Sunday, November 25, 2012

Adam, James and the Alien.

The photo above shows the long shuttered and closed Cross Keys pub, the Erith Playhouse theatre, and Potion bar - the home of Erith's recreational pharmaceutical trade, which is frequented by those of mono brow and webbed of hand. Avoid. Meanwhile, the Cross Keys has now been closed for almost two years to the day since it was shut down after a series of incidents in which a large group of travellers rode horses in and out of the pub, which made national news. It was put up for public auction last year, with a reserve price of £300,000 but was withdrawn on the day of the sale. Since then I am led to believe that the building has been sold, but no development or refurbishment work appears to have been begun - the building is dark and empty still. The Cross Keys is a listed building within Erith High Street conservation area; this limits what any potential developer can do with the structure to some extent. Some time ago I wrote to Shepherd Neame, Fuller, Smith and Turner and Young's to see if one of the regions' brewers and pub chain operators would be interested in taking the Cross Keys on. I got polite, but non - committal responses from all three of them. It would be lovely to think that the pub would re-open after a refurbishment to serve home cooked food and proper real ale, but somehow I don't think this is realistic. We can only hope that it does not get either turned into yet more unwanted flats, or worse still, into a convenience store, like so many pubs around the country. The only thing preventing this is happenstance - there is both Erith Post Office virtually opposite, and Morrison's super store just around the corner. The Cross Keys cannot stay boarded up forever; I just wish something good would happen to it for a change.

I was talking to a couple of work colleagues earlier in the week, and the subject ended up on James Bond, and how Daniel Craig is set to earn £37 million for his next two appearances as the eponymous secret agent. I happened to mention in passing that I had been to Pinewood, and had actually been in the Bond production office. This provoked a lot of questions – how I had managed to secure myself an invitation to the studio, and what I had seen whilst I was there. It is a long story, but probably one that deserves to be told. I had a friend, Adam Harper (see the photo above - click for a larger view); he used to run a small, independent bicycle shop in Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere (NOT Nuxley Village – there is no such place – it is an invention of the Estate Agents). Adam’s bread and butter was selling and repairing conventional bikes, but he had an unusual and quite lucrative sideline. When Sinclair vehicles went bust after the commercial failure of their Sinclair C5 electric trike in the late 1980’s, Adam Harper bought up the entire unsold stock, which he then warehoused at a secret location. Harper correctly guessed that the C5 would become a cult item, and its’ value would rise accordingly. He was correct. When new, a C5 retailed at £399. Nowadays, an unused, crated C5 with all its’ accessories will sell for around £5000! Harper also sold nearly all of the electric motors used by the competing robots in the BBC TV series “Robot Wars” – because of his expertise with electric motors, the producers of the show hired him as one of the three judges. I accompanied him on a number of occasions to the studio to watch the programme being made. Anyone who initially met him would think Adam Harper was an open, friendly guy – which indeed he was. It was only when you got to know him well that you realised he was someone very unusual – he had a very strong drive and ambition, accompanied by an almost non – existent sense of self preservation. As a by product of selling C5’s, Adam used to take quite a lot of flak from sceptics, who thought the little vehicle somewhat ridiculous. Harper decided to counter this by modifying a Sinclair C5 to attempt to beat the world land speed record for an electric three wheeled vehicle, and thus give the C5 an image boost. I spent a considerable amount of time helping him design and build the world record machine in the back room of his bicycle shop. The souped up C5 had special, high power motors, fed by a custom electronic power control unit. The batteries were extremely high powered gel units for military use – he had to get special permission to get a licence to use them – I recall a meeting at Exide I attended with him – his considerable charisma and power of persuasion were tested to the limit before Exide relented, and not only granted him a licence, but became of his principal sponsors . The front wheel of the racing C5 was from a Harrier jump jet, and the rears from a Lynx attack helicopter. The front wheel had a small parking brake, but the main method of bringing the tiny vehicle to a halt was a parachute built by Irvin – the people who built the parachutes for the Space Shuttle.  The underside of the C5 was fitted with an aerodynamic under tray of Harper’s own design, as was the aluminium nose cone – which was tested in the wind tunnel at MIRA (the photo above was taken during testing there). This might all sound like a bit of a diversion, but bear with me. Adam Harper realised once he had built the super C5 that he would need publicity before the world land speed record itself. Harper had been invited to join the Dangerous Sports Club, and considered what even by his own standards to be an absolutely hare – brained stunt. In the months before the Dartford river crossing bridge (now known as the QE2 bridge) was completed, there was a large gap in the middle, before the North and South side roadways were joined up. Adam wanted to jump the gap in the super C5! He went as far as contacting the contractors, and both Thurrock and Dartford councils. Understandably, all immediately said no.

With this setback in mind, he decided to try a different approach, and wrote to Eon Productions – the company behind the James Bond franchise, who were intrigued to the point that they invited Adam along for a chat; I was asked along too. We turned up in my not very impressive, but classic Triumph Dolomite at the iconic gates of Pinewood Studios, and were waved in. We parked the car and were met by Simon Crane, the newly appointed stunt co-ordinator for Goldeneye, which was at that time in pre – production. We were then ushered into the Bond production office, which was exactly as one would expect it – a 1930’s mock Tudor house opposite the main studio office block; once inside your feet sank into some of the deepest white shag pile carpet I have ever encountered. The huge, open plan office was decorated with framed posters of all the Bond movies in languages from all over the world, and the centre of the room housed a large Victorian roll – topped desk, which (then) belonged to Cubby Broccolli, who thankfully was not around, as I was already in fanboy heaven – I was gob smacked enough as it was. Simon Crane then showed us onto the Bond Sound Stage, where they were in the middle of filming “First Knight”; we also got to enter the members bar, and generally got a good look around the studio; most of which, quite disappointingly is just like a large industrial estate – if you have seen the car chase scene in “Goldfinger” around Auric Goldfinger’s metal works, that is actually the back lot and workshops at Pinewood. Adam Harper got talking in detail about what he wanted to do stunt – wise, which turned into a race through a 70 foot tunnel of fire. One regret I have is that I missed this event – I had recently started a new job, after a considerable time unemployed. I did not want to ask for a day off so soon after starting the job, so missed the show. By all accounts it went seamlessly, and Adam emerged from the inferno unscathed. One side effect of all this was that Adam ended up with a credit on “First Knight” as “Specialist Transport Supplier” – he used to have a modified Milk Float as his company vehicle – the rear milk carrying compartment was boxed in to form a storage area that was painted on both sides with his company logo and contact details. The driver and passenger compartment was fitted with Perspex doors, a gas powered heater and a car stereo system – it made a very effective sales gimmick, as he drove it locally (very slowly, naturally) and lots of potential customers got to see it. He had decided it was time to sell it on – he mentioned this to Pinewood, and they purchased it to transport the very heavy plate armour used in the Arthurian thriller “First Knight”. Harper jokingly asked to be credited, and the producers took him at his word – much to his surprise!

Later I helped him with another publicity stunt – he raced his super C5 against a Group B Golf VR6 race car, along the main straight at Silverstone, as part of the pre race entertainment for the 1996 Formula 3 championship. I was the driver of one of the three unmodified C5’s that escorted Adam onto the track. As we got going the three standard C5’s did our “ground based Red Arrows” party piece. Each trike had a smoke canister attached to the back, and we slowly trundled down the straight in front of thousands of spectators with one C5 spouting red smoke, the second white, and the third (mine) blue smoke. It certainly got a big laugh, though the laughter shortly turned to amazement as Adam gave the special C5 some beans – it shot off (0-60 was something like 3 seconds) beating the race car easily, before we heard the sharp crack of the parachute deploying, and the super C5 trundled safely to a halt.

Another amusing incident involving Adam Harper and I happened in the historic pumping station in Crossness Sewage Works; as many will already know it is one of only two industrial buildings that hold Grade One listed status in Greater London – the other being Tower Bridge. The pumping station has been used as a location for many big budget movies, including the original “Alien”, the 1987 Tim Burton “Batman”, and the 2009 Guy Ritchie directed “Sherlock Holmes” (the Masonic temple at the start of the film, where Holmes and Watson foil a human sacrifice by the evil Lord Blackwood was filmed in the main pump room.) Back in the mid 90’s, Harper was a guest and occasional presenter on a BBC Children’s TV show called “It’ll Never Work” – a kind of kids’ “Tomorrow’s World”. The show was filmed in the pumping station, giving it a gothic, post apocalyptic look and feel. I was present for several of the filming sessions, which it has to be said for the most part were extremely boring. In TV you seem to spend most of your time sitting round and waiting for a technician to do something. Not a career I would have ever entertained! Anyway, during one of these long pauses in filming, Adam and I went exploring round the historic building. Back then, the restoration project had not long been running, and much of the structure had not been used for many years – there were offices and store rooms, mostly full of junk. One thing we did find you can see in the photo below. When “Alien” was being filmed in the place, the producers had no idea of the massive cult hit the film was going to become; when the movie wrapped, many of the props and costumes were simply dumped. The Alien costume in the photo below was a genuine one used during filming, that we came across in a abandoned store room – which gave us both a bit of a shock! The photo shows Adam Harper posing with the costume – bearing in mind Adam is about five foot ten, it gives you an idea of how tall the actor playing the Alien would have been. The costume was intact, if rather smelly, and nowadays it would be worth an utter fortune. We briefly entertained the idea of “liberating” it from Crossness, but decided that discretion was the better part of valour – besides which, an eight foot tall Alien warrior sitting in the passenger seat of a Ford Fiesta would attract rather a lot of unwanted attention when driving through Lower Belvedere! I have no idea what ever happened to it – hopefully it is now residing in a museum somewhere. A few months later, Adam Harper got a business offer from a Coventry based engineering group, and he sold up his bike shop and moved to the Midlands. I occasionally heard from him for a couple of years, then we lost contact. He was a real, larger than life character. I wonder what he is up to nowadays?

My antipathy towards mobile phones is well known, and not something I am about to repeat in prose now. I take The Times every weekday, and whilst leafing through its’ pages on Wednesday, I came across the following piece, written by journalist Sarah Vine, entitled “My Secret to a Calmer Life”. Whatever your thoughts on mobile phones, it makes interesting reading. ”I had my mobile phone stolen at the weekend; my fault really. I was picking up my son from football and left it in the car when I dashed to get him. Minutes later I returned to find my car window smashed and the phone gone. At first I felt a bit sick with panic. My whole life was on that phone: contacts, photos, diary dates. I rushed home to block it. The phone company promised to get a replacement out to me as soon as possible, and that was that. Three days on I haven’t received a new phone; three days without mobile access to Google Maps, Twitter, Facebook, emails, messages, diary alerts, or contacts. Far from being frantic, I am calmer than I have been for ages. The absence of this little electronic device has done me nothing but good. Three days without my work being interrupted by calls. Three days without me taking the damn thing to the loo with me in case it rings. Three days without the children pestering me to play on it. Three days without the fear of running out of battery. Three days of peace and quiet. This must be what life used to be like. And it seems to me it was really quite civilised.” Well said. In this case, by someone who in previous articles has described herself as a “mobile phone junkie” – it would seem that even a relatively short time that she has come to appreciate the joys of not having a mobile phone, and constant contact with the world. I think her definition of civilisation is interesting. I wonder what the illustrious readers of the Maggot Sandwich think? Answers on a postcard, or better still, leave a comment below. All comments are moderated within 24 hours; I am getting an unbelievable amount of spam posing as reader comments – which is I suppose to be expected when one considers, that even when all spam is discounted, the Maggot Sandwich is getting well over 11,000 reader hits a month now.

The end video this week is the new release by Mister B the Gentleman Rhymer of a track from his new long playing gramophone record. The record is called "The Tweed Album" and it contains the track below "Just like a Chap". Enjoy.


  1. Why you're hatred of the two words "Nuxley" and "village", a quaint term used by all, and the fish sculpture isn't a bad as you make out either.....

  2. RE: Nuxley Village.
    It's wrong.
    There's no such place as Nuxley Village. I was told it's something that the place is called because of Nuxley Road but it's Belvedere not "Nuxley".,_London
    You might as well start calling it Narnia or Windsor!

  3. I think something maybe planned in connection with the Cross keys. A planning application (12/00647/S211) has allowed the removal of trees. The applicant says that the building is being repaired but does not say what for. Hope this helps.

  4. Nuxley Village is the name used by locals for the area around Nuxley Road. The term is in use, Ok not officially or on maps but it exists. Have you seen, "An irregular blog about things going on and issues effecting Upper Belvedere and surrounding areas"

    Would it be better if we called it Belvedere village?

  5. Adam Harper once sold me a bike which was later stolen from my front garden. Only to re-appear on his shop front just weeks later (after a few modifications). I'm not saying he had anything to do with the theft, but he obviously didn't mind who he bought his stock from.

  6. I have real respect for you for posting my last comment (about the bike). I thought I'd be censored. Thank you.