Jurassic Park having now finished its latest version we were lucky enough to purchase several items to enhance our stock. Links below to a few samples of what we have bought.
Jurassic Park having now finished its latest version we were lucky enough to purchase several items to enhance our stock. Links below to a few samples of what we have bought.
Can we wish you a welcome return to our great industry! Stockyard are now fully open and have been operating part time to service your needs for the last serval months. Thank you to those who have used us. We are hopefully moving forward to normality and to full working hours. We will update you on this here and on our Instagram page @stockyardprophire and Facebook.
We have recently acquired props from the recent “Spider-Man: Homecoming” film, including Venetian wall grilles, architectural rubble, dummy shellfish and fish.
Also lots of large oil paintings and dummy books from “The Royals” TV drama film. Here’s a clip.
From “The Hoist” Dummy Bullion / Money / diamonds, tunnelling equipment and break-in tools.
…and from the film “Maleficent” lots of old master dummy Italian oil paintings.
Here at the Stockyard Group we always take steps to protect your information both on and off line.
We have there police stock along with a large amount of oil paintings.
The list below gives you a good idea
Café tables and chairs
Floor standing candelabras
Large hanging wrought iron chandeliers
Terracotta pots (various styles and designs)
Sporting and war time group memorabilia photos
Stockyard is very sad to see the end of an era with the closing down of A&M Hire. We have known John for a very long time and know that he is most sad to have to close the company due to the planned HS2.
We wish him and the staff well!
We are pleased that we have been able to purchase a selection of items to add to our stock.
Please take a look at our ‘latest props’.
We hope that you like them ….. We do!
We hope you like the latest website updates. It is now mobile and tablet friendly and is running under the SSL padlock for better security.
Please do contact us if you have any access problems or suggestions!
Oh – and we are running on SSD technology now for faster load times…
Feeling under the weather? We are pleased to inform our clients that we have recently acquired enough period medical props to fill a 25 bed ward. Come and have a look, during visiting hours!
We have had a bit of a tidy-up in our reception area and created some displays of the wonderful items used to dress the Mr Selfridge series on ITV.
These are all for hire too so why not pop in and see them first hand?
We have received more scientific equipment to compliment our extensive collection. You could create a crazy laboratory full of period gear or maybe fit out a retro spacecraft set….
You really need to visit this section in person to see everything we have!
We are delighted to now be able to offer props from the acclaimed Mr Selfridge TV series. These are actual props from the sets and includes many shop display items and counters, seating and the gorgeous art deco family fireplace.
To see more images see this post on our sister branch Howorth Wrightson’s website….
Whilst using a professional props supplier is a very key part of your work as a props master, there is, of course, a large amount of making, mending and restyling that needs to be done. Here at Stockyard Props, we know the pressures that props professionals face every day. To make thing a little easier, we have put together some great shortcuts to useful sites, and a few freebie downloads which you might find handy.
As well as these free resources, remember that nothing makes up for dealing with experienced professionals. We have decades of experience in the trade, and are only too happy to advise you on any props you need to hire or source. If you need help with period details for your set, we are experts on getting things right. Just call us and we’ll be delighted to chat informally – or you can drop in for a wander around if you prefer.
Useful sites and tutorials
There are so many of these that sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. We’ve looked at all of the sites we recommend here with a professional eye, and think we have found some of the best.
Instructables.com is an invaluable place to pick up tips on how to make just about anything. Have a trawl through and see what you can find.
Sometimes it’s good to get back to basics. This site has some very clear tutorials if you’re feeling rusty.
This is a very comprehensive site for tutorials about using Papier Mâché. Lots of ideas and inspiration for model makers.
If you need to change the look of a prop, then you will need plenty of skills in order to get it right. Here are just a few to get you going:
Adding rust to your props
Internet Movie Firearms Database
This is clearly run by completests. You will find every weapon used in every film production ever made.
The Science Museum hosts a searchable permanent collection.
Make full use of Pinterest when researching looks. It’s an invaluable resource. Check out these Pinterests boards for inspiration on:
Just so useful for every period you need to research. The Learning Resources Centre is a superb.
Deviant Art is really useful site for inspiring your set design. Some generous artists have provided free downloadable artwork for you to print off and use.
More Free Stuff
Justsomethingimade.com is a brilliant site for ideas and the owner, Cathe Holden, is always giving away amazing resources. You will find DIY tutorials. Here are just a few of the downloads you can get from her Freebies Page.
Cathe has everything from adverts, font samples, bookplates, book covers, and a whole lot of other stuff we’ve never even heard of. Great online resource.
Warner Brothers filmed the Harry Potter films over a ten-year period at the Levensden Studios, in the UK. They filmed 8 movies in total, which required a vast number of props and workshops. Today, those studios have been turned into a very popular tourist attraction, which is a great place for Potter fans – or prop designers to visit. The displays expose the mechanics behind the productions and prop design, and give a real insight into how the scenes were managed and built. Five warehouses were needed to store and build props for the films, with areas devoted to departments such as the Creatures Department, The Animal Department, and the Visual and Special Effects Department. It is a masterpiece in Prop management, and well worth a visit. Here are just some of the things you will learn as you walk around.
The 1:24 scale model was based on a sketch by one of the production designers, Stuart Craig. The Art Department surpassed themselves, and the model takes up a huge room in the studios. The rooms inside are lit with 300 fibre optic lights, and real foliage and gravel are used in the grounds. 86 artists worked on Hogwarts Castle, and 50 sculptors, artists and painters maintained it throughout the eight film productions. The artists used Alnwick Castle and Durham Cathedral as inspiration, and several scenes were shot in these locations. The landscape around the castle is inspired by the Highlands of Scotland.
The Great Hall
In the Great Hall the ceiling is covered in floating candles, which appear to hover effortlessly. The were originally just normal candles strung up on wires, but several came crashing down on the cast as they burnt through the wires. Eventually they were added to scenes digitally.
Most of the food in the Great Hall was artificial, but not all of it. With a cast of hundreds of children, the real food regularly needed replacing.
Harry’s Gryffindor Dorm Room
The furniture in the Harry’s Dorm is is typical of that in an old-fashioned British public school, but the set dressers used a range of different props as the series progressed, to reflect the age and interests of the characters. You can see period trunks under the beds, which we stock. Apparently the beds were not replaced, which led to the teenage actors in the final film having to scrunch themselves up to fit in.
One of fans’ favourite sets has always been Diagon Alley, where Harry buys his very first wand and tries butter beer. You can see the set as it appears in the movie, here. It has a classic Dickensian feel, with the cobbled streets, period shop fronts and signage combining to create the feel. Individual sets within shops add to the sense of the street as being a magical place, particularly Ollivander’s Wand shop. The props department worked overtime to produce 17,000 individually labelled wand boxes. Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes joke shop showed similar attention to detail. It contained 120 individually designed products, including Antigravity Hats, Nose Biting Teacup, Portable Swamp, Unlucky Dip and the Repeating Rabbit. You can see a full list of the items Weasley’s sold here.
Royalty Free photos for client
Weasley’s Joke props
We all know how much films cost to make, and unless you’re George Lucas, you always need to keep an eye on the budget. Often it is the Props Department that gets squeezed, as Producers know what an inventive and creative bunch they employ. In true Prop master style, here are a few switches only the dedicated fan will have spotted. Some directors are now using switches specifically to appeal to hard-core fans. So, did you spot these props, earning their money?
Uma Thurman’s Hattori Hanzō Sword
Who could forget Uma Thurman in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies? Those Hattori Hanzo swords she flings about are worth a bomb. How could the props department just let them go? The answer is, they didn’t. The swords went on to appear two years later in Sin City, this time being wielded by another violent warrior femme, Miho, played by Devon Aokil.
Remember Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein (1974)? During preparations for the making of the movie, Mel Brooks discovered that Ken Strickfaden, who had made the outlandish electrical laboratory equipment for the original Universal Frankenstein movies, was alive and well. He was living in Los Angeles, with the equipment carefully preserved in his garage. Brooks wanted his film, a parody of the originals, to be as authentic as possible, so he persuaded Strickfaden to rent out the machinery, and gave him a screen credit he had never received for the original film.
Number Plate 2GAT123
Once you know about this number plate you will find yourself looking out for it whenever a car appears in a film. The chances are you will spot it. The licence plate has been used in countless films, including Curb Your Enthusiasm, Eve of Destruction, Pay It Forward, Mulholland Drive, The Perfect Nanny, L.A. Story, Beverly Hills Cop II, K-9, When a Man Loves a Woman, Go, Traffic, Training Day, Be Cool, Harsh Times, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Role Models, to name but a few. The original idea behind it was to avoid the possibility of a member of the public having the same number plate as a character in a film. Now, playing I-Spy the plate is a great distraction for film buffs.
Sam Raimi’s 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88
The Film Buff has pulled together every appearance of Sam Raimi’s yellow 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88, which was nicknamed ‘The Classic’. Ramini is fond of recurring motifs, but this is his most noticeable. The same car was used in The Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, Army Of Darkness, Spider-Man, Drag Me To Hell, Crimewave, Darkman, A Simple Plan, The Gift, and Evil Dead remake in 1973. This has to be the most famous re-used prop of them all.
Star Wars Space Station model
Never mess with Super Fans. No franchise has more hard-core Super Fans than the Star Trek films, and it’s hard to get anything past them. Re-using props is one thing, passing the same ones off as something different is quite another, as producers of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan found when they tried to re-use the orbital office complex from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as the Regula 1 space station. Oh no! They tried to pass the original off as a new space station by turning it upside down. Did they think nobody would notice? Trekkies did, of course, and you can see a record of its many further incarnations documented here.
Very much the springboard decade for interior design, the Roaring Twenties saw style and lavish decadence reach its height. The motifs included sophisticated Hollywood inspired glamour, nature imagery, accents from Egypt, Africa and the Orient inspired by the new craze for safaris, angular shapes, and the geometrics of Art Deco, mirrors, shiny chrome and stylised illustrations of cruise liners, American cars, aeroplanes and skyscrapers. Sound familiar? It should do, as we are seeing a return to the style in the obsession with retro and Speak Easys.
In contrast to the opulence of the Hollywood cocktail party style, with its attendant glamour, Europe saw the emergence of Bauhaus – the great modernist architecture movement. The same designers and architects began to influence home wares too. In 1925, the great Paris Art Deco exhibition showcased the style at its most exquisite, but the good times didn’t last. By the end of the decade the Wall Street Crash plunged America into the Great Depression, and Europe too saw a period of austerity in response.
Creating a Twenties Look
Some great designers emerged during the twenties, such as Eileen Gray, Syrie Maugham, Le Corbusier, Raymond Templier, and the design duo Sybil Colefax and John Fowler, whose work began in the 1920s. Research their work to get under the skin of twenties style. Here are some pointers:
This should have strong lines, but go for single items rather than suites. Le Corbusier and Eileen Gray’s furniture is typical. Look on ebay for good reproductions.
Floors were either linoleum, with abstract designs or checkerboard patterning, or polished parquet wooden floors for glamorous scenes. Rugs were used widely, often with bold geometric patterns.
These were boxy, angular and stepped in design. No curvy organic shapes. We have a selection of typical 1920s fireplaces our warehouse.
Lighting was a very important design element in the twenties. The obsession with reflective surfaces found an ideal complement with the chrome and glass materials used in lighting designs. Statuesque arms holding lights extending from the wall were typical. You will easily be able to find reproductions of the typical female figures holding a ball of light – they have become a design classic, and are much copied. We stock central hanging lights in the Deco style.
These were plain, with reflective surfaces if at all possible. People actually varnished their walls in some cases, to create a shimmering finish. You can do the same.
Think silver, black and white as palette colours. Metallic accents were so popular that they could be considered an essential for your colour choices.
Pay a visit to the Brixton Academy or Claridges Hotel, in London. You could do worse than watch any of The Great Gatsby films, which show the glamorous side of the era.
Raymond Templier at the V&A
Eileen Day designs at the V&A
Le Corbusier at the V&A
This month we look at abandoned movies sets, some of which you can still visit. If you are a set designer, or just a movie nerd, you might like to look behind the scenes of some of these sites.
All but one of the six Star Wars movies had location shoots in Tunisia. Many of the sets are preserved, and as one might expect, businesses have set up on site to cater for the tourists who want to explore the set. Luke Skywalker’s home has been converted into a hotel. The Tatooine settlement of Mos Espa was where his son Anakin built the robot, C-3PO, but in reality it is located 40 kilometres from Tozeur. The desert set, located in Oung el Jemel, consists of around twenty buildings, some of which now have residents who are making the most of the tourist visitors. One visitor, who is clearly not in the props business, expressed disappointment that “all of the machinery and gadgets were made from wood or plastic.” That’s the magic of props!
Some scenes from James Cameron’s 1989 sci-fi masterpiece, The Abyss, were filmed on location in the partially built Cherokee Nuclear Power Plant, close to Gaffney, South Carolina. Cameron set out to build what would become the biggest underwater film set ever constructed. He needed 7 million gallons of water to fill up the tank, which was forty feet deep. Having built the set and used it for the film, the cost of dismantling it was deemed too high and it was left to intrepid explorers and curious film buff. It was finally demolished in 2007, due to health and safety concerns, but you can see photos of it here.
You can see the Sci-Fi props we stock here.
Nestled in Spain’s sun-bleached Tabernas Desert, Almeria lies a movie set which has hosted a multitude of western movie productions, and even an episode of Dr Who. Built back in the 70’s, Fort Bravo is still a working set location, and was used for the TV series Queen of Swords. The Doctor and his glamorous assistant Amy Pond found themselves in the heat of the Spanish sun to film ‘A Town Called Mercy’ in 2012. The site is a tourist attraction, and it is easy to see why. It is the quintessential western movie set, with a jail, military barracks, a bank, saloon and courthouse. Filming for Six Bullets To Hell finished last year, so the set is still very much in use. If you want a desert or Western backdrop, we have both in stock supply.
Tim Burton’s “Big Fish” was filmed in Alabama, and some of the sets were just left behind. Urban explorers go to places so we don’t have to. This group decided to film their exploration of the abandoned set of Big Fish, filmed by Tim Burton in Alabama in 2003. During the exploration you can see exactly how the set buildings were put together, and which parts of the forest are real and which are not – it’s hard to tell the difference. You can also brush up on your Southern American accent while you watch.
You can see a few glimpses of the set in the trailer, which shows the forest, and a couple of buildings.
This month our ‘How To’ article looks at how to make convincing fake drinks for your performers. We supply all kinds of vessels for a production that needs to feature food or bar scenes, whether that be period or modern. But how do you make a convincing alcoholic drink? If an actor has to do multiple takes, or there is a large movie production, it is not practical to provide real beer, champagne or cocktails. The actors would soon be rolling in the aisles. Movie and theatre prop designers have a number of tricks to help them fool the audience.
Consult with your costumes department when making a fake drink, as it will help you decide what to put in your recipe. Some scenes require that a drink be thrown, for example, and you need to check with the costumiers whether this is going to cause major problems with laundering. Again, multiple takes can cause real issues in a scene like this, so make sure everyone knows the score, so they can have new costumes on hand once the second take is set up. Speak with the lighting department too, and see if the drink is going to be picked out with lighting, and if the scene lighting will affect the colour of the liquid. A perfect ‘red wine’ recipe might look spot on in your brightly lit workshop, but like tar on a gloomy set. Work with others to get the perfect balance.
Make sure you can recreate the drinks you make, and that they are not too expensive to produce in quantity, should you need to. Write your successful recipes down – continuity is essential.
These can all be made with the old standby – tea. Tea has been used in theatrical productions for decades, as a perfect imitator of dark alcoholic drinks. There are plenty of teas available now, so experiment widely to get the look you want, altering steeping times, water temperature and dilution. Another technique for making dark coloured drinks is to add some burnt sugar to water and mix. Caramel colouring from the baking aisle is perfect. Cola Sodastream flavouring is effective, but you will have to experiment to get just the right recipe. Try is watered-down apple juice as a substitute for whiskeys.
This can be difficult to make, but persevere. If you need bubbles visible, try carbonated water and experiment with colourings.
Some very pale Japanese teas could pass for white wine in the right dilution. If you find a very light coloured apple juice, you may be able to dilute it to the colour of white wine. If money is tight, just try adding a little food colouring to water. Weak limejuice cordial, and diluted grape juice are both good substitutes too. Cranberry juice, blackcurrant, and cherry juice are useful to experiment with when making red wine, but make sure your actors like the taste of the drinks you prepare or all your hard work could go to waste.
See if your cast are happy to drink alcohol-free beer. It will save a lot of trouble. You can find recipes for making a fake frothy head for your fake beer, using powdered egg whites and an acid, such as lemon juice. If this sounds too complicated, just try placing a Mento into a pint mug, then adding some ginger beer or root beer a few minutes before the prop is needed. As the top begins to foam up, spray it with hairspray. It will work for a relatively short scene.
The simplest alcoholic drinks to recreate are spirits! Just use water. Tonic water is best if you are serving a gin and tonic however, and don’t forget your accessories – ice and a slice just adds to authenticity.
This month we focus on research and set design. Research is a large part of any Prop Master or set designers’ job, and this is particularly true when a production is set in the past. Period dramas on the BBC have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, and their success is due in part to the accurate period detail and the richness of the locations. The production designer for The Crimson Field was Cristina Casali, and her research took her to The Imperial War Museum in London. It was through immersing herself in paintings and photographs from the museum’s archives that she developed her ideas for the look and feel of the production.
Once Cristina had spent time researching the production and how she wanted the set to look, she presented her ideas to the producers, laying out mood boards, scale models, plans and drawings.
This is a critical skill for production designers, and these pitches act as a springboard for the entire production. The producers approved Cristina’s ideas and the whole design team were then able to move forward and bring the sets to life. Carpenters and prop makers got to work on building the sets.
The main backdrop for the action was the collection of hospital tents in which the nurses lived and tended the wounded. Cristina drew on photos of a military hospital at Étaples as the model for these tented communities. She noted how the military medics had altered the tents, in order to make them more practical for a working hospital. Extra doors had been cut from the tent walls, and wooden doorways added. Extra storage and shelving was added inside the tents. Cristina decided to fit several tents together to make one large L shaped hospital ward, with corridors along the side for nurses stations and storage areas.
There were a huge number of props used in The Crimson Field. If you listen to Cristina Casali fascinating interview here, you will hear her talking about the need to convey the sense of how huge the hospital was. The quartermaster’s store, seen here, was crammed with all manner of both military and hospital props, giving the impression of a large busy location. The beds were period hospital beds, very simple and stark, and very much in keeping with the wartime setting.
It took an entire week to stock the pharmacy on the set.
The Crimson Field is typical of the type of production we supply props for. We work closely with production designers, and can supply all the props you can see in the photos above. Look at our army, and medical categories and you will find period WWI props such as those used on The Crimson Field set.
At The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, the responsibility for running and managing the props department falls on the shoulders of Antony Barnett, who recently discussed his work with The Gramophone Magazine. Barnett’s responsibilities are wide reaching and include budgeting, costing and ensuring productions run to schedule. He studied theatre design at West Sussex College of Design in Worthing and cut his teeth in the commercial world of prop making as a freelance prop maker at Glyndebourne during his student days. This was followed by a permanent position at Glyndebourne and further roles at venues such as Theatr Clwyd in Wales. He joined The Royal Opera House in the 1980s.
Day-To-Day Prop Making
With a core of around a dozen members, which can double in size when working on prop-heavy productions, the ROH props department is always busy, serving both The Royal Opera itself, and The Royal Ballet. The demands on the department are constantly changing as both companies have completely different artistic needs. This variety is what keeps the job exciting for Anthony Barnett, makes the Royal Opera House, “a really good place to do our job in.”
The process of prop making remains a passion, and he still spends about 60% of his time making props, with the balance set aside for the management of the department itself. “I think it would be very difficult to run the department not knowing how to do things. I couldn’t possibly measure what people would need if I didn’t know how to do it in the first place,” he comments.
Six-Foot High Nodding Dogs
The highly imaginative worlds of opera and ballet mean that the ROH props department is often called upon to produce extravagant, eye-catching creations. One of their recent productions was Anna Nicole, Richard Thomas’s musical about the tragic life of the Playboy model. This required the creation of six-foot high nodding dogs, and an entire set full of giant ceramic animals, which presented quite a challenge.
Image copyright Alistair Muir.
Barnett feels that the best props are those that are visually arresting and that respect the Director’s wishes without dominating proceedings. They are there to assist the production, not to be the production itself. It‘s a difficult balance to get right. Some props remain specific to their production; they cannot be swapped between shows, which is partly why props become such highly valued commodities. After each ROH production the props are carefully stored away, ready for reuse in the next revival. More recently, however, with the tightening of budgets in all areas of the creative industry, props managers try to work in collaboration with other companies to share the props they make. Barnett realised that it makes sound economic sense to work in this way, and budgeting is never far from a Props Department Manager’s mind. His department recently produced props for a Royal Ballet production of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, in collaboration with The National Ballet of Canada.
According to Barnett, what makes a good opera prop is: ‘having a good prop maker to make it.’ Without his team of highly professional prop makers, The Royal Opera House productions would not enjoy the world-famous reputation that they have now. He has created a vibrant, creative department that is the envy of every opera house in the world.
Make time for a tour of the Bob and Tamar Manoukian Production Workshop, where the set designers make scenery for ROH productions.
Or why not have a backstage tour of the Royal Opera House itself?
You can watch a video of the Props department at work here.
You can see a gallery of images and props from the Anna Nicole production here.
There is a gallery of images of props that the department made for Falstaff and Les Troyens here.
More period drama news from the BBC this week. Controller Charlotte Moore and drama controller Ben Stephenson, have just commissioned new productions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Cider With Rosie, The Go-Between and An Inspector Calls. Filming is already underway. All are set in the early 20th Century, and will have props masters sourcing set dressings from specialist props suppliers such as Stockyard Props. We are particularly strong on supplying period props to the TV and film industries, and work closely with props departments from all over the country. The latest BBC period drama, Jamaica Inn has been in trouble this week, but it is worth focusing on the production.
Sadly, the sound levels and diction in Jamaica Inn have been in the headlines this week, which is a great pity. The sheer hard work that goes into bringing a production of this scale to the small screen has been overshadowed either by problems with sound, or problems with diction, depending on who you believe. However, let’s look at some of the set dressing used in production and consider how the design team set the scene. The basic plot follows the struggles of young Mary Yelland, who moves in to the forbidding Jamaica Inn with her Aunt Patience, after the loss of her mother. She witnesses the innkeeper Joss, and his son Jem, run a ship aground and kill the shipwrecked sailors as they reach shore, in order to steal the ship’s cargo.
Location & Set Dressing
Daphne Du Maurier’s novel is set in the 1820s, and a strong rural period feel was needed. Bodmin Moor was used for the Inn scenes, and the scene dressing was generic early 20th century. The inn itself was a dark and forbidding set, with the stark interiors dressed with heavy, crudely made wooden furniture. The poverty of the living conditions at Jamaica Inn came across extremely powerfully. The sheer dirt and grime of the set conveyed this well. The sense of poverty and desperation was very important, as it provided the motivation for the murders that followed.
The other main setting for the action is the quaint Cornish town of Launceston. The producers felt that using Launceton itself as a location would present too many problems, as the town had become too modernised in their view. They chose to shoot the town scenes in Kirkby Lonsdale in Cumbria instead. Shooting in Kirkby Lonsdale was a huge undertaking, with period details and props filling the market square.
On location – Jamaica Inn in production. Images copyright Paul Cousans/ZenPix Ltd.
The aim was to recreate a 19th century horse traders town. Market stalls, carts, food and drink containers, barrels, sacks, saddles, horse tack and baskets created an authentic feel. The interior of the inn in the market square is dark and wood-panelled. The furniture is less crude than that in Jamaica Inn, but the pewter beer tankards are the same. Jamaica Inn itself was a far more basic hostelry.
Prison scenes in Episode Three required heavy iron doors, chains and iron handcuffs, and the dark interior of the prison was lit with torches. The scenes set on the beach where the ship had been run aground required a large number of maritime props and ships’ dressing. Aside from pieces of ships wreckage, there was the cargo – rum barrels, crates and trunks. In one scene Mary helps drag the cargo to shore by means of a huge ship’s rope. As you can see, Stockyard Props can supply a majority of the props seen in this production.
For clips from the making of Jamaica Inn, see the BBC website Jamaica Inn webpage.
If the 1950s were heavily influenced by America, then the 1960s could best be described as the decade of Swinging London. London became the centre of the fashion, design and cultural world. Towards the end of the 60s the hippies gave the world flower power, free love and some great music. Timothy Leary encouraged us to ‘tune in, turn on and drop out’, and they say that if you can remember the Sixties you weren’t really there. But let’s turn back the clock and look at the designs, colours and items you will need if you are dressing a sixties themed set.
In With The Old
Every generation needs to rebel, which was why the 50s saw a rejection of the old ways and the embrace of the new and modern. In order for the 60s generation to rebel they needed to turn the tide back again. Sixties style is hard to categorise, since it drew on designs from other eras. 1920s, Victorian, art nouveau – all were given a new groovy twist. Subversion was in, stuffiness out.
One of the most famous artists at this time was Andy Warhol, whose pop art paintings made reference to mass consumption, and the cult of celebrity. Warhol and David Hockney dominated the art world, and influenced interior, textile and wallpaper designers. Briget Riley’s black and white art became extremely popular. The emphasis was on wit, subversion, and counter-culture, with twists of the space age, Far East and art nouveau. Confused? Everyone was. But the mixture of whacky colours and shaped was never meant to be coherent. That was too square. Indian textiles sat alongside Camden Market cast offs and one psychedelic whole was created. Somehow. Sixties style is about putting eclectic items together in a relaxed and stylish way, to create a mood.
Sixties Design Giants
When considering classic Sixties designers, look out for names such as Terence Conran, who opened Habitat in the mid sixties; Giancarlo Piretti, who designed furniture; Piero Formascetti, ceramics designer; and Verner Panton who created iconic 60s sculptures out of plastic.
Get The Look
There are several design elements you must keep in mind when designing a sixties set:
Pine was huge in the 60s. Pine tongue and groove cladding was used extensively to cover walls and ceilings. Tables and chairs, bookcases, bedside tables, cots, bathroom cabinets, sideboards – just about every piece of furniture was made of pine at some point.
Thick pile rugs, Indian rugs and animal skins were a must.
Whilst cheap pine furniture was ubiquitous, cane, wicker and bamboo also came into vogue. Wicker chairs and lampshades were extremely trendy. Blow up furniture made a brief appearance and is a good way to add a large fun sixties signifier to a set. Transparent furniture was popular, particularly glass tables and see through plastic chairs. Beanbags were fashionable, as were bamboo bead curtains. They are both very effective 60s signifiers.
Think Bedouin tent. Drape Indian fabrics and saris from the ceiling, and decorate with deep rich colours. Indian bedspreads, huge cushions, incense and a Tiffany or Lava lamp make a good basis for a hippy bedroom. It was also the trend at one time to drape a scarf over a lamp to diffuse the light give an intimate hippy mood. Candles also became a fashion accessory in the sixties. The bedroom space was very much a self-consciously designed recreational space.
Wallpaper and Textiles
Colours should be vibrant, and clashing. Reds with pinks, purple and green, orange and cerise pink. Black and white designs were popular too. Vinyl wallpaper was all the rage, with repeating patterns, paisley and swirly designs. For textiles, think brown and orange or purple and green Indian throws and shawls. Psychedelic and mixed bright colours were popular in clothing fabrics. High-end design saw Mary Quant and Christian Dior move into the interior design market too. A poster of Warhol or other modern artist, is a very quick shorthand way of indicating the era.
Reproduction Tiffany lamps, lava lamps, wicker lampshades and Chinese lantern paper lampshades will all denote a sixties interior.
Terence Conran at The Design Museum
Bridget Riley at The Tate
Following the devastation of the Second World War, Britain in the 1950s saw a period of rapid change and regeneration. It is known as the age of the consumer, when the old was replaced with the new. A sense of vitality and optimism was reflected in design, with new, stylish consumer goods becoming widely available for the first time. The Festival of Britain in 1951 celebrated the redevelopment of the country, and a shedding of ‘old fashioned’ design ideas. Colours became bolder, and designs became more abstract. Sofa beds, trolleys, and ironing boards were all invented in the fifties, designed to fit well with newer, smaller post-war houses. Things stacked, folded away, opened out. Living spaces became more open plan, and designs more abstract.
Creating a Fifties Feel
There are several key design elements to bear in mind when constructing a 50s setting. Fitted kitchens appeared for the first time. Primary colours were used. New, versatile materials were invented, such as PVC, melamine, fibreglass, vinyl, Formica and plastics. These new materials gave designers far more scope and, combined with the use of traditional materials such as rubber and chrome, made the 50s a golden age for adventurous design. Modernism was influencing every walk of life, from painting and literature to design and architecture.
Fifties Design Giants
Famous designers in the fifties are worth researching if you want to learn more about how to achieve a fifties look. Husband and wife Charles and Ray Eames were the most famous design team of the decade, producing leather, plywood and plastic furniture, with clean lines and a distinctive look. The ‘Eames Chair’ is a design classic. Look also at Robin Day and Arne Jacobsen’s furniture, and Lucienne Day’s fabric designs. The Design Museum has a great library of images of chairs from the fifties, which is useful for your. Other great resources are the design collection at Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MoDA), which is affiliated to Middlesex University. Their collection of 1950s looks and designs is a superb resource.
Get the Look
When building a set, bear the following elements in mind:
This was common, in order to maximise available space in small post-war spaces. Rooms were ‘knocked through’ and mezzanine levels were in vogue.
Black and White chequerboard vinyl floors – these were the dominant trend in kitchens. Fitted kitchens with Formica tables and work surfaces. Kitchens took the American influenced large fridge to heart, so this is an iconic feature to include. Appliances feature heavily in a 50s kitchen, so chose large chrome blenders, mixers and toasters. Tupperware was also invented in the 50s, so make sure you have some on set.
These can be diner style, for a US twist, finished in chrome and vinyl. Eames chairs are a natural choice – and there are some good modern imitations of these available now. Plastic basket-weave chairs were popular too, often in bright primary colours.
Bright primary colours were an antidote to years of wartime auterity, so you can use these with confidence. Lime green was a newcomer to the designers’ pallets. The American Diner influence also saw softer colours in use – bubble-gum pink, soft blue and pistachio.
Abstract patterns, with ‘science-inspired imagery such as calyxes, starbursts, atoms’, showed the entry of new science into the public consciousness. Other design motifs were candy stripes and polka dots, in pink, blue, and yellow. Animal prints began to appear too, with leopard spots and zebra stripes popular on rugs, and cushions. Use these sparingly however.
These are just a few design ideas to get you started. Check out some of our links for more style ideas.
Lucienne Day’s fabrics at the V&A
Robin Day’s furniture at the V&A
Arne Jacobsen at the V&A
Charles and Ray Eames at the V&A
Visit Ed’s Easy Diner on the Kings Road for some fantastic authentic 50s diner design ideas.
Everybody loves the movies and for many years now there has been a thriving and extremely valuable market for film related memorabilia and franchised products. For some people though, such items are just not enough. Their quarry is items that have actually appeared in their favourite films and they are prepared to go to great expense to get them. A thriving black market in film props exists to feed these collectors demands.
In May 2013, for example, props used in the films The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Lord of the Rings were stolen from a storage facility in New York State. The items included two swords valued at an estimated $150,000 each and other items bringing the total estimated value of the haul to $500,000.
With the advent of online auction sites moving stolen props on has become relatively easy, although it is not a failsafe route. Recently, police in the UK were called in to investigate the theft of props from the Harry Potter movies after items – including a wizard’s hat and three gold coins – were taken from the set of the film and appeared for sale on the web.
Prop theft isn’t a new phenomenon, however. Over the years some iconic film items have been ‘liberated’ in suspicious circumstances. Here are three of the most celebrated examples of prop theft.
Dorothy’s Red Slippers
It is thought that six or seven pairs of Dorothy’s ruby red slippers were made for the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. The whereabouts of four pairs, including one in the Smithsonian is known, but what of the others? One pair was actually stolen from The Judy Garland Museum in Minnesota, one night in August 2005. Following a tip-off, the police raided a house in Illinois expecting to find the shoes – allegedly displayed openly in a glass case. They were out of luck. The slippers remain at large and the case open…
Easy Rider Choppers
When thieves stole three custom motorcycles from storage they may not have realised what they had hit upon. Four bikes were built for the film Easy Rider – two of each of the iconic machines ridden by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper; one version of the Captain America chopper ridden by Fonda was destroyed during filming, and it was the remaining three that were stolen. At the time of the theft, the film had not been completed and the bikes were not yet famous. The thieves left the damaged Captain America bike, which was later restored, and now resides at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa.
Even Bond is not safe from the bad guys… For the 1974 film The Man with the Golden Gun, James Bond pits his wits against expert assassin Scaramanga. Charging $1 million per hit, the villain can afford some fancy hardware and uses a solid gold gun that can be disassembled and disguised as everyday items like a cigarette case, a lighter, a pen, and a cuff link. Three prop versions of the gun were made —one that could be taken apart, another that couldn’t and a third that could fire a blank round. One of the guns went missing from its display case at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, England in October 2008. The prop has an estimated value of £80,000 ($117,000) on the collector’s black market but has not yet been traced and the police remain without any leads to follow.
Art is not a mirror with which to reflect reality but a hammer with which to shape it.’
Today we look at a production of Bertold Brecht’s Mother Courage And Her Children, which was performed at the National Theatre in 2009. The story is broadly a cautionary tale for those who try to profit during wartime. It is a presented considerable challenges to the prop and set designers. In the play, Anna Fierling – ‘Mother Courage’ – loses all three of her children as she makes a killing from the war. It is interesting to look at the design choices the director made, and consider ways in which you can apply the same approach to your own productions.
In the National Theatre’s production, the designers were asked to create a ‘credit crunch’ set to save money, so they employed the Brechtian notions of ‘alienation’ and ‘epic theatre’. Brecht’s intention was to bring about a critical frame of mind in the audience by not allowing them an empathetic involvement with the actors or stage – to speak to the mind, rather than the heart. A Brechtian staging also draws the audience’s attention to the fact that what they are watching is a play. The ‘artifice’ of the event was highlighted in this production with stagehands and technicians moving around openly on the stage. The set designers used a pure white backdrop, and projected onto it a series of ‘Post It’ notes, telling the audience where and when each scene was set. They made use of video projection, light and sound in place of set dressing. It is quite simple to project images and video onto a white backdrop. Is this something you could adapt for your own tight-budget production?
VIDEO: Director Debora Warner discusses her design plan for the production here.
‘The Art of the Cart’
With the design principle established, the props department and set designer worked to make one central prop the focus of all the action. Debora Warner chose to make the cart that Mother Courage trades from the focus of the action. The cart goes through a journey in its appearance, as the story unfolds. At the beginning of the play we see a simple cart, but as the action progresses the prop is altered. The props designers increased the height of the cart as Mother Courage’s luck and wealth increases. She ends up sitting on top of an outsized vehicle, packed to the roof with possessions. Later, as her fortunes fade, and her children die, she is left destitute, and the cart is gradually stripped of its dressings. The final scene sees the cart appearing almost ‘skeletal’, with the sheeting sides in tatters, and Mother Courage herself hitched up to drag it along.
VIDEO: Designers discuss the development of the cart design here.
Your Ideas, Our Expertise
The idea of using one major prop in a production and adapting it to reflect the story is a provocative one for prop designers. Come and explore our props to see if there is one large prop that could become the centrepiece for the action in your own ‘credit crunch’ or tight budget production. Is there a way you could modify that item to reflect the action on stage, or to mirror the story? We are happy to discuss design ideas with customers, and can modify and customise props to your requirements. We even have a selection of carts for you to consider if you want to stage your own production of Mother Courage!
Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, and as a style it is becoming more visible in theatre and movie productions in recent years. Think Mad Max meets Jules Verne, HG Wells and Mary Shelley. 19th-century scientific fiction is a heavy influence, and the style is typified by heavy industrial, steam-powered machinery, scientific discovery, and elements of the fantastic. It is something of a hybrid, fusing fantasy, horror, and historical fiction into one rather glorious new genre. Here we look at some of the props you need to stage dress for a Steampunk-influenced performance. Think anachronistic technology, retro-futuristic with a big dash of style.
Steam Punk Props
Clockwork and steam powered machinery are both signifiers of steam punk styling. Large cogs, clock parts, pipes, tubes, switches and gauges will all come in useful. We were fortunate enough to be able to buy a great deal of the movie set for Hugo (2011) post production, and the retro feel of those film props are one of the most popular with those looking to dress a Steampunk set. You can see the type of machinery and the style of props here. The huge cogs, which you can see here in a scene from the movie, are perfect large items to make a backdrop for your production. Other useful items can be found in the ‘pipes and ducting’ category, with large brass piping assemblies on offer, some of which include giant wheels to turn steam on and off. These are a great way to add a dramatic emphasis to events on stage.
We have sci-fi props, Victorian luggage boxes, laboratory dressing, and wheeled vehicles that can be mixed and matched to make your scene hang together. The joy of this emerging style is that there are very few rules, just a general feel, and creativity and innovation are always essential when putting together a set. To see just a few of the cogs and machinery props we have available, check out this page on our website.
There are three main settings that are associated with Steampunk. They are Victorian, American West, and Post-apocalyptic. You can adapt many plays or musicals to become Steampunk influenced productions. Although there may seem to be slightly dark undertones to the look, humour and creativity are also very much to the fore. It’s not deeply dark, just unusual and perhaps slightly unsettling. You can create a sense of wonder and curiosity with your set, as audience who are new to the style are always intrigued by it. The machinery creates a sense of action in potentia and heightens audience expectation as a result.
Think Victoriana here, then add some goggles, which seem to be a ubiquitous costume item for some reason. Try and picture Victorian dress with futuristic flourishes, or Mad Max post-apocalyptic fused with the reason, measure and brutality of the emerging industrial age. Women wear corsets, and men wear boots; helmets and hunting hats, veils and mechanical prosthetics all get a look in. It is no wonder that creative designers love the style. Let your imagination get to work. You can see some classic Steampunk costumes ideas here.
Dr Rumack: You’d better tell the Captain we’ve got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.
Elaine Dickinson: A hospital? What is it?
Dr Rumack: It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.
One of the best-loved comedy movies ever made was Airplane! Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty and Leslie Neilsen broke new ground with the first Airplane movie in 1980 and, in 2000, the American Film Institute voted it 10th Funniest Film of all time. It was a brilliant parody of plane disaster movies such as Zero Hour (1957) and Airport (1970). Writers Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker scripted a film classic that influenced many others comedies that followed. It went on to make $83m on its first release, with a budget of just $3.5m. Spin offs included the Naked Gun movies and Police Squad TV series. If you want to film a scene in a similar setting, here is a guide to the airplane props that we stock. We are confident we can stock any of the props you see in the Airplane! movie.
The Airport Scenes
The airport scenes in Airplane! were shot on location at Los Angeles International Airport. If you need to set up an airport scene for TV or film, you will find the cost of hiring part of a working airport to be prohibitive. It is cheaper to film the scene in the studio, and we stock a huge selection of airport furniture, accessories and signs to help you dress the production – everything you would need to set up an authentic airport terminal, in fact. Our items include Airport Check-in desks, Passport control, luggage conveyor belts, walk through scanners, rope barriers, luggage scales, trolleys, turnstiles, hundreds of signs and rows of airport seating.
The Aeroplane Scenes
The action in Airplane! takes place on board a Boeing 707, and was filmed on a set built at Universal Studios in California. Scenes take place in all areas of the plane, from the cockpit to the airhostess meal preparation areas. We have an entire plane interior available for hire and a multitude of items you will need to film a scene set inside a plane cabin. These items include a First Class plane section, window seat sections, seating rows, Economy and business class plane sections, lighted roof panels, galley section, hostess area, plane toilet cubical, food trolleys, aircraft main doors, emergency exit doors and cockpit doors; We also have a huge selection of switch gear to help you kit out a cockpit – just show us the design you are looking for and we can find switch gear to fit.
Look at our Aeroplane Interior section for the full range of props we have available.
You will need other sundry items for your production – the cast of Airplane needed a guitar for the singing nun, and a drip for the girl she was singing to, if you recall. We can provide you with almost any prop you need, from luggage to vending machines, telephones to waste bins. Have a good look around, either in person, or online and see what we’ve got.
Props can be dangerous. Never underestimate the care needed when moving and preparing props for your productions. Here are some unfortunate accidents that have happened on movie sets, involving props and scenery.
The Jumper (2008)
Sci-Fi thriller The Jumper, starring Samuel L Jackson, ended in tragedy due to a freak accident. On the 25th January, the set was being packed away ahead of a move to Tokyo, where filming was to resume. The outdoor set was frozen and the weather atrocious. A chunk of sand and gravel fell from one of the outside walls of the set, striking and instantly killing 56-year-old David Richie. Another team member was also injured and spent a night in hospital.
The Crow (1994)
Bruce Lee’s son Brandon Lee was killed on the set of The Crow in 1993. The prop that caused his death was a .44 Magnum. The arms master, who is in charge of all firearms on a movie set, was away from the set that day, and due to confusion about blank rounds and modified live rounds, a bullet ended up in the chamber of the gun. When the gun was fired, Lee pressed a button to release the blood pack needed for the scene, and it was not until a full minute into filming that the crew realised Lee was not acting, but mortally wounded. This horrific accident was the worst in a long series of nasty incidents and injuries, which led to it being known as a cursed production.
City Heat (1984)
A serious error with a prop caused long-term health problems for Burt Reynolds, following a fight scene in City Heat. During the opening scene, Reynolds was hit with a chair, which should have been the balsa wood prop provided. In fact, due a misunderstanding, a wrought iron chair was used instead, causing a broken jaw. Doctors struggled to get him through the production and he lost a great deal of weight due to a prescribed liquid diet. His weight loss is evident in his next film Stick (1985). He remained in pain for many years, and some trace his addiction to painkillers right back to this accident.
Known as ‘the most dangerous movie scenes ever shot’, the chariot race in this 1925 classic led to the death of a charioteer and 100 horses. A wheel on one of the chariots disintegrated during shooting, coming off the vehicle. The stuntman driving it was thrown into the air and died from his injuries. You can see the accident in the film if you look closely. After the death of another cast member, the rules on film set safety were changed, to avoid further tragedy.
Cover Up (1984)
On 12th October 1984, another accident with a gun led to the death of Jon-Erik Hexum, the star of the show. The prop was a .44 Magnum, and Hexum was playing around with it on set. He put it to his temple saying he was going to ‘end it all’, as a joke. When he pulled the trigger, part of the blank cartridge entered his skull and he collapsed. His injuries were catastrophic, and a week later he was removed from the life support machine that had been keeping his alive. He was 26 years old.
The sea has provided filmmakers with a wealth of inspiration. Let’s look at two blockbuster movies that have captured the public’s imagination, and consider the ways in which Stockyard Props can help you dress a nautical film, play or TV set. We have a huge array of props to help you achieve the look you want, from a steamer like the Titanic (2009), to an old whaling ship like the one in Moby Dick (1956).
The Titanic (2009)
Stockyard Props were able to get hold of a collection of set items from the film Battleship, released in 2012. Many of the items we secured are ideal for ship dressing from any modern era. In the film Titanic, the set was one of the biggest ever built. It was virtually to scale, and required 40 acres of waterfront to house its construction. Because it was being built from scratch, all the props needed were meticulously reproduced or sourced from original documents. The director James Cameron even hired production historians to ensure accuracy.
“The rooms, the carpeting, design and colours, individual pieces of furniture, decorations, chairs, wall panelling, cutlery and crockery with the White Star Line crest on each piece, completed ceilings, and costumes were among the designs true to the originals”
This attention to detail is now standard in all Hollywood and TV productions, and it can prove to be a headache for a props department. Luckily, we have an extensive collection of ad hoc period props that can help dress scenes, from entire period dining settings, to lighting, curtains, switch gear and doorways. We have interior steel ships doors, and porthole windows, which you can see the sea flooding through in Titanic. We have railing sections, just like the ones Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio leaned on. We can’t promise to supply a horizon tank holding 17 million gallons of water, such as that used in the Titanic, but we are sure we stock pretty much everything else you might need for your production.
Moby Dick (1956)
Who can forget Gregory Peck and Orson Welles in Moby Dick? Filmed in the Irish Sea off Strumble Head in Pembrokeshire, it gave rise to perhaps the best prop disaster story of all time. The huge rubber whale used in the film was 75-foot long, and weighed 12 tons. It was manufactured by Dunlop in Stoke on Trent, under a blanket of secrecy. Unfortunately, during filming, the beast decided to make a break for the open seas, with Gregory Peck clinging on to its back. It was buoyed up with 80 drums of compressed air and somehow the towrope detached from the boat that was pulling it; Peck was rescued, but the whale is still out there somewhere. It was never recovered.
Again, we don’t have a 75-foot rubber whale in stock, but everything else you would need to stage a period ship dressing we can supply. We have large quantities of rope, ships lanterns, chains, anchors, mock harpoons, floats, buoys, pulleys, ships’ wheels, sailcloth, ladders, baskets, triple-iron hooks, barrels, bottles, lobster pots, fishing nets, canons, and rigging. Whether you want to dress a simple fishing boat, or a larger film or tv production, we can help you. Have a look at our Ships Dressing section to see a small selection of what we have on offer.
How many films or dramas can you think of that are set on trains? We came up with twelve, but there must be many more. Here we look at some train-based dramas, which required period and modern dressings.
Murder On The Orient Express (1974)
Trains featured in films include Dr Zhivago, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, and The Lady Vanishes. But perhaps the most train-centred film of them all is Murder on the Orient Express. The 1974 Sidney Lumet production is perhaps the most famous, due to its stellar cast, who played their parts to perfection.
The action takes place almost entirely on board a train. The set designers needed entire train carriages in which to film, and several individual cabins and corridor sets. The period setting required the doors and panelling to be heavyweight wooden constructions. Sliding doors and opening doors are glazed and helped to emphasise the action in various parts of the story. Events and characters glimpsed through a window are a common movie device. Exterior shooting for the film was moved to France, but many on board scenes were shot in the studio. Sidney Lumet talks about the production here, and in this short interview you can see some great close up shots of the interior of the carriages. One feature of the Orient Express film is the beautiful period detail, both in the costumes and props. The mealtime scenes were particularly elaborate, with china dishes, crystal glasses and silver cutlery. These emphasised the opulence of the train itself, and the status of the characters on board. Lighting was almost certainly copied from the original Orient Express carriages.
Want to stage a period train drama?
We can supply original train carriage interiors, period lighting, fixtures, fittings, dining sets, glasses, cutlery, table dressings, bar dressings, and period signs. We also have sections of train corridors, sliding doors and upholstered train seats, as well as ticket office dressing, porters carts and period luggage for train station dressing. An entirely wooden train carriage interior is available too.
Modern Train Drama
There are many modern productions set on trains, and TV companies make good use of our stock when shooting. Recently, The 7.49 TV drama, starring Olivia Coleman and Sheridan Smith, used the train setting to confine two characters, who are thrown together on their daily commute. This was an interesting alternative to the most common type of train drama – action or crime. Trains lend themselves well to action drama, with the speed of the train and the rigidity of the train timetable adding urgency to the action. It is easy to see how the ‘jumping from a speeding train’ scenes became so popular. One of the more recent train TV dramas was The Great Train Robbery, filmed in Yorkshire. The re-enactment of the robbery was moved here due to a lack of suitable intact older train stations in the South. Period accurate detail is incredibly important, even in relatively modern settings, such as this, which only dates back to 1963. You can see interviews with the director and cast, location photos and a clip from the two-part series on the BBC website here.
Want to stage a modern train drama?
We can supply modern train doors, seating and carriage interiors, including tube train doors and seating. We have both internal and external train doors, and rows of seats, luggage racks and luggage props for hire. For all our train dressing supplies, see the Train Props category of our website.
Here at Stockyard we get lots of enquiries from students who want to know what is the best route in to the props business. We thought it might be useful to post our advice for school leavers and others thinking about joining the industry.
What does working with props involve?
Those in the props business may be asked to create or source almost anything needed for a theatre, television or film production. This could be something as simple finding 1950’s drinks cabinets, to recreating the entire interior of a wartime submarine. Whether you are sourcing or making props you need ingenuity, imagination, creativity and great attention to detail.
Can I study prop making?
As a prop maker you may need practical skills such as carpentry, casting, welding, sewing, painting, and computer design skills. In most cases, your success in the industry comes down to your artistic and practical skills more than academic qualifications. But many entrants to the profession are art students. Others may take the following exams to help them get a trainee position:
Other trainees have come to the profession via degree subjects such as 3D design, Fine Art, computer aided graphics, and model making. Talk through the options with your school careers advisor.
What is a typical day for a props maker?
You may be asked to attend meetings to discuss production requirements; you may need to create props from rough ideas on paper, and see the process through to the final product; you may need to do research into the history of a period, to ensure period accuracy; working with tools is a large part of props building – so you may need to weld, paint, use carpentry tools or latex for moulding; you may need to adapt existing items, by distressing them, or applying other effects; you may need to source props from props hiring agencies, or online, working with a strict budget.
How do I start in the industry?
Start building your skills early. Volunteer to work in school productions or local amateur dramatics productions, working behind the scenes to hone your practical skills. Keep photos and sketches of everything you produce, so that you build up a good portfolio of your work. When you have finished at school or university you can apply for a job as a props trainee. But competition is fierce, and salaries can be low. It’s a great profession to be in, however, and there is nothing better than seeing your work on stage or set.
Come and look around our warehouse to get an idea of the props you may one day be asked to make or hire.
“Can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?”
These lines from the Prologue in Shakespeare’s Henry V, encapsulate the challenges faced by set designers and props departments when staging a Shakespeare play. Shakespeare’s scenes can be vast, from the field of Agincourt, to blasted heath in King Lear. How can props and sets help to portray scenes such as these?
Shakespeare’s productions at The Globe were minimalist affairs. They called upon the imaginations of their audiences through necessity, and were no less powerful because of it. That tradition continues in modern day productions at the current Globe. But if you wish to suggest a major change of location, consider using a backdrop in your production. We have a wide number of woodland landscapes, which would suit A Midsummer Night’s Dream and rural landscapes, which could provide a wider vista for battles or heathland. Skilful use of lighting will transform these backdrops from day to night, more intimate – such as the witch’s scene in Macbeth – to the climactic, such as the battle scenes in Henry V.
Shakespeare’s Globe had a modest props department, mainly housed in the Tiring House, just behind the stage. One inventory suggests they owned just the following items: goblets and plates, candles and torches, writing materials, chairs and stools, wine or ale bottles, whips, baskets, skulls, a throne or large chair, furs, banners and flags, armour, swords, fake jewellery, crowns, maps, armour, tools, trumpets, flowers, caskets and boxes. Heavy items, such as large tables, would be left on the stage throughout the production, and maybe just moved to the side of the stage to free up the acting space. All the props where keep in order by the ‘prop man’.
Since there were so few props in Shakespearean plays, directors relied heavily on the use of costume to add emphasis to the action – for example class and the actors’ state of mind. The contrast between Lear at the beginning of the play, and his dishevelled appearance on the heath is a good example of costume adding emphasis to the action in the script.
Of course, the joy of Shakespeare is that you can set his plays in whatever era you wish. You may want to bring your production right up to date and set it during the 20’s, during WWII, or in a modern urban landscape. We have plenty of props and backdrops for whatever period in which you wish to set your Shakespeare production.
Visit the Globe Theatre Exhibition to see examples of craftsmanship in maintaining and producing props and costume. The props business has a very long pedigree.
Ever wondered what happens to famous movie props? The answer, not surprisingly, is that they’re sold off, often for eye-wateringly high sums. Here are the five most expensive movie props ever sold.
James Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger – £2.5 million
With a top speed of 145 mph, this is just the car for a stylish Secret Agent to evade capture. The star of the 1964 Bond movie Goldfinger, the iconic DB5 was modified by Aston Martin to include machine guns, rotating number plates and an ejector seat. Sold by RM Auctions, it became the most expensive prop in film history.
Steve McQueen’s 1970 Porsche 911S – £824,521
In 1971, Steve McQueen introduced this stunning vehicle to the world in the blockbuster Le Mans. Again, it was RM Auctions who brought the gavel down on the slate grey racer, which was fitted with previously unseen car accessories. Car interiors were basic back in the 1970’s, but McQueen’s Porsche was fitted with and electronic sunroof, air conditioning, and a Blaupunkt radio and tinted windows, all of which were considered cutting edge at that time.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Car – £495,415
According to Dick Van Dyke, it had the turning circle of a tanker but this didn’t stop Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fetching nearly half a million pounds at auction last year. The ‘Gen 11’, as it was known, was designed by Ken Adams, and ended up with a private collector, who must have felt he’d got a bargain: the car fell well below the estimated $1-2 million dollars expected. There were six Gen 11s made in total, and all are now in the hands of private collectors, one of whom is the DJ Chris Evans, who bought it in 2012 from the lucky bidder..
Audrey Hepburn Black Dress – £467,200
Christies sold Audrey Hepburn’s delightful black dress, back in 2006. Hepburn’s good friend Givenchy made the for the 1961 movie Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Two dresses were made, and one is in currently on display in the Museum of Film in Madrid. A school was built in Calcutta with the proceeds of the sale. The auctioneers had estimated the dress would make between £50-70,000, so they must have been delighted with their commission.
Luke Skywalker Light Saber – £145,850
The public’s passion for Star Wars remains undimmed, and the light sabre wielded by Luke in Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back caused huge excitement when it came up for auction back in 2008. With productions as huge as the Star War series, there are countless movie props on the market at any one time, but Luke’s light sabre is the most sought-after, and the most expensive.
One of the most common requests we get here at Stockyard is for street scene dressing. We have hundreds of props available to help you dress your set. Both modern and period street scenes require the same key things – authenticity and detail. Let’s look at some of the items we have to help you create an authentic period street scene.
If you are creating a market square scene, you need a lot of props. We supply market stalls, and all the dressing you will need to create a sense of authenticity. Look at this scene from Oliver!, the 1968 musical film. All the streets in the film were created from scratch at the Shepperton Studios in Greater London. Perhaps drawing on early pictures, such as those by engraver Gustav Doré, the set designers managed to create scenes so believable that many find it hard to believe that the musical was not set on location in London.
Create the Look
To build an early London street scene, you may wish to start of with a period backdrop. We can supply a wide range of these, including housing in period brickwork, Fleet Street, and wide Georgian streets. The set designers used Victorian street signs, flags and lampposts to set the scene. Props for the performers included baskets, bales, street vendor trays, market stalls, small animal cages, fake fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. Dressing market stalls and carts is a simple task with the use of stacks of baskets , barrels, crates, rope and cotton bales. All of these items are available in quantity – just follow the links to see what we have.
The cobbled streets are and integral part of the atmosphere of the scenes in Oliver, and it is simple create a similar look with cobbled street matting. York stone pavements are also available. Street furniture such as iron railings, gates, period doorways, period shop frontages and windows all add to the authenticity of your scene. Never forget the power of the period sign – it really adds atmosphere, because it is so very different to modern street signage. Many people are unaware of which items really denote a period scene – street signage is one of the most powerful tools in a set designer’s box, since it can pinpoints a decade precisely.
Get your street scene set up quickly by sourcing everything from one prop supplier. It is much easier to have a ‘one stop’ warehouse to hire from if you want to see how props look next to each other. It really helps you establish the look you want.
Film, TV and theatre productions often call for specialist items to dress a wartime scene. Find out which items we have to help you dress your performance space.
Bear in mind that dressing a scene for a WWII wartime production is not just about military equipment. This is particularly true of TV and film productions, where there is far more close-up work, so small details count towards creating period accuracy. You may need to find, or make, a contemporary newspaper, for example. Wartime era street signs and advertisements on billboards will add to the portrayal of the period as much as the military props.
On The Battlefield
If you need battlefield authenticity, then we have an unrivalled collection of props for you to consider. Amongst our props are large army tents, ammunition boxes, jerry cans, camo nets, barbed wire, maps, kitchen and aluminium food serving props, army washroom facilities, dummy shells and munitions, bomb disposal props, gas masks, khaki army bags from WWII, fake and real sandbags, field radios, stretchers, oiled khaki tarpaulins, wind up field telephones and a host of other items you might need.
US Army Productions
Just a few items can set your scene. Think of the army jeeps and helicopters in the opening credits to M*A*S*H. Watch the clip, and notice their use of props. We immediately know we are watching the US Army drama from the vehicles and the symbol on the US military helicopter. The huge red crosses on the khaki tents are all we need to tell us this was a military hospital. Very little else, prop-wise, was needed to tell us this was a US Army military hospital in this opening scene. The props department had sourced original 1953 military M38 and WWII Ford GPWs jeeps, so it was clear this was a ‘period’ production. With just a few key items the scene is set. This is what we mean when we talk about ‘key signifiers’ in production setting. It can be as simple as one item that just perfectly encapsulates an era and sends a powerful message about context and mood.
Minimalist War Time Sets
If you want a minimalist set, you will need to bear these key signifiers in mind. For example, if you were setting a Shakespeare play in WWI, what five props would you choose to signify a military context? If the action is located in a military hospital, which five items would you select to set the scene? ‘Pick five items’ is a useful exercise, whatever props you need to source, particularly if you are on a tight budget.
The nation is obsessed with Downton Abbey, with the 5th series now in production. Undoubtedly, part of the delight of the drama is the meticulous attention to detail with which each scene is set. Downton shows period detailing at its best. Here are some of the props that the art department used to give such stunning results.
We often overlook the role of paper goods when thinking about historical authenticity. Before the days of electronic communication, photocopiers and emails, everything had to be hand-written, which led to a great proliferation of printed material. Letters, newspapers, labels, and restaurant menus all have to be supplied by the props department, who had to source originals as well as create reproductions. If the plot demands that a story appear in a newspaper, the art department will make it.
All the food in Downton Abbey is real. Lisa Heathcote, the food economist who is in charge of food for the production, drew on Mrs Beeton’s famous Book of Household Management for her inspiration. Although the food is real, it has some unsavoury ingredients included, to help it look good throughout the day’s filming. Some of it is varnished, making it as solid as a rock, to help retain the ‘just made’ look. She admits that some of the actors really enjoy tucking in to the edible food during a meal scene, but if there are multiple takes, this can be a problem, as the food runs out.
There are a large number of original vehicles used in Downton Abbey, and these have been something of a headache to source. You can see Lord Grantham’s famous 1911 Renault Landaulette, Horace and Daphne Bryant’s 1908 Napier and a whole range of other vehicles including a First Class Train Carriage at Downton Station at the Downton Abbey Wikia.
The kitchens are a delight for Kitchenalia obsessives, and most of the items are originals. Several of the characters are alarmed by the introduction of electricity to the domestic sphere, and the stern cook Mrs Patmore is particularly perturbed by the arrival of an electric mixer below stairs. The original early electric hand mixer used is an original, sourced from ebay and reconditioned.
Once you start looking at the props in a production like Downton Abbey, you soon to realise the enormous amount of care each production needs, and the work that goes into creating period authenticity. We can supply any of the props you need to recreate a Downton feel to your production, from early train carriages to kitchen equipment.
One of the quickest and easiest ways of creating a sense of place on stage, is through the use of period signage. If you are on a limited budget, signs can effectively provide a shortcut to period atmosphere, without breaking the bank. A simple cobbled street can be from any era, but a Lyon’s Tea House sign, or one advertising Woodbines, will place it in time precisely and at a stroke. Here is our guide to Period signs, to help you make the right choice for your production.
The Victorian age (1837-1901) was an era of elaborate and complex design – some would call it fussy and over-wrought. This style could be seen in all aspects of design, from architecture, to fashion and interiors. There was a strong sense of nostalgia for times gone by in the Victorian age, and elements of design from earlier eras – symmetry, cloth banners, framing and cherubs – are common. Typography was no exception, and Victorian style shop signs bear this out. You can add Victorian authenticity to your street scene by painting shop signs on the side of buildings, or hire signs as props.
Thirties and Forties
Strongly influenced by the Modernist movement, when ornate Victorian stuffiness was thrown out wholesale, signage of the Thirties and Forties is simple and stark, with a minimal amount of fuss. Utilitarian and easy to read, you will be familiar with the typography style from old black and white movies. The simplicity of line is reflected in the fashion and architecture from the age. You should have no trouble augmenting the feel you are trying to create by use of well-placed signage props.
The Fifties saw a complete change from the complex design ideas of the Victorian age. Strongly influenced by American design ideas, Fifties signage will instantly add a sense of the period. Restaurants and shops really embraced the Fifties feel, so consider this when creating a scene. If you have a scene actually set in that period in America, you have a wealth of choice. Fifties design is instantly recognisable such is its place in our cultural consciousness.
No prizes for creating a modern scene with signs – there are so many to choose from. You might consider using them to add significance to the action on stage. How could you use a large arrow sign, or a ‘Dead End’ sign for example? Could it help add to meaning in your production?
A great way to change country entirely is with foreign language signs. It’s simply the quickest route out of England – particularly since, as noted, a cobbled street could be anywhere or any period. To take your audience out of their own realm and overseas, add a simple foreign language road or warning sign will suffice.
Signs are instant signifiers, and invaluable to set designers and props departments when they are creating mood and a sense of place on stage. We have a wide range of signs available, from wooden Victorian signs to modern steel signs. Have a browse, and see how designs have changed over the years.
The Bill may not be on our screens anymore, but there are no shortage of police and crime dramas to take its place. Here we look at a number of crime dramas, and how the props departments of a production company go about setting a scene.
Period Detective – Ripper Street
Set in the Whitechapel district of London’s East End in the late 1800s, the drama is based upon the idea that Jack the Ripper, whose last murder predates the first episode by six months, has returned. The action takes place in and amongst real London lowlife, inside factories, slums, public houses and brothels. Gritty, hard-hitting and violent, the series enjoyed critical acclaim. It was filmed almost exclusively in Dublin, Ireland, with many of the scenes being shot in Dublin’s Clancy Quays, the undeveloped parts of which were perfect for a Victorian London setting.
More filming was set in Kilmainham Gaol, which was first built in the 1790s, but was finally decommissioned in 1924. It was a perfect location for the Victorian era prison scenes, with heavy iron doors, bleak cells and gloomy interiors. We hire out identical Victorian Era prison doors, props and police items, such as period handcuffs and shackles, jailor’s keys and truncheons. These items are increasingly difficult to source, as older institutions are demolished to make way for the new.
Modern Crime Drama – Broadchurch
Modern crime drama doesn’t come much classier than Broadchurch, ITV’s smash hit modern crime series, starring David Tennant and Olivia Coleman. Set in a village along the Dorset coast, filming was centred around Clevedon and West Bay in Bridport. The genre of modern detective and police procedural relies heavily on verisimilitude, meaning that the accuracy of the equipment and props is paramount. Luckily, it is easy to source modern props, since they are all available on the open market for police departments to buy in as stock. You could simply buy modern police equipment but it is extremely expensive. Renting from our wide range of items will keep you in budget.
The authenticity of modern props is not in question, so the issue you have is what exactly you need to create the look you’re after. Police stations tend to be fairly simply furnished, with simple modern tables and chairs in interview rooms. A great prop is the police interrogation tape recorder. Some police stations have a more relaxed and comfortable interviewing areas with soft furnishings, where they can interview more vulnerable visitors, such as children, to help put them at ease. You may just need a simple police lamp for outside the station, and these are available in period or modern designs.
In the case of forensic scenes, you can easily kit performers out in overalls, hairnets and booties, and have a simple case of generic laboratory items to give an illusion of a highly trained forensic team. You may want to use drug identification kits, crime scene tape, police evidence bags, and floodlights to light a murder scene. We also supply modern prison dressings, such as cell beds, and stainless steels sinks, basins and toilets. We don’t supply sniffer dogs, and detectives require little more than charisma and acting ability. All the rest we can help you with.
‘Sherlock’ has been a tearaway success for the BBC this season. Sassy, post-modern and fiendishly complex, it has everything a modern TV drama needs. The strength of the script and performances is underpinned by meticulous prop choices and placement. Have you noticed it? Think of the room that Holmes and John sit in and receive their visitors. What era is the furniture? What message is it sending the audience?
If you recall, the room is a mixture of old and new items, which precisely reflects the series itself. The new series draws extensively on the original old stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle in the 1880s. The room has quite a dark period feel, but a majority of the period of the props date from the 1950s onwards. The dark ‘period’ feel is largely provided by the wallpaper, although it is a modern Zoffany design. There is a nod towards classical Pugin in the fleur-de-lis in dark brown, with a green background.
The heavy armchairs that Holmes and Watson sit in are iconic 1959 Le Corbusier chairs, reproduced in pale green leather. We have similar chairs in our collection (see item 0085078). The lamp behind Holmes’ chair is from IKEA.
Accessories in Sherlock’s sitting room include a small bust of Goethe and a human skull. His mini-globe, pictures and cushions range from the period to the modern day. The mixture of styles and periods is one of the fascinating things about the Sherlock series, and on close inspection it is possible to see a expert use of sets and props. Study the detail here to see how the props department achieved the look.
Whilst Sherlock relies on Molly who works in a professional laboratory at the hospital, he also does his own experiments at home. Did you notice the Bunsen burner and test tubes he uses in the kitchenette? Holmes uses a microscope in his room too. You can hire a period version from us. We have a wide range of Laboratory Dressing items which can be hired for the Holmes look, or for a wider police forensics and crime scene context.
Exterior 221B Baker Street
‘Sherlock’ brings the books right up to date with the Baker Street sign, which is a reproduction of an actual street name sign. The door furniture for the front door is classical however, and it is simple to hire props like these for your set. We stock a number of period front doors which would be suitable for a 221B.
Mrs Hudson’s Kitchen
The morning after John Watson’s stag night he wakes with a splitting headache and is treated to a Full English Breakfast, cooked by Mrs Hudson. Although he simply cannot face it, we are afforded a peek inside Mrs Hudson’s world, as she bustles along in the background. The tiny details like the cruet set fix her world in time. They are 70s style, and this period has very strong and clearly defined design elements, which are easy to use. Check out our period kitchen dressing items for an idea about the sort of items you will need to create a Seventies kitchen.
Pubs lend themselves perfectly to any kind of human drama and, as in the case of EastEnders, action can centre entirely around the interactions that take place in an around the local public house. The ‘local’ is the communication hub, the centre of gossip, the warm welcome for those who feel cast out. The bar staff are almost always pleased to see you. Pubs are inhabited by both high life and low life characters, and become an arena where plots are hatched, stories recounted, and secrets exchanged. No wonder they have been the setting for so many dramatic scenes in stage, film and TV productions.
Begin by looking at how big your performance space is. In the stage production of Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, the interior of the Horse & Coaches pub in Soho was the entire set and had to take up most of the stage. The Queen Vic is also ‘life size’, and it’s a big pub too. But it is perfectly possible to make a bar or pub scene with very few props indeed. For smaller pub scenes, you will need to start with the bar itself, and decide what look you want. Wood is classic, but there is also zinc or copper, which can be used to suggest a foreign pub or bar location. Marble bar surfaces may be found in an upmarket bar, or gastro-pub. You have the option of a small, self-contained corner bar counter (eg. 0009006), if you just want it in the background of a performance space. It depends how big a role you want you bar to take.
Behind The Bar – Pub Dressing
You will need beer taps, optics, bottles, pint glasses and wine glasses, an ice bucket, maybe a champagne bucket and a cocktail shaker. These are the basic requirements for a pub scene, although if you are working on a smaller stage production, you could get away with just bar taps, an optic and a couple of glasses. Add a few crisps or snack as a cheap prop. Larger pub sets will need the works, and you might consider adding mirrors behind the bar, which is often used in real pubs to add atmosphere and a sense of space and luxury. The custom began in the Wild West, when outlaws wanted to see who was coming into the bar behind them, and mirrored bars are now commonplace.
Real leather tub chairs, wooden bar stools and pub tables are all essential for creating an authentic scene. We have a wide range in stock to suit any type of establishment.
Adding Character To A Pub Set
It is hard to put your finger on what exactly a good pub scene needs. There are classic, simple pubs dressings, which is a great place to start. But sometimes a pub needs more of an identity than this. In the Queen Vic, the name and icon of the pub is embodied by the large porcelain bust of Queen Victoria, which stands disapprovingly at one end of the bar. Consider finding a quirky item to give your pub some character.
Looking for and finding props sounds like a simple enough task. But it takes time and patience, not to mention a great deal of storage space. It is something you can do yourself if you are in need of low cost simple props for an amateur production. Here are some of the places we find our props, and a few tips on how to pick up a bargain.
You would be amazed at what can be found in junk shops. The joy of buying items for theatrical or TV productions is that the things you need very few other people would pay money for. Need a 1970 phone, a chintz armchair, or a crocheted loo-roll holder? These props may be just the thing for one client, and can be picked up for very little money. If you plan to put on a classic production of Abigail’s Party, you should not find it hard to find cheesy 70s props in junk shops. Haggle hard, and never tell the shopkeeper what you want the items for – they may assume you are on a big budget. Junk shop owners will be keen to sell hard-to-shift items however, so you can usually find bargains.
Ebay is a great place to source props bargains, and ideal if you are going for older item of period furniture or accessories. Admittedly, it is harder to find real bargains for anything earlier than the 1950’s, so make sure you leave yourself enough time to source everything you need before opening night. You may like to attempt to find some pieces and top up with prop rental from a professional company.
Auction houses might be just the place to pick up rare items, but it is harder to budget for your production when buying at auction, since you never know for sure what the final price is going to be. Occasionally, TV and film production companies will auction off pieces from their props collection, so keep your eyes open for these if you have a higher budget.
Antique Shops and Architectural Salvage
Props companies source items from professional antique dealers, and can buy things at trade prices. We always try to pass on the savings to our customers. With larger items, such as wooden panelling for example, or pews, it can be impossible to cover the cost of purchase from a limited budget. The advantage of using props rental is that you can hire spectacular items for a fraction of the cost it takes to buy them. You also need to consider what to do with the items once you have finished the production!
We source architectural antiques from all over the world, so you can save yourself a lot of time by simply renting our items out. Keep your eyes peeled though, as you might be amazed at what you see amongst run of the mill antiques. Often, items that do not have a wide appeal are hidden away beneath other items, so never be afraid to rummage in an antiques yard. You might pick up a bargain.
Backdrops are one of the most powerful tools in the set designer’s armoury. With a backdrop you can transport your audience into another world, with one simple hire. The need for extra props is diminished, and your production accountant is satisfied. At The Stockyard, we supply a huge range of backdrops to the theatrical, Tv and film production industry. No production is too small to benefit from our range of stock. If you’re putting on an amateur production, there is every reason to use backdrops, since scenery painting and design is a highly specialised skill, that not every Company can draw on from within their ranks.
Here are some of the backdrops we supply, and some ideas about how you can use them.
You may need a backdrop to situate your characters in a foreign country during a production, and the quickest and easiest way to achieve the effect is by using a specialist backdrop. From Egyptian pyramids and the Sphinx, to Alpine meadows and the canals of Venice, you will have no difficulty in locating your cast just about anywhere in the world, from our stock of back drops. Lakes, mountains and hillsides are always tricky to pull off effectively. You may simply need one distant view – a generic mountain scene for example – throughout the production, with set details changing with each change of scene; or you may wish to use more than one backdrop in the production. The very low cost of backdrop hire means that it is within reach of even smaller Companies.
Countryside and Rural Scenes
Shakespeare is particularly fond of spiriting his characters into woodlands, where they are free to confuse identities and misunderstand proceedings to their heart’s content. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a typical example of the need for woodland scenery in a production. We have no shortage of rural backdrops, at any time of day or night.
Do not overlook the fact that professional backdrops can help communicate era. The type of buildings that are featured in a backdrop will help you with your presentation of a particular decade. If you want a classical scene from ancient Greece, there is no difficulty in having it. A 1950’s street scene, 1970’s shop fronts, and 80’s urban cityscape, a Cambridge College in the 1930s – there really is very little restriction on what you can achieve with backdrops.
If you want to be more creative still, and let your props and actors paint the scene, you can opt for simple textured or coloured background to your production. Just like a photographer’s background, these mottled and plain backgrounds can be very powerful indeed in either setting the scene, or leaving more the audience’s imagination.
These are incredibly useful and widely used in the TV and film industry as it is not always possible to work on location either due to cost or timing. Wide scenes are shot, and later close up ones added in with a suitable backdrop. It’s simple if you just need generic buildings or urban landscapes in shot.
One of the BBC’s most popular dramas uses specialist period medical equipment to great effect. The BBC props department really went the extra mile to achieve authenticity.
Call The Midwife is set in London’s Docklands, long before it became a magnet for international bankers. Neatly dressed midwives tend to the slum dwellers and ordinary poor, and the contrast in their costumes could not be starker. This is absolutely correct for the period. Midwives, in the fifties, were very proud of their uniforms, as they set their profession apart from nurses. Smart, pressed uniforms were normal, not an affectation for modern day TV audiences. This kind of attention to detail and insight is only possible with research and the advice of experts. Terri Coates was an advisor to the series and offered her first hand experience of working in that era to the props and writers.
The drama was set in the Historic Docklands at Chatham. Those in TV and film will be familiar with the preserved historic streets there, which provide a perfect backdrop for period drama. The Chatham docks are seldom free of film crews, and are well worth a visit if you are interested in locations and setting the tone for a historical production. Mood is added to the streets by use of period details, such as the old-fashioned prams outside the houses, and street signs. The medical details are also precise, and provide real authenticity.
Sourcing Period Medical Props
The props for this production were sourced from a number of places, according to Terri Coates. The midwife badges, proudly displayed by Jenny Lee, the lead character, were authentic. The ever-resourceful BBC props department tracked down retired midwives and simply asked to borrow their badges State Certified Midwife (SCM) badges. Other props were tracked down through auctions and antique shops. Even the newspapers which the midwives use during the labour scenes are original 1950s papers.
Bottles and test tubes, crutches, wheelchairs and fabric screens on rollers all added to the period feel of the scenes. Fifties medical equipment was often stored in wooden boxes, clearly demonstrating the difference between then and now. Modern medical equipment is always easily sterilised plastic or stainless steel. Wood, rubber and fabric typify period medical equipment materials. Some of the pieces used in Call The Midwife were difficult to source, as the rubber had perished! You can find modern day reproductions of some items, but if you are intent on period authenticity then you may have your work cut out. Authenticity comes at a price however. Collectors of period medical equipment have pushed prices up in recent years, so prop hire is the most cost-effective solution for films and TV today.
Focus on simple furniture if you are equipping a fifties doctor’s office or clinic, and don’t forget to add some period wall charts, which were very popular at the time. A traditional Gladstone doctors’ bag is a simple signifier of fifties medicine, too. Check out our collection of medical equipment for ideas.
Christmas 2013 saw the return of the classic ghost story. The BBC began the resurgence in 2005, when they resurrected the original ‘”A Ghost Story for Christmas”, drama series which began back in 1971, and fell out of popularity by 1978. Following the success of M.R James’s The Tractate Middoth, adapted by the ubiquitous Mark Gatiss, the gothic ghost story revival looks like it is here to stay. ITV’s The Thirteenth Tale and P.D James’ Gothic murder drama, Death Comes To Pemberley and even BBC2’s rather dark Jane Eyre, completed a great spooky line up this season. There was an interesting documentary profile of the M R James by Gatiss, following The Tractate Middoth, which explored the idea of the Christmas ghost story, and the comforting contrast between cosy family seasonal togetherness and the dark, frightening world of the gothic. Instead of pantomimes and A Christmas Carol, many dramatic societies are now choosing to put on a Christmas ghost story of their own.
Unleash Your Dark Side
So, what are the elements you will need if you wish to create a dark, gothic drama of your own. If you glance at our online catalogue you will see the sort of items you might hire to perfect the look. TV and film companies use our props when they need an instant touch of the dark side, and it is not a difficult look to achieve. Just cast your mind back to great black and white gothic classics, such as Wuthering Heights, and Rebecca, with their wild storms, and crumbling buildings. It is these elements you must endeavour to capture in your prop and scenery choices. You need contrasts. Darkness and light.
Gothic architecture is essentially medieval, and Gothic fiction is the late-Victorian literary movement that blended horror and romanticism, with stylistic elements of medieval architecture thrown in. Turrets and crenulations, twisting ivy and stone-build castles featured heavily, and the genre has developed from these beginnings into the form we see it today. Darkness pervades a gothic scene. Through the gloom and sinister mood the audience can dimply perceive wrought iron gates, towers, and gargoyles. Interiors are typically clad in wooden panelling, the haunted house staple, all lit by stage candlelight. This all helps to set the scene. Corny? For sure. The joy of any genre is the familiar stylistic elements. Your audience would be disappointed if you don’t provide it in spades.
Setting The Scene
From our props list you can see that it is possible to provide all manner of gothic items. Old leather-bound books should grace any haunted house library; ruined churches demand heavy candleholders, an iron-clad bible and a lectern; graveyards need bones, gravestones, coffins and perhaps a mummified body or two; railings must be iron, arches must be ornate, and gates squeaky and a little off kilter. All of these items are ready and waiting for your ghostly gothic production. It’s just a question of finding your dark side and unleashing it – creatively, of course.
At Stockyard we have some very unique props, including our life sized polar bear! Come in and browse our expansive warehouses, we should have just what you need, and let your search end here!
Stockyard currently house exact replicas of Buckingham Palace’s sentry boxes! If you are going for an aristocratic theme then come and have a peek! Here are some images of the real deal in action.
Stockyard’s sister company RDW Scenery has been involved with some exciting new projects! Most recently they constructed the set for the BBC production ‘ATLANTIS,’ a British fantasy adventure drama!
Inspired by mythological stories, the set was constructed to replicate a real life Moroccan castle, mirroring the style of the ancient building and ensuring the architectural accuracy of the time period. Our team of skilled carpenters and painters worked hard on the job for a total of eight weeks, building everything on site at our Park Royal warehouse and shipping it over to Chepstow, Wales, weekly for construction.
Check out the pictures!
Stockyard has the largest collection of backdrops in Europe! All housed in our Park Royal Warehouses, we have over 1,300! They range from pretty garden scenes and exotic dessert landscapes, to Parisian Cafes and stylized theatre backdrops. We have an incredible selection in our prop house and it is well worth a look. Whether it be that you are creating a back ground for a photo shoot, setting a scene for a stage or a buyer on a film, we have just the thing for you! Come in and see us or have a browse through our website. All Backdrops are photographed and are displayed with measurements for your ease and benefit.
At Stockyard we are actively trying to expand our business to help the Designers and buyers to complete their projects, As a Designer who has worked in the industry for 40+ years, I am very conscious of the need of a company that supplies the scenery and props that we have for hire.
With that said we have now completed our 4th expansion in 4 years! That is to say we have bought the building behind us that will house our smalls and our new period medical items, (ex Nick Webster of Larsen and Laurens). Please note, Nick is still available as a consultant for filming if required .
Please come and have a look at the stock when your next in the area
We have a vast new selection of antique bottles in our ‘medical’ section. They range from lovely little glass medicine bottles to old scientific lab style bottles. Come and have a look!