Teddington Bare

From David Lean’s Dedicated Maniac: Memoirs of a Film Specialist by ace props man Eddie Fowlie.

Though Eddie’s non-conformist, anti-authoritarian streak made him a true independent for most of his career, he started out as an employee of the props department at Warner Brothers’ Teddington Studios on the banks of the Thames ~

“There was everything from Chippendale to Sheridan, and even the odd kitchen sink. We bought furniture at auctions from great old houses that had been closed because of the war, including silverware, bronzes, pianos, harpsichords, full-dinner services, and quality carpets of every shape and description. It was a veritable treasure trove, and the wizard in charge of all of it was a cockney property master called Harry Hannay. We became good friends and spent most days out in a van, ‘totting’ or looking for the props we might need. Some things were bought and others rented. Whether the set was a suburban room, a hospital ward, a pretty garden or a hovel for tramps, my job was to dress it with suitable props, down to the last detail — and no detail was too small or insignificant. It could be a piece of paper in a typewriter, or a slipper tossed carelessly by a rumpled bed. It was all a question of using one’s own imagination. Much to my surprise I learned that black and white films were anything but. We applied a blue dye to cloth bed sheets and tea for the smaller surfaces, because anything truly ‘white’ did not show up on film. We introduced blotting paper between sheets to prevent them making a rustling sound and tipped a bit of lighter fluid on candles to help them light up instantly. These little details went unnoticed but they were just as important as the rest of the set.”

But, when Eddie returned from a location shoot with Burt Lancaster ~

“Shortly after returning to Teddington, however, I came back to earth with a bump. We were told Warner Brothers had sold the studio to a new commercial television company and that we would have to move out within two weeks. We didn’t have much time to dwell on the news. The prop room had huge amounts of stuff, worth many millions of pounds in today’s money, which took fleets of trucks to clear out. Other studios swooped down on Teddington like vultures to pick the bones, buying and loading up with as many props as they could. Rental houses came too, but as the deadline approached it was still not being loaded quickly enough, and we were faced with the thoroughly unpleasant task of having to destroy the rest. Windows were taken out on each floor, pushed out and burnt in piles along the river bank, including a unique collection of a room-full of rare posters on theatre, shipping, railways and commercial advertising. It was a sad end to what had been the country’s artistic heritage, but we did as we were told. If we had wanted anything I suppose we could have helped ourselves, but I took nothing, not even one of the century-old books. When Warner suggested I go to Elstree as their property manager, I declined […]”

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