During my travels around the World flashing coloured lights in people’s faces (as my son Robert once described my profession) I have found myself in some bizarre situations and sometimes at odds with security or law enforcement through no real fault of my own; you decide. (All photos in this tale are indicative and aside from the Rocky poster are not from the time of the events described).
In 1983 we flew to Milan to create a European tour of the Rocky Horror Show which was to be staged in a converted cinema. The building was quite dilapidated and on pretty much the first day our director of production Paul had looked around the stage and muttered his verdict, ‘Stronso’.
The owner and local co-producer overheard this, drew a pistol from his pocket and chased Paul out of the building, not an auspicious start. A few days later our Italian crew mistakenly connected the blue phase to the neutral and blew up our Strand Duet lighting desk.
When the replacement Duet arrived we went to pick it up and stopped on the way back at a local pizzeria, noticing that each car driver had removed their car radios I enquired as to why. “Very bad robbers round here” I was told, “so you think it’s OK to leave our sparkly new desk in the car then?” I enquired.
The Duet joined us for dinner and had it’s own place at the table, Nick my Associate LD, and I even ordered it a pizza of it’s own much to the bewilderment of our Italian crew who never really did get our British sense of humour.
A few other incidents at that time spring to mind, the lighting company had bought brand new AVO racks with ‘fast rig’ Lectriflex and Socapex connectors on the back but had balked at the price of putting the relevant multi plugs on the cables to the rig so everything was connected up with choc-bloc, even the desk.
Another day saw the sprinkler system being installed and during the afternoon rehearsal the plumbing failed and flooded the stage, for the first time in my career I shouted for the company to jump into the stalls as a tide of water swept downstage through our dodgy power supply glittering and sparking with some sort of St Elmo’s fire.
The tour was a great success thanks to the tenacity of our director Hugh and to the crew who finally learnt that removing one of the legs of the Superlift holding the advance truss was not an option no matter what the demands of our gun toting promoter to sell two more seats.
At another time in Italy I was directing the coach driver carrying our dancers and crew to a night club I had found in Milan a few weeks earlier for a night out. The entrance was down a seedy looking back alley but like many night clubs in big cities was actually quite plush inside and had, on my first visit, played some great music.
This time though the gate was firmly closed with a ‘FESTA PRIVATA’ sign hanging from it, not to be turned back embarrassed in front of the whole company I rattled the gates anyway to be confronted by a tuxedo wearing doorman behind his gate.
“PRIVATO” he firmly confirmed. “You don’t really want to disappoint all these people surely…do you?” I enquired in what I hoped was a reasonable but slightly pleading tone. He promptly pulled out what looked like a Berretta and pointed it my head. “PRIVATO!” I backed away and we sought our entertainment elsewhere, all we wanted was a dance!
At that time Nick and I undertook quite a few shows and events in Italy and I met an electrician who was to be come a life long friend. Eneas spoke fluent Italian which was a real bonus in more ways than one, one time we were lighting a trade event in Taormina in Sicily and he persuaded the local Trattoria owner that if he brought along our entire crew for lunch they would add the LX team’s food and wine bill to the other department’s ‘Conto’.
This went on every day for four weeks and we never paid a single lira whilst we were there, this was over thirty years ago and to this day I still work with some of those crew who never did, and still do not, realise what was going on. Perhaps they will now!
In 1994 and 1995 I travelled to Oman to stage the country’s National Days, these were immense stadium events with massed ranks of soldiers and 2,500 Omani children, mainly boys, as performers.
Aside from the surprise of finding 13amp sockets in our accommodation, we did come across a few important cultural differences. Oman had a very close relationship with Britain, the SAS having put the Sultan on the throne by beating off rebel forces at the battle of Mirbat.
Whilst I was there I joined a dive boat excursion where my fellow divers were members of the SBS, aside from a startling shoal of hammerhead sharks in the beautiful game reserve dive site we got to talking about our chosen careers.
On hearing of mine they spoke of the shock and awe techniques in the first Gulf war which were intended to intimidate the Iraqis with noise and light prior to the invasion. It was suggested that light and sound designers could do that without the multi-million pound cost of all the ordnance sent up. An interesting moral dilemma that, could I seriously add ‘Invasion of Iraq’ to my CV?
Back in our stadium our mainly female stage management team were having a little difficulty controlling thousands of young Omani boys until the army stepped in and beat them into formation with canes, talk about herding cats!
I had had the brilliant idea of projecting onto the audience in the bleachers in front of the VIPs as the stadium would be full of pristine white dish-dashes we could save budget on screens.
Unfortunately come show day this is where all the women were sat, behind the action. Though the images remained visible, just, they were enhanced by thousands of pairs of glittering eyes, quite magical!
I had also had the brilliant idea of creating a blown screen on which to back project but instead of water in this desert country we could use sand, how green is that! Someone did point out that sand might not disperse as effectively as water and all we would create is the World’s fastest sand dune; another concept quietly shelved.
Anyway before we got anywhere near show day we had another situation with which to contend.
The day of the first rehearsal was supposed to trigger a major payment to our UK lighting company LSD and as this had not come through they had instructed the lighting crew led by Scottie to start de-rigging the show.
Political decisions like this are easily made from far way Birmingham but the ramifications are not so simple on site. I was approached by one of our clients who was also the Chief of Police, his normally friendly persona had been replaced by a very stern countenance indeed.
“Mr Durham you must instruct your team to stop removing the equipment from the Sultan’s show.”
I replied as best I could “I am afraid Sir that this is beyond my power as they work for the British lighting company who believe they have not been paid”.
The Chief then pulled a very large pistol from the holster on his belt and pointed it directly at my head. “Mr Durham you will immediately stop what we see as an act of Treason by your be-spoiling of our Sultan’s show”.
We subsequently arranged for the crew to be paid in cash locally and the show went ahead; I did have some serious words with the LSD directors when I got back to Brum, and the crew got paid twice over!
Prior to that at the end of the show the Chief of Police took me aside, thanked me and apologised for what he had had to do. He then presented me with a beautiful silver Khanjar knife and scabbard which I treasure to this day.
Those of you have worked in this region know that sometimes events and meetings, especially if Royal Families are involved, can be subject to some delay. In Oman we all sat on standby for the first show in a full stadium awaiting the much loved Sultan, who did not arrive, so everyone went home and came back the next night; when he did!
In 1994 on a visit to Saudi Arabia I experienced a similar delay with unforeseen consequences. The region was just beginning to open up more freely to the West and as we flew into Jeddah I witnessed the bizarre site of young women going into the plane’s toilets in their western short skirts and skimpy tops and emerging in full burqa.
I was also told by one of the BA stewardess that the biggest problem on the Jeddah flight was the toilets being blocked as the incoming womenfolk would cut the Marks and Spencers St Michaels labels out of all the underwear they had bought and dispose of them in the loos.
The customs at Jeddah was quite intimidating and when I approached the three be-burqa’ed ladies at the Visa desk I handed over my passport having been told that my Visa awaited my arrival. One of the ladies studied my document and a list in front of her. “You have arrived from London?” I nodded in response, “There is no Visa here in your name.”
Feck! What was I going to do now? She looked up with enigmatic, Khol enhanced eyes…“Only joking” she said, and so the adventure began.
We were there to present our concept for the inauguration of a new sky scraper and on the first day we were invited to visit the site. We met the building site foreman and entered the lift within which were around half a dozen immigrant labourers cooking their lunch over a live fire that they had built in the middle of the lift, I kid you not.
During our conversation I enquired as to the safety record of the construction site, “Oh Sir” came the reply “Our safety record is very good, one of the best in all of Middle East! We only lose one or two man per week!”. A different World indeed, if you ever visit the Burj Khalifa some would suggest that you do not enquire as to how many bodies that particular edifice was built on.
Anyway back to the tale, as I sat around the pool for the third day awaiting a summons to present I was entertained by a lovely Pakistani family teaching their youngest child to swim. The Mother and four children were having a whale of a time until their businessman Father turned up on the scene.
Obviously the dominant figure in the group the Father was teaching his youngest to swim by holding his head in the pool with his foot and not letting the increasingly panicking child get out. I had had a similar experience at the hands of a Corporation pool ‘teacher’ in Preston at a similar age and decided that I could not let this lie.
I walked along the side of the pool and much like a member of the Village People I sashayed my hip into his and in he went, fancy suit and all. The Saudi Police were soon on the scene and I was arrested, handcuffed and placed in their car.
To give them their due they explained that whilst they had been told the facts that led up to my ‘assault’ by other guests and two secret policeman, who unknown to anyone were also sat around the hotel pool all day, they had to be seen to be dispensing justice.
We sat together for a couple of hours talking football and Formula One and eating dates and drinking copious amounts of tarry coffee, neither of which I like; they then drove me back to the hotel and set me free. One mystery remains, what do they do with the date stones? By the time I made it to the rest room I spat them into the bowl like a plump cheeked chipmunk with a Gatling gun!
My most recent arrest came in Sochi on the occasion of the Paralympic Games Ceremonies but that is part of next week’s tale…….
Stay safe, stay in touch with Friends and Family and don’t fall off your bike!