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ON THE BUSES behind the scenes

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joe.jpg

‘On The Buses’  was always a good show to work on.  After contacting Steve he thought it might be an idea if I explained the role of Scenic Painters and other members of the crew and what we actually did in order to prepare the studio and scenery for transmission

It may help if I explain how a scenic painter differs from a conventional decorator:

 Firstly, a scenic painter is a trained professional decorator  who, when he or she goes into TV or Film has to learn other skills. I think the best way to describe the work that a scenic painter does is that his remit is between a scenic artist and a decorator.

The scenic painter may have to paint paving stones outside the door of the set,  make new items look old and old things look new The one thing that was guaranteed to make a new scenic painter question what kind of world he had walked into, was to get him to completely wallpaper a set, then age it down and make it look complete tatty and old. The scenic painter is responsible for the completed decorative effects on the screen.

The day of the build for Buses would start with the painters getting a drawing from the designer from whom we would get all our instructions  and information where the sets would be placed on the studio floor. Bearing in mind that the living room could be in one place and the bathroom somewhere else.  An illustration of this could be clearly seen in the episode ‘Olive Gets Divorced’, the main living room set had painted floorboards. The kitchen  painted tiles, the bedroom, club, canteen had   painted floors. It was the painters job to mark out and paint the floors accordingly and this was done from the drawing provided by the  Set Designer. The reason the we painted the floors was because the studio at Wembley only had black floors. It also gave the Lighting Department some help.

 The living room of the house had floor boards painted. The paint was a special paint that would be washed off by the night cleaners after the show.  Any rooms that had tiles on the floor were either painted using  a pad to the size of the tile i.e. bathrooms tiles could be small and hallway tiles could be slightly bigger. We also used vinyl low stick fablon to great effect. The reason we used low tack was because it had to come off before the next show and also so that it did not damage the studio floor.
When the bus garage set was required in the studio we would have to paint the studio floor to replicate the garage where the buses have come from. Just a point on the bus, when it came in to the studio it had minimum fuel in order to minimise the fire risk.

 The sets were stored on barrows and brought from the scenery store  to the studio for the build. As soon as the carpenters had built the sets and stage hands had finished their work the painters would go in and work on them bearing in mind the set could be in a dozen different  pieces so it was the painters job to make the set look like it was permanent and not taken  apart.

The schedule for the build of the Buses went some thing like this:

07.00 PAINTERS PAINT FLOORS
0830 LIGHTING RIG
0930 STAGE HANDS and CARPENTERS  Commence  Build  
1030  SET PROPS
Sound and cameras would come in the afternoon after outside rehearsals.

The painters would work on each set as it went up, repairing any damage and dealing with all changes that the Designer required. Continuity was a very important part of our work - things had to look the same every week The window panes were  made of Perspex and the reason for that was safety, because of the amount of movement every week they were bound to have got damaged and, of course, the windows were safer to transport. Something the viewer may not have noticed was that some of the windows  were made opaque. This was for various reasons: one to stop you seeing through, the other to stop reflections from the studio. This was done by  either applying tracing paper on the back or applying a mixture of paste and glaze.  We had to be very aware of our audience, after all, a few million people were going to be looking at our work and, to be fair, I think the boys took a lot of pride in what they achieved. I say ‘boys’ because in those days no women were employed in construction or set painting. It has all changed now!

 If the bus was in the studio the painters would have to do what we call ‘dress the bus’ which would  entail putting the correct signs on the bus.  Once again we would use signs that our sign writer had prepared earlier and we would cover the original bus signage with our own signage i.e. Luxton District, as require by  the script. These would be put on using Vaseline  on the bus so that they would come off easy and not damage the paintwork on the bus. We did not want to get a bill for respraying a bus! We  would  have to make the bus look like it has been on the road for a while and this was done using special wash off paint  plus Fullers Earth.  We even had to paint scratches and muddy the wheel arches  and this was all done using the special paint. It all had to be washed off after the show and before the bus went back to the garage . We would even have to create oil patches on the studio floor to make it look like the real thing. The build day was always a busy one.  Just a note on the paint that we used - it was always watercolour and fireproof.

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Rehearsal  and Transmission  Day

As soon as the build is completed in the studio the painter then becomes what is know as the ‘stand by painter’ which meant he has to deal with  various things like painting props, extending the set. We would work very closely with the ‘stand by carpenter’.  Their work would entail anything from a wooden box to a brand new piece of scenery, which we would then paint to match whatever part of the set it was going into .We would be present during rehearsal and when the Artistes moved on to the next set and with the permission of the floor manager we would move in and complete anything that was required by the designer. Anything big would be completed during the lunch break.

This is just a snapshot of what the studio painter did .We were just one section involved with the production. I hope you have enjoyed reading about what we did behind the scenes

Joe Kerr
Retired HOD ex LWT

Thanks Joe for this excellent article

busesfanclub@aol.com

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