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The planemaker

Soon the inevitable happened. Bill Roberts was approached by Pinewood Studios for model aircraft to feature in the air epic of World War II, Angels 15, starring John Gregson. Then came the Phyllis Calvert film, The Net, and this led to Bill Roberts' biggest job so far : a full-scale "mock-up" of a Vickers Vimy aircraft for the film, The Long Hop.

Bill Roberts in the Shawcraft workshops

A Dalek's Daddy, or perhaps a space-age pillar box? Actually, it's the ultimate in cocktail
-bar gimmickry - an automatic drinks dispenser mocked up for a recent TV SF play.


"It had a 67' wingspan," says Bill, "and stood taller than a double-decker bus. We installed two engines which allowed it to taxi realistically at 20 miles an hour. That was quite a job, we only had a shack at Iver, Bucks, at that time - we moved here much later - and it was too small to house even the parts successfully.

"So we built the aircraft in a field outside. It had to be tied down in sections in case it blew away. We spent what little spare time we had praying for good calm weather."

Then came a 40' model of the ill-fated Titanic for the Kenneth More movie, A Night to Remember, followed by a commission for 180 model planes varying in size from very small to 5' wingspan for another More film, the Bader story, Reach - for the Sky.

"That was a tricky one," says Roberts. "We spent three days crashing one model effectively - the aircraft that was supposed to cost Kenny his legs "

One piece of aircraft mechanism has never presented any problems to Bill Roberts. Propellers. He worked for some years as a prop-shaper at the famous airscrew factory at Weybridge, Surrey.

Then came the ship period. Roberts made battleships and cruisers for films like Sink the Bismarck, and models up to 33' in length for Battle of the River Plate, in which the star model was the Nazi ship Graf Spee.

Following the American trade showing of Sink the Bismarck, the American distributors remarked about how the "stockshots" - old newsreels - gave the movie a feeling of authenticity. In fact, of course, there were no "stockshots" : they were all Shawcraft models filmed in a tank !

An astute man, Bill Roberts was not content to make models just for the movie industry. He became familiar with the general workings of a studio and quietly produced an automatic film processing machine, some 40' long, capable of dealing with 300 colour films an hour.

The Rank Organization commissioned three such machines which are still in daily use.

Fibreglass and steel tanks of any size for the treatment of metals, for film processing, industrial models of all types, educational aids; Bill Roberts makes them all in his smallish, overcrowded workshops.