A VIKING IN MY DUSTBIN. (69) Fantasy World.

The background of my life was fantasy, the true and real side of my life at this time was the awfulness and the shared pain of our marriage breakdown. As the import of our separation began to dawn, I lived as Sue had said I did, in a fantasy world with a cartoon dustbin for company. In fact some days I actually earned a living with one.

Along with designing the character and the titles, the Producer of the 321 show briefed me to help develop the robotic full-size mobile Dusty Bin that would appear on the show. His idea being that it would roll onto the set in different costumes that went with the weekly theme and hand Ted Rogers, the host of the show, the contestant questions.
A date was arranged for me to meet with special-effects specialists whose workshop was on the outskirts of Leeds. It was to be the start of another productive relationship.
Ian Rowley and his father made up the business, just the two of them. ‘Rowley Workshop Ltd.’ was housed not far out of Leeds on the road-side in a red brick former chapel; a building which gave nothing away about the magic that was created inside.
Alf, Ians’ father was a steel grey crew cut crotchety old man who’d started the Rowley Workshops years before and knew every trick in the book, literally. He was famous in the secret world of magicians and their acts, for designing and building the hardware of tricks and illusions. Years before he’d been invited to join the Magic Circle, (a rare honour), for his work as a specialist in the design and construction. Besides that he was also famous for devising and designing new never before seen tricks.
Besides making magic, he also made special props for theatre. The Rowleys also designed and built weird and wonderful props for Television and advertising companies.

In the first months of knowing Ian, I witnessed how in his inventive mind he always had another problem to solve on the back burner; sometimes he’d share what they were, with me. Once for weeks, he was trying to design and build a lifelike life-size nest of tiny baby birds, eyes shut all with their mouths opening and closing, awaiting the next beak-full from their mother. It was to be a ‘practical’ animated feathered puppet of a kind, remotely operated for a scene in a film.
For some reason the production company considered getting Ian to make a false nest with mechanical birds which would be filmed in a real tree, was easier than shooting the actual thing to order. It was fascinating stuff; imagine waking up and having making that as your challenge for the day!
Although Alf was sometimes a pain and always full of complaints about the world in general; theatre and television folk in particular and designers specifically, once he’d found he could place me on the positive side of his list of the not too incompetent, he would share wonderful stories about his early theatrical days of music hall, pantomimes and plays, tales of witness and wonder that I always felt privileged to hear.
As extraordinary as the things Ian and Alf created were, where they worked, the workshop itself was truly magical. Housed in their ex-Methodist Chapel, the bland exterior belied the fantastic world hidden from view on the street. Inside it was like ‘Santa’s workshop meets the mad scientists lab’. Crammed with the most wonderful surprising and marvelous stuff; stacks of unexpected materials on racks and shelves, festooned overhead with an arial circus of curious items and weird contraptions. Things they had built and for some reason kept.
The Chapel was a working phantasmagoria, a cabinet of curiosities, full of magic and mystery; secrets guarded by a sinister shadow of a familiar; a wolf of a German Shepherd dog as big as a pony, which padded silently between the aisles of material and works in progress. The first time I came face to face with it, it searched me with steel grey eyes and growled a deep and menacing growl; I froze to the spot, until Alf called it to order. I think I’d have served it as a light lunch.

A VIKING IN MY DUSTBIN. (69) Fantasy World.

John Sunderland

New York, United States

  • Artist

Artist's Description

Marriage breakdown but my work a day world
becomes a world of the machinery of magic and illusion.

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