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Monstrous orders

But it is the show-business side of his production which is the most amazing. No Dr. Who programme would be complete without a Shawcraft contribution. Perhaps the most famous of all the Who monsters were - and are - the Daleks.

Dreamed up by writer Terry Nation and designed by Raymond Cusick of the BBC Design Team, they were the first "monsters" in the Shawcraft library. They were followed by the Zarbies - ant-like creatures, actually articulated suits worn by actors - and the more lovable Chumbleys.

"Working" instrument panels for space travel, upon which lights flash and dials register electronically, are just part of Shawcraft's weekly chore.

Rockets of intriguing complexity, launching-pads, a scale model of the city of Troy - you name it, and you will find it in Bill's workshops. Everything from a pterodactyl to a drinks machine and accompanying chair for the BBC play Out of the Unknown.

"Actually, there is a man inside the drinks machine," says Bill. "It's cheaper that way. The idea is this mastermind sits in a hydraulically operated chair, which turns to a lounging couch at a touch, and the drinks machine obeys his commands, spilling whisky, gin or vodka into a glass, adding ice and cordial and even using a swizzle stick before passing it."

A series of spouts dispenses the "liquor," there is a chute for ice, and the "swizzle stick" operates on a complicated mechanical arm.

Here, as in everything else, Roberts' keen attention to detail is evident. Detail and finish. The finish on every product is impeccable. Shawcraft models are obviously made to last.

What of the future?

"Well, I seem to have so many irons in the fire, I just cannot predict which way things will go," says Bill. "But one thing is certain. While there is a demand for monsters, whether they be from outer space or under the sea, they will be born at Shawcraft."

And next Saturday and every Saturday after, the small boys and the bigger boys, and even the fathers, will be glancing into the cluttered yard on the busy Slough Road, hoping to get a preview of what their home screen will show them.

But security measures are strict: all the passersby can see are the familiar monsters of the past the Daleks, the Zarbies, and maybe a Chumbley.


The Shawcraft workshops sign