Monday 29 November 2021

Why has Britain failed to say "Farewell" and "Thank you" to John Bartlett, the Engineer who gave it the Dartford and Channel Tunnels and the Victoria Line in London ?

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John's death at the age of 94, has been noted only by my single comment on twitter and has received no attention from press or media and no obituary from either the pages of the Times, Telegraph *, Guardian or Independent. Yet, in the last century he was recognised as a premier civil engineer who, not only was instrumental in creating state of the art underground tunneling machinery, but also went on to lead and execute the construction of the Cross Thames and Cross Channel Tunnels, which have transformed the way that millions of British citizens travel by road across London and to the Continent. In addition, he was in charge of the construction of the Victoria Line in London (link) which transformed the way that millions of Londoners traveled north to south and back again, across their city by tube.
* Telegraph obituary published 19th Jan 2022

He was born, to the day, exactly 20 years before me, on the 18th June 1927, the son of Olga and Vernon, a civil engineer. He was packed off as a boarder at the fee-paying Stowe Public School for Boys at the start of the Second World War. It was here that he was captain of cricket and rugby and head boy and left in 1945, at the age of 18, with a career in the legal profession in mind.

In 1946, although the Second World War was over, conscription for men into the armed forces was to continue for two years and, at the age 18, John, given his public school background, joined the Army as an officer cadet in the Royal Engineers and held a regular army commission, being promoted to Second Lieutenant in June 1947. After he was demobbed, he gained a place at Trinity College Cambridge as an undergraduate in the Autumn of that year to study for a Law degree. 

As an undergraduate he acted and sang with the Footlights and performed in Julian Slade’s 'Bang Went the Meringue' and his success in it led to an audition with the D’Oyly Carte Company, which he attended in the largest sombrero he could find and a costume to match. However, having graduated he now switched to study for a degree in civil engineering and on graduation got his first job with the contractor John Mowlem, while still continuing to study for his bar exams. At the age of 30 in 1957 he left Mowlem and he joined the consulting engineers, where his father was a senior partner, 'Mott, Hay and Anderson' and stayed with them from 1957 until his retirement at the age of 61 in 1988.

In the late 1950s he worked on the first, Thames crossing, Dartford Tunnel, now known as the West Bore. Engineers started work on this tunnel in 1936, but construction stopped with the outbreak of the Second World War. Digging restarted in 1959, which was when John became involved. The project team used a traditional tunneling shield to excavate the tunnel with a frame with pockets and each pocket had a man with a spade who dug out the earth in front of him. Built at a cost £11million, approximately £226 million in today's money, it opened in November, 1963.

In the same year, John was on a visit to Milan to advise a contractor on tunneling through the city’s gravel deposits who was laboriously using traditional methods. However, while there, he was able to see how the city's first metro line had been built, using the ‘cut and cover’ method, rather than bored tunnels. In this, Italian engineers had developed diaphragm walls, an ingenious method of constructing vertical retaining walls in non-cohesive ground by exploiting the properties of bentonite clay to support trenches during excavation.  

Bentonite was a commonly available clay material that, when activated by chemical treatment to form a slurry, became 'thixotropic', which was a gel when at rest, but a liquid when agitated. On his flight back to London, John, in a stroke of brilliance, visualised how slurry trenches and mechanical digger technologies could be combined to create a new type of tunneling machine, with fluid support of the working face. 

With this in mind, back at the drawing board John began developing plans for his prototype and on completion, patented the 'Bentonite Tunnelling Machine' in 1964. After that it took many years to find the funding to take the invention forward, but in 1971 his prototype machine (left) was built to drive an experimental section of tunnel in New Cross, Southeast London, for London Transport who were planning to extend the tube network. To service the machine, a spoil/slurry treatment plant was built at the head of the shaft with twin 12-inch diameter hydrocyclone units and a vibrating screen behind (right).

In technical terms, the new machine used pressurised bentonite slurry in a sealed bulkhead behind the cutting face to balance the water pressure in the ground and stabilised the tunnel while supporting rings were installed. The excavated soil was then separated from the slurry, which was recirculated to the cutting face. The experiment was deemed to be a great success, with tunnelling rates of four metres per 10-hour shift achieved. The invention, and the prototype, included all of the essential ingredients of a whole new class of slurry tunnelling machines (STMs) that were to follow all over the world, with many improvements were made on the way and by the end of the 1970s more than 1000 had been used worldwide. Unfortunately, further development happened outside Britain, since – apart from a single sewer contract in Warrington – no suitable projects emerged here for a decade or more.

In 1966 John became the partner for Mott, Hay and Anderson and director responsible for the firm’s transport and tunnelling work, including further projects in Toronto, advisory appointments in Madrid, Brussels and the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop. He also headed the project management of the Tyne and Wear Metro, coordinating its design and construction. 

In 1971 John became a founding member of the British Tunnelling Society (BTS), a professional association established in London by tunnelling professionals, led by Sir Harold Harding. A 'Learned Society of the Institution of Civil Engineers', its mission being to provide a forum for meetings and discussion on tunnel-related matters. It subsequently took part in the founding of the International Tunnelling Association in 1974 and by 2016 it had 800 members.

The origins of the London Underground's Victoria Line can be traced back to the 1943 County of London Plan, but the shortages of the post-war years had caused delays. Parliamentary powers to build the line were obtained in 1955, but further funding delays meant that construction work did not start until 1962. (link) In his mid 30's, John was appointed as the 'Project Engineer' and was 41 when he saw it opened in 1968 between Walthamstow Central and Highbury & Islington and on to Warren Street a few months later and then saw the line was completed to Victoria in 1969. 

John now faced the greatest challenge of his career as the 'Engineer with 'Design Responsibility' for the British side of the Channel Tunnel, first as a Principal Designer for the scheme and following the project's revision in the early 1970s, as a 'Principal Design Consultant' for all civil and geotechnical engineering on the British section. Digging began on both sides of the Strait of Dover in 1987–88 and was completed in 1991 and the tunnel was officially opened on May 6, 1994.The digging was done by huge tunnel boring machines, known as TBMs, which cut through the chalk, collected the debris and transported the debris behind it using conveyor belts.(link) 

The descendants of John's original machine have been used in many major civil engineering projects. They include 'Ada' and 'Phyllis' (left), named after Ada Lovelace, the world's the world's first computer programmer, and Phyllis Pearsall, who created the London A-Z, the giant boring machines used by Crossrail to construct tunnels between Royal Oak and Farringdon. Also 'Busy Lizzie', which was used to cut the Lee Tunnel, the first section of London’s Thames Tideway ‘super sewer’. 'Mary' and 'Sophia' (right), the two tunnelling machines which completed the Thames Tunnel, were named after the wives of Isambard and Marc Brunel who constructed London’s first Thames Tunnel over 150 years ago. (link) 

When the Martime  Maritime Museum was created in Cornwall in 1992 it was the result of collaboration between the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich and the former Cornwall Maritime Museum in Falmouth. It formally opened in February 2003 and its research work was led by the 'Bartlett Maritime Research Centre' which incorporated the 'Bartlett Library'. This was a resource of books, archives and records on maritime matters, the core of which was a library collection of 16,000 books donated by John, whose interest in all types of maritime craft prompted him to start a library collection when he was 18 years old,  back in 1945. Since this time the collection has grown to include around 19,000 maritime reference books. 

John served as President of the Institution of Civil Engineers form 1982 - 1983, but the greatest tribute he received from his profession came when he was 91 in 2018. As the inventor of prototype soft ground pressurised TBM technology, he was recognised by the Royal Academy of Engineering with its highest accolade, the Sir Frank Whittle Medal, named after Britain’s jet engine genius and awarded to an engineer resident in Britain whose : 'Outstanding and sustained achievements have had a profound impact on their engineering discipline'. 

In a congratulatory letter to John, Ivor Thomas, the Chair of the British Tunelling Society wrote : 'Your invention of the slurry machine and its subsequent development has made a tremendous difference to how and where we can tunnel. Slurry tunneling has allowed us to develop tunnels in geology that would previously have been either very difficult and costly or impossible. Much of the Jubilee Line to the south of the River, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Crossing and the Crossrail River Crossing were only made possible by the use of slurry machines'.

Lord Robert Mair, President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, echoed these sentiments with : 'There can be no doubt that a major revolution in the worldwide tunnelling industry was triggered by John Bartlett's invention of the bentonite tunnelling machine. It has enabled a rapid increase in tunnel construction around the world, particularly in urban areas, for water supply, sanitation and transport with remarkable benefit to humanity'.

On receiving the award, John said, with perfect self-effacement : 

"Civil Engineering today is a team game. I hope members of my team will enjoy sharing the recognition given by this award. Many thanks to those who put me forward".

Thursday 18 November 2021

Britain says "Farewell" to its brilliantly versatile and richly talented TV screenwriter, Bob Baker, who breathed life into Doctor Who, Eddie Shoestring and Wallace and Gromit

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In the span of a career lasting over 50 years, Bob, who has died at the age of 82, entertained tens of millions of television viewers over successive generations with his screenplays for Doctor Who, Eddie Shoestring, K9 and Wallace and Gromit which, because of his efforts, are not only well-remembered, but also well-loved. Few screenwriters have left such a mark on our popular culture.

At the age of 27 in 1966, married with three children, Bob had been drifting between jobs for three years after qualifying from art college with a National Diploma, when, running a late night convenience store in Bristol, he met and became friends with a customer called David Martin. Dave was an advertising copywriter looking for a way out and they decided to pool their talent and joined forces with a young cameraman and keen film maker, Laurie Booth. 

They got their first big break when the new 'Harlech Television' Company were looking to stage half-hour plays for new writers living in the West Region. Bob and Dave both submitted a play to the Programme Controller Patrick Dromgoole and Bob's, based on reminiscences of wartime Bristol told to him by a work colleague at the Co-op where he was training as a monumental stone mason some ten years before and to his 'utter shock and surprise', it was accepted. 

Working with Dave on rewrites of his script Bob was about to begin a highly creative writing partnership which would last for the next twelve years. He said : 'We got to know how each other's mind worked and found we could anticipate plots and story arcs, almost as if one of us had run ahead in the script being written and mark out points for the story to run smoothly to. From that day on we wrote and constructed stories together'. Bob said that they shared a sense of humour : 'Dave's was intelligent, flinty and sharp; mine perhaps more what we call 'street' - and when the two met head on, magic would sometimes happen'. 

Their first assignment was to work on the scripts of the history TV series, 'Pretenders' and the story of a boy's search with his sister to find their father in the middle of the west country, 1685 Monmouth Rebellion. Written by west country authors, Bob said : 'Our job was to edit the series and edit it severely, in terms of excess dialogue, dead scenes and costly set up'. It was a success, but they still were not earning much and were taken on as extras working as part of the Harlech TV film unit.

In 1970 the BBC was interested in their joint script for 'Its a Man's Life', a war story based on anecdotes told to them by their friend, the young, up and coming Bristol chef, Keith Floyd, when he served as an officer in the Royal Tank Corps. In the BBC bar, they were met by Producer Derrick Sherwin and Script Editor Terrance Dicks and after some conversation Derrick said : "Do you know what we do. We do 'Doctor Who'. Would you like to write a Doctor Who ?" Bob said he was 'cock-a-hoop', had loved science fiction and had watched the programme from its inception in 1963. 'As newcomers to 'Who,' we needed to be beaten into shape; it took the best part of a year to finally get the story commissioned'. Dave was 35 and Bob 31 and he recalled : 'Dave and I embarked on Doctor Who with tremendous energy, letting our imagination streak away. Ideas were poring out, white hot'. 

They delivered their first script, 'The Claws of Axos', starring Jon Pertwee as the third Doctor and his companion, Jo Grant, in April 1970. Bob said : he : 'Found the script pretty easy after the the toil of doing the outline. There were also requests for revisions by script editor Terrance Dicks. At the last minute after we thought all was right, Terrance rand us and asked for an amendment, something that could only be for Doctor Who : "Can you put a six-foot rat in episode one ?"

Bob said he was : 'Pleased with they way it had been made. The gold-faced Axons looked good and sounded totally convincing. In fact, apart from a few dodgy SFX moments, both Dave and I felt very well served by the Director and the production team', They were invited to the recordings where they : 'Met the wonderful Jon Pertwee and his then companion, the delightful Katy Manning'. (link)

Their next commission from Patrick Dromgoole was : "Write me a thriller set in Bristol" and as part of their research they were introduced to a 'peterman', a safe- blower called Grant, with whose help they hoped to make the safe blowing scene authentic. They learnt from him that "Doin' the job! Greatest thrill you'll ever get ! It's all about the 'bottle'... from cockney rhyming slang, 'bottle and glass' -ass, in other words doing a scary job without shitting yourself." Apparently, Grant who was married with a couple of kids had spent 20 of his 40 years in prison. Bob said : 'It was then that we decided to call our story 'Thick as Thieves' '

Leonard Rossiter, seen here on the right, was taken on to play the safebreaker 'Eddie' and Corinne Redgrave, on the left was employed as 'Mr Big' who planned the job. Dave and Bob introduced Leonard to Grant and Bob said : 'Len picked up the inner violence of the man and the manic laugh and put it in his portrayal of Eddie'. The shooting went well with Dave and Bob playing occasionally as extras. They managed to get the location catering done for the crew at their friend, Keith Floyd's new Bistro in Bristol. Televised on the ITV network in 1971, it was well received by the critics and the following year it won the Pye 'Oscar' at the British Film and Television Awards(link)

Their next 'Doctor Who', 'The Mutants' was, in Bob's opinion, their best. He said it was based on the historical example they used of the 1947 British withdrawal from India and they made the country a planet colonised by Earth people who'd rather stay there if they could 'It's just that there are all those inconvenient bloody natives'. (link) He said the special effects worked well and 'the designer came up with some terrific monsters', it was well directed and 'was a show to be proud of'. 'We found that it embodied all the things we wanted to talk about. We could add things in that we felt strongly about. So we did it with gusto'. (link)

The next project was 'Arthur of the Britons' starring Oliver Tobias, Bob said that it was a subject after his own heart and he had discussed : "Was there ever a real King Arthur ?" many times with workmates at the Co-op's stone masonry department, where he'd trained after leaving school. In the event, Bob and Dave contributed, the fifth episode, 'People of the Plough', of the 24 in the series. (link) In his developing relationship with Dave he said : 'I was beginning to get hold of the way he thought - and he me; it was as if we were one schizophrenic mind which was held in delicate balance'.

During the summer of 1973 they got working on a tenth edition 'Doctor Who', 'The Three Doctors' based on the premise that Time Lords faced a threat too great for just one of them to handle. (link) Bob said that the villain, 'Omega', was 'the best megalomanias we'd written. "A hero ? I could have been a god !" and was based on an idea in Aldous Huxley's book, 'Time Must Have a Stop', about a being who existed by his own willpower'. (link) It was so successful that it topped the viewing figures for children's service in that year. Unbelievably, on top of this, Bob said : 'I was still doing up houses and playing tenor sax in The Franklyn Big Six - now up to three gigs a week'.

In 1974 Derrick Sherwin, who had been the producer of 'Doctor Who' and had set up in Soho to make a German/Swiss series called 'Ski Boy' which was to shown on the ITV network and asked Bob and Dave to join him. They wrote 4 episodes, but there was no second series. (link) 

They next worked on 'Sky', a time traveler who Bob described as a 'character out of place and out of time: indeed completely out of tune with the Earth and who was, therefore, like a virus that had to be eradicated by the Earth's defensive mechanism'. (link) He said that the story of 'Sky' itself had elements of Spielberg's later film, 'ET', as 'a bunch of kids try and help an alien escape the Earth and get back on track his destiny'. It was well received and went on to become a cult show with a following in Australia. (link)

Their next 'Doctor Who' project, 'The Sontaran Experiment' was something new to the Doctor - it was to be done all on film and on location, in this case, on Dartmoor, which in itself caused problems for the robot which needed flat rather that rocky terrain and for the Doctor, Tom Baker, who fell on rocks and broke his collar bone. (link) 

Bob said that they were pleased with the result, but had little time to think because they were commissioned to do two episodes the popular TV police series 'Z cars'. For the first episode, 'Quiet as the grave' they used a safe blower format and in the second, 'House to House' starred the regular players, including the trilby hat wearing, John Slater.

For their fourth 'Doctor Who' they settled on a story based on a severed hand and when they cautioned the script editor, Bob Holmes, that it might be too scary for children's TV, he said : "Yes it is.. so let's frighten the little buggers to death" and they agreed. Called 'The Hand of Fear', it was partly set in and  around a real nuclear power station and they gained full cooperation from the management who saw it as an opportunity to show that nuclear power was totally safe and the show garnered over 10 million viewers.(link)

Their next project, 'King of the Castle', was based on their story about the horror of being a child : how school and pre-adult life can prove a rocky journey, especially if they don't quiet fit in. Bob said that Dave quoted the title of a narrative poem by Browning : 'Child Roland to the Dark Tower came' and in the context a 'Childe' was the eldest son of a nobleman who had not yet attained knighthood, or won his spurs. They felt it was a good starting point to enable them : 'To explore our 'Roland' whose dark tower is represented by the tower block of flats he lives in - on the top floor. We decided to make him 'out of place in his school, as a scholarship boy who attends a smart private school because of his singing abilities'. In addition, he lived : 'In a broken home situation, having a step mother, as opposed to the conventional set up. We made his father a mad keen jazz musician who had little time for his son'. (link) Aired in 1977, it was dubbed as 'Kafka for Kids' and despite some misgivings from the ITV, it was nominated for a BAFTA Award as 'Best Children's Serial', only to lose out to 'Ivor the Engine'. (link)

The next commission, 'Machinegunner', was made for Leonard Rossiter as 'Cyril', a debt collector who thought of himself as a private eye who Bob said, had the 'habit of rapping the door knocker long and loud . Rat-ta-ta-tat ... like a machine gun'. With Nina Baden-Semper playing the black female lead, Bob said he thought this was the first time a black female actor had played a lead part on British TV. The tension in the drama was partly created by the fact that she earned much more than Cyril and also the fact that he was a racist. Dave and Bob served as extras having fun playing two 'toughs' in the shoots. Aired in 1978, they were pleased with excellent reviews it received. (link)

In 1977 working on the 'Doctor Who' story, 'The Invisible Enemy' (link) , a story based on the monster being a virus, they introduced a new character called K9, a robot dog/computer owned by a Dr Marius who built him because he missed his real dog back on Earth. Bob recalled that in his creation : 'Dave suggested a robotic dog that could be called ???...."K9" I interjected'. He said the Tom Baker hated K9 because he always had to jig himself into a kneeling or lying down position to do a dialogue scene with the dog. (link)

In 1978 for 'Doctor Who' they decided to do a linked series of stories called 'The Key to Time' with the premise that the Doctor had been requested by the 'White Guardian' to find the Key to Time and stop it falling in to the hands of the 'Black Guardian' and Bob said : 'The usual God vs. Devil sort of thing'. (link)

It was followed by their last collaboration, 'The  Armageddon Factor' (link), with Dave telling him he wanted to write novels and TV was a terrible distraction for him. Bob said : 'I was not only sad, but a little frightened that this would be our last writing collaboration'. In fact they worked again once more more for HTV on 4 episode of 'Murder at the Wedding', filmed and shot on location in Somerset. As a result every newspaper critic with the  exception of Philip Pirset at the Mail slated it. He said : 'It was my dark night of the soul. It was like being beaten for some misdemeanor you hadn't committed'.

Bob was still only 39, but his partnership with Dave now broke up after a dozen years and said Dave once described it as 'like being in a marriage without sex'. Bob himself said : 'We were two minds in tandem always up to speed on what the other was thinking and for the most part thoroughly enjoying work and play together'. By this time his marriage to Vikki had ended and his relationship with his new partner, Angela, had produced a son, Andrew. He now  received no commissions and he said 'as the work drought went on I began to feel pretty lonely'. His next break came with a new private-eye series for the BBC called 'Shoestring' named after its eponymous gumshoe, Eddie Shoestring and set in Bristol. 

Bob wrote the second episode for the series, 'Knock for Knock' and then took on the job as Script Editor for the remaining 19 episodes of the  series. (link) He was working with the producer Robert Banks Stewart who was 8 years his senior and found working with him 'tough and exhilarating' as 'he was a stickler for getting the story just right and would keep on nagging at it until he felt it was ready to be shown to a director'. Bob then found working with Robert and the director 'often grueling, but I loved it, all of it, seeing a script come together stronger than it'd been before'. He worked on 'Shoestring' for the two seasons it ran.

His last and solo 'Doctor Who', 'Nightmare of Eden', in his opinion : ' Had some highs and some very low, lows'. The space work was the good but the monsters were bad : 'You could see the feet of the actors playing in them which made them totally lose all suspension of belief when they were on screen'.(link) 
He followed this by an episode in the new Jersey cop series starring John Nettles as Jim 'Bergerac' who is initially a detective sergeant in Le Bureau des Étrangers. Bob's 'Unlucky Dip' aired in 1981 and was based on a story he'd trashed out with Robert and based on an old American, Richard Widmark movie called 'Pickup on South Street', which had a pick pocket pick more that he'd bargained for and in Bob's case it was a delivery of heroin. (link) He confessed he was very pleased with the result with a 'superb performance' from Prunella Scales as a dipsomaniac one-time pools winner. (link) His second Bergerac, 'Moonlight Girls', was based on prostitution at 'the Top'.(link)

For 'Into the Labyrinth' in 1981, starring Ron Moody as devilish time traveller, 'Rothgo', Bob wrote the first episode and then worked as script editor. (link) He said he chose his writers carefully and used two from 'Doctor Who' and one or two new ones. Bob said that it was during the filming of the series that he met the Aardman Animations team, Dave Sproxton and Peter Lord. 

Bob was asked to oversee and write scripts for a new HTV series starring Oliver Tobias called  'Smuggler'. (link) His episode, 'Forced Run', had Jack making a routine trip to France for brandy and intercepted by a Revenue cutter. He said that 'Smuggler' he was 'proud that with the right stories you could make an expensive looking series on a fairly low budget'.

Bob was 51 when his 'Jazz Detective' as Bernie Weston, a two hour drama murder story starring Danny Webb and set in Bristol, was filmed in the summer of 1990. (link) He said it combined : 'at least two of my strong interests : thriller writing and my love of jazz; bring in the Bristol element and I was as happy as the proverbial pig in shit !' He was, however, displeased with the result, saying that it lacked pace and was too long and at the same time in his personal life, things took a turn for the worse, his second wife, Angela, left him with taking their two children with her and in the Autumn his mother and brother died in quick succession. 

Bob changed direction when he got a call from Aardman Productions asking him if he'd like to work with their partner, Nick Park, on a script to follow their first Wallace and Gromit film, 'A Grand Day Out'. The result was 'The Wrong Trousers' (link). It focused on Gromit's birthday present of techno-trousers for Wallace, designed to save him taking him on walkies and included a sinister penguin, a robbery sequence and a train chase. Bob said that when he saw : 'Nick accepting the Oscar on morning TV, I couldn't quite believe my eyes. I was walking on air for days'.

He now worked with Nick on the follow up, 'A Close Shave', which included the appearance of a lovable escaped lamb, 'Shaun', Gromit cleaning Wendolene's window on a bungee rope and an exhilarating airplane side-car sequence. Awards followed - another Oscar, a BAFTA and the 'British Animation Award for Best Script'. (link)

In his last work with Nick he said that working on 'A Matter of Loaf' and Death' was sheer pleasure : 'Nick and I found ourselves laughing about the characters more than ever before and once we found the character of Piella, the overweight, ex Bake-O-Lite girl, the script took flight so to speak'. He said that he was : 'very flattered to have a clay model character of myself as Baker Bob... even though he does get killed in the first minute'. (link)

His last project, at the age of 69, involved the recreation of 'K9' for Australian TV with Bob as script editor. While in Australia he was besieged by problems and was thrilled to see that 'A Matter of Loaf and Death' had been nominated as 'Best Animated Film' at BAFTA and he had been nominated too. (link)

With 'K9' he had problems with the American script writes foisted on him by the paymasters at Disney, who : 'Still didn't understand that the series was called 'K9' and that, like it or not, the robotic dog was the star of the show'. In the event, Bob wrote one of the 26 episodes, 'Angel of The North' and collaborated with another : 'Thus busting the myth that UK writers couldn't be used' . (link) It was aired in 2009-10 in Australia on Network Ten and in Britain on Disney XD when Bob was 71. He said that he and Paul Tams, who he'd worked with could be proud because : 'K9 was a reborn, rebooted and redesigned character and he looked good; plus we got some real humour out of the dog'.

Bob's 'An autobiography – K9 Stole My Trousers', came out in 2013 and when he died he was still developing a number of projects, some K9 related.

* * * * * * * * * * * * 

And now his early life ......

Bob was born in Bristol the summer of 1939, two months before the outbreak of the Second World War, the son of Roma and Stanley and was brought up with his elder brother by his parents and 'our Gran' in a new pebble dashed semi-detached, pebble-dashed house which his parents had bought for £250 three years before. He described the area in which he grew up, St George's in the eastern suburb of the city, as 'a hotchpotch of council housing and private semis, plonked into an old coal mining and quarrying district, full of tiny cottages and small holdings linked by narrow lanes'.

With his Dad away serving in the RAF in the War, using his sewing machine to repair canvas covered aircraft and then, towards the end of the War moving into Germany with the advancing Allies, Bob said : 'All I can remember is having good times with Mum. We went to the pictures every Monday and Thursday, when the film programmes changed'. The cinemas in question were 'The Kingsway' - bit of a fleapit', the 'very smart Odeon' at Kingswood and the Park Cinema at St Georges Park'. 

His other taste of mass media came from BBC Radio's 'Two-way Family Favourites' which exposed him to a wide range of music in the choices made by listeners. He also remembered a sunday school concert 'in which my mother got on the stage and sang the ballad, 'Always'. I was mesmerised. I didn't even know she could sing ! I also remember a children's Christmas party at a nearby chapel where I received a present of a pull-along Donald Duck'. 

Bob was seven years old when his father, who he scarcely knew, returned from the War and attending he was now attending Air Baloon Junior School, which he said was 'run by a tyrant. A totally humourless cow called Mrs Robinson' a Wartime replacement 'who insisted she was called Madam' and who 'often wielded a stick and used it whenever she thought appropriate'.

She stood in complete contrast to 'Miss Horne, a sleepy-eyed lady of twenty-one or two' who each afternoon 'read us stories of 'Brer Rabbit' from 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'. I'm convinced that it was this as much as anything that awakened my childish mind to literature and storytelling. In later years another teacher read to us from 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer' and I recall waiting in anticipation each day to hear more about Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and maybe, Injun Joe'.

His father was a self employed sign writer by trade, working on vans and lorries and shop fronts, which meant that the family were, from time to time, very hard up when Stanley had no work at all. Bob said : 'We were mostly in a state of poverty, which could be an acute embarrassment - not being able to pay bills, begging for credit, little of which I understood at the time'. It meant that young Bob had collect 'nutty slack', a cheap coal dust mix, which he dragged back to the house on a cart, with his head dipped in shame. Worse still, he said : 'We were the last family in the street to get 'the ITV'. I well remember my mother being distraught at being unable to discuss the ITV commercials and soaps with the neighbours and, of course, there was no way of making out you had ITV because of the tell-tail aerial'.

By the age of eleven Bob was the favourite of the new young and attractive head teacher at school, Miss Lovell, who he had erotic dreams about in which she was 'naked and tied on a rope from the school rafters, swaying back and forth in front to me, and I would smack her ass as she went by.. No sex (I didn't know what that was), no kissing. Just that'. In fact he became her favourite and 'as I was good at art, she'd single me out to paint pictures for the school'. It was around this time that he excelled with his essay on 'Rain'. 'I remember that I suddenly shifted a gear in writing prose and I became quite philosophical for my young age. It was praised as much for its length as its content'. It broke the exercise book single page barrier and went on for a few lines on the next page. 'I recall feeling the pleasure and enjoyment at writing that essay, plus of course the accolades that came with it'.

Bob failed his eleven plus exam in 1948. He said that having seen his elder brother at the boys grammar school : 'I surmised that if I failed I'd do less work; I wouldn't need to wear a uniform or carry a satchel, or do homework' and consequently didn't try hard to pass and duly failed. He now attended Air Balloon Hill School, unusually a 'mixed' secondary modern school and cane be seen here at the age of 13 in 1952, smiling and third place in on the left in the second row. 

He enjoyed his music lessons but when he brought in and played his brother's New Orleans Jazz records was disappointed that Jell Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong raised no interest, but David Whitfeild's 1953 hit, 'Answer me, my love', brought in by one of the girls, went down well. He recalled : 'My claim that this was commercial crap was ignored and any attempt at converting others to jazz evaporated. How naïve I was'.

By the age of 12 Bob was already showing that he had the ability to reject conventional ideas about things and make up his own mind, albeit keeping his thoughts to himself. In 1951 for example : 'Came the Festival of Britain. It was well advertised and it seemed unpatriotic not to go there, so Dad announced that we were to go to London on the train to see it. All I recall is being totally underwhelmed. I kept thinking : ' Is this it ? Where were the fantastic inventions ? The plans for a rocket to the moon ?' which I' assumed would be there ? I needed to be excited, shocked. Why not ? However, shock and awe extended to the Skylon, a tall double-pointed structure resembling a rocket - but not. That was, in fact, totally pointless'. (link)

Another example was his idiosyncratic view of religion in Bristol. He said the area of St George's : 'Was the cradle of Methodism, It was where Wesley preached Hell Fire and Damnation to the poor miners coming up from the coal mine, knackered after twelve hours or so of grueling work in the pit. He obviously held their attention. It's said that many a miner went home with  streaks of white in the coal dust on their cheeks. What a bastard he must have been ! That Wesley. You work your bollocks off down the mine for 12 hours a day and here's this vicar threatening you with Hell ! Because you are a 'sinner' '. Bob said he couldn't imagine they had a lot of time to 'sin' anyway.

Bob enjoyed painting and won a competition, set up by the twin-town Bristol-Bordeaux Trust, with his entry using his father's oil paints, with a painting of a French café with the Eiffel tower in the background and wanted to follow in his brother's footsteps and attend art college. However, his ambition was vetoed by his mother who feared he would copy his brother and descend into what Mum called the 'Bohemian lifestyle' - jazz, long hair, the obligatory duffel coat and worst of all ... girls'.

As a result, Bob left school at the age of 15 in 1954 (a year after this phot was taken with Roger) and the started his apprenticeship as a 'monumental' stone mason at the Co-op.

Bob did his day release each week at the West of England College of Art where he made many friends who thought he was a full time student like them. Without the permission of his employer he switched from the 'lettering' he was meant to be studying for his work on their grave headstones, to life drawing, and then the sculpture class. He said he 'began to learn pretty quickly that I need, not formal education, but to find something else. Something to do with self expression. I got some help when the very Mancunian, very workin' class Head of the Sculpture School suggested : "Go and buy yourself a set of fookin' values". 'Over a couple of years it began to sink in. It was just what was needed : not only for art or music - it could be the equipment for the rest of my life. I realised that what I'd believed to be wasted years at the Co-op in fact became an important and valuable part of my life and being: that everything, any experience, is important'.

It was during his apprenticeship that he joined a local amateur jazz band, 'The Hillside Stompers', where he played trombone and then clarinet, practiced in his garden shed and got paid for the odd gig. John Wood joined the group as the trombone player and Bob switched to clarinet. Seen playing here, John is on the left and Bob in the centre.

Bob had met and had a fight with John a few years before when they had fought to see who was the best friend of a John Gardiner. Young Wood attended the prestigious Bristol Cathedral School and Bob recalled : 'He told me he was learning to box and kept using me as a kind of punch bag, though claiming he was just showing me how to box clever. As we moved on, he showed me a right cross and clocked me one on the chin. I could stand no more and I hit him hard on the face, which to my horror brought blood gushing from his nose and mouth'. 

He walked John home and apologised to his mother, who took it with good grace, smiled and said she hoped he hadn't broken his jaw. John would leave the group when he went to study at King's College Cambridge and as 'John Fortune' made his career as a satirist, comedian, actor and writer and was best known for his later work with John Bird and Rory Bremner in the TV series, 'Bremmer, Bird and Fortune'. 

Bob said 'from here on John Wood and I became best of friends and the fight thing was completely forgotten'. As well as listening to jazz records the band members started listening to classical music and attend concerts. 'For me it was like looking at a painting but, instead of image colour and drawing, going into patterns of sound. I achieved this revelation while listening to Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral'. In addition to concerts, they also attended the theatre sat in the gods of Bristol Old Vic and watched Peter O'Toole in 'Look Back in Anger', 'Hamlet' and 'Brighton Rock'.

This was the formative period of his life and he said 'the exploration of theatre and music combined to form an enormous inrush of information, making it a time of huge emotional and educational experience for me'. The band also went for long walks 'all the time talking and always questioning everything, including, of course, changing the world for the better'. At first in the company of these grammar school boys he just made jokes but 'within a year or so, by joining in discussions with them I was, without realising it, gaining and education. We entered into deep philosophical discussions and perhaps, one might have detected the first bud of satire from John Wood'. 

As the band moved from trad to mainstream jazz, new members joined and Bob switched to the saxophone. They rehearsed in rooms at the 'Earl Russell Inn' at Lawrence Hill in Bristol and called themselves 'The Earl Russell Jazz Unit' and he met and became friends with Bill Stair who joined the band. Bob said he was 'a really clever guy who would build word pictures, not just humorous ones, but of any situation whether it be attempting to deal with girlfriends, the way the busses ran or world politics'.

Bob dipped his first toe into visual media when recalled that John, who was still at school and studying drama, was interested in film-making, so they decided to make one. They looked for inspiration from film classics hired from the BFI and French 'New Wave' and chose to make 'Entropy' suggested by band member Malcolm Windsor studying physics at Bristol University. Bill and Bob were the script writers and in the spirit of its title he said : 'Bill and I came up with a crazy story of two men, to be played by Bill and me, rushing around various locations chasing each other'. It was silent and ran for 8 minutes and got no further. The team were captured here from left to right, Malcolm, Bob and Bill. 

Bob's life changed when he met Vicki Hollis, a student at St Martin's College of Art in London at an art college dance. She fell pregnant in the Autumn of 1958 and they were married the following January. Bob was 19 years old as a bridegroom and a father to their first child. They rented a flat in Bristol and Bob cycled to work at the Co-op where he was now into his fifth year. It was at this point that two older workmates remonstrated with him to leave. One of them, Ted, said to him : "Look I'm telling you : if you don't get out of this place now, you never will ! So fuck off". He took their advice and with the financial support provided by an inheritance Vicki had received from an aunt, he enrolled as a full time student at the West of England College of Art with the view of becoming an art teacher. 

After 3 years Bob finished his course and recalled : 'Now at 24, a father of three lovely children with a keen interest in film and clutching a useless National Diploma in Design, I had no idea what I wanted to do'. He spent the next three years in what he called 'the wilderness'. He got a job as a taxi driver for a company which had the contract to take prisoners from Bristol's Horfield Prison to the Magistrate's Court and back. The family home was now in Georgian House in Windsor Terrace and he'd now entered the business of buying and doing up derelict Georgian houses in Bristol.

He now took the step which would decide his future when, with three friends, he set up a film company, Hexagon Films and said : 'I'd entertained the idea of being a director, but felt the dark shadow of my glaringly inappropriate background, sans formal education, sans drama, sans English literature, all pulling against me. I'd have embarrassing visions of trying to be clever, by being totally out of my depth and making a  bloody fool of myself. Best keep my specific ambition vague, I felt, just see how things go'. 

The company's first film was an animation using pictures cut from magazines and specially taken photos and was an allegory of how men can be easily seduced into violence. A clip shown on West Country News was seen by the director John Boorman who was making documentaries for BBC Bristol and when they met him he asked them to produce animated films for inclusion into a late-night satirical show. Unfortunately the show didn't materialise and Boorman took himself off to work in Hollywood. Hexagon Films melted away and Bob, having refurbished a house which had been converted into a shop, found himself running a convenience store and met a late night shopper called David Martin and at that point his real career began. Bob was very fond of John's expression that making film was "turning money into light".

On March 13th 1971, the 32 year old Bob, sitting with his young family, at home, in front of the television, like millions of other Dads, switched on to watch Episode One of the 'The Claws of Axos' and later recalled :

'As I sat there with my wife and three children I began to reflect... How had I, a working class lad from Bristol with no visible education, whose only writing so far was cut in stone with a hammer and chisel, come to be writing for one of the most popular series on television ?'