tim   .


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.   hunkin




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 Biro’s 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.

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A show for a farmer. The milk pail gradually filled up, getting brighter and brighter.

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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.

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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.

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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 don’t 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.

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Wilf and I stood on the platform in the middle holding flame throwers, while the monsters flew along steel cables to attack us. A good idea, but the audience were so far away they could hardly see anything.

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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 Scotland Yard.

  Bonfires            Aerial pigs and sheep



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