping skate-boards and other such devices to Kate's left leg so that when she knelt down she could push off the one leg and try to balance on the other, but the result was usually that Kate would fall flat on her face; or spiral round in circles several times and then fall flat on her face. So there was really only one way.

Early on the morning of the 18th March, Andrew and I went to the BBC Television Centre at Shepherds Bush and took up the entire floor of Studio Four. We used pneumatic road drills and that sort of stuff, and then we installed a sophisticated linear motor-drive tracking system--two fifteen-foot diameter, 6,000-volt electro-magnets providing the impetus. Then we covered it all up again--they are very strict about that sort of thing at the BBC. The rest is quite simple: put a sun mask on Delius, put him in the wheelchair, put a rug on his knees, nail the wheelchair to the set (otherwise it will become airborne under the influence of the magnetic field), cover the set with a few old leaves, strap three feet of iron girder to Kate's left leg, and by carefully manipulating the hidden control panel under my blanket in the bath-chair, control Kate's motion as she hovers on the magnetic field. Oh, by the way, I played the part of Delius.

But how, I hear you ask, could I see anything from behind the mask and yet you could apparently see my hand moving outside the blanket? Well, that was accomplished by an old-fashioned party trick. Andrew stood behind me and poked his hands through my armpits so that they appeared to be attached to me. He carefully monitored Kate's movements by a complex system of mirrors, and whispered to me Kate's exact location. That way we were able to create quite an exceedingly clever illusion, would you not agree?

Anyway, once Delius was out of the way, we went up to the Control Gallery. I wonder if any of you have been in a TV control Room? It is a very sci-fi experience. I'd love to take you on a guided tour of one. There is so much to see, and the atmosphere is electric due to the extreme work-pace. For the price of one second of TV time I could buy about thirty-two mandolins or a reasonable-sized flock of sheep, so no-one has a great deal of time to actually talk to you. This puts one in an ignorant but interesting position: being able to sit and watch as no-one notices you as they are constantly scanning a wall of monitors and vector-meters. Have you ever seen a vector-meter? They are used for measuring colour-balance and are a bit like a television image, only in green; but what you see in a vector meter doesn't look like an ordinary TV picture. It really seems three-dimensional, but the images seem to shift continually and blend into each other and leave a myriad of after-images. Vector meters are very beautiful, and I'm sure if you ever get to see one you'll want to take it home with you, just like I wanted to do (but I couldn't get it off the wall).

The other source of fascination was the massive piece of apparatus that created the final presentation of Babooshka. It is a visual computer mixing console called the Quantel 5001, and the BBC are very proud of it. Its capabilities are so sophisticated that it gives one complete control over any aspect of the televisual image. One Kate could be split into two or into hundreds, the image could be moved up or down, rotated or pulsed, and any part of it could be used almost as a projectionist's screen: you could put dancing miniature Kates into the space where Kate's eyes could be, or any coloured part of her clothing could show the next scene coming up. [The idea of putting "dancing miniature Kates into the space where Kate's eyes could be" was later used by Kate in the video for Sat In Your Lap.] You will have seen the effects used on quite a few videos now, but at this time it had only been recently acquired. Consequently, we're not surprised to learn that the Babooshka was used as a BBC demonstration tape for instructing engineers about the Quantel's capabilities.

I hope you got to see and enjoyed the spots in the Dr. Hook show--they were, in fact, done very quickly as TV time is so expensive; but as usual, hard work and good fun neatly balanced each other, and it was great to meet all the guys in the band who are as nice as they come across on screen.

It was marvellous to meet so many of you at the convention and I hope that I'll get the opportunity of seeing you all again soon. Anyway, a special hello to Dick the artist, Akbar, Kerolyn from Colchester, Bernadette, Sue and Ian, and to all of you who came. I hope that after the next couple of weeks I can get around to answering some of your letters.

On a slightly different note, I wonder if it's possible that some of you may not have tried the most delicious chocolate experience in the universe--The Chocolate Elephant? They are made by Cote d'Or, and are filled with praline, a sort of hazelnut goo. Their prices range from 13 Pence to 19 Pence each, which is a bit strange as all Choccie Elephants are the same size. But if you haven't eaten one, I suggest you go out right now and buy one. If they sell Choccie Elephants cheaper in your area, do let me know. If you can't get them, drop me a line and I might let you have one of mine.

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©1990 Andy Marvick