“There was no property department here as such in those days… I was shown through a big door and told ‘This is your little space, now get on with it’ …and there was absolutely nothing except a big hole in the floor”.
That is the way Teddington’s Property Master TONY O’TOOLE describes his first day at ABC. Like most Irishmen, Tony is a loquacious talker with a lively turn of wit, delivered in a broad lilting Dublin accent. Getting him to talk about himself presented no great difficulties. The snag was that the stories he insisted on telling would take up more space than this column could afford, so a heavy edit brought forth the following facts, and I only wish they could be written with the accent in which they were delivered.
Tony, christened Michael Anthony, was born in Dublin a short while after the revolution… “which, I might hasten to add, I had absolutely nothing to do with, in spite of what Devalera might have said.
“In spite of the fact that my father was in the Irish Resistance movement, my uncles in the British Army and Navy respectively, and that my grandfather fought in the American Civil War, I meself am a peace lovin’ man and I’ll break the arm of any **** who says I’m not, any time”.
EMIGRATES TO ENGLAND
Before coming to England in 1943, Tony, in company with two others, purchased a canal barge, with the idea of ferrying peat, but… “unfortunately, on the maiden voyage, so to speak, the horse dropped dead. He may have broken his neck going under a bridge, I dunno, anyway, he was a gonner… so the Irish Emigration list to England had three more names added to it, and arrived in England at the ripe old age of 15.
“Ireland was neutral of course, so I made the great decision to contribute to the war effort by joining Moss Empires. There wasn’t a place on the board straight away, so they made me a page boy with about fifty thousand brass buttons”.
From there Tony worked his way slowly through the varied jobs that show business has to offer… callboy, props, electrics, ASM, Production Manager and Property Master… and so to ABC.
Tony has always been interested in special effects and explosions, and it was one such episode that led, almost directly, to Tony’s change of employers.
“We was on location making the war film V1, y’see, and there was this great big building. Bert and I rigged the explosion in the front to blow one of the windows out. ‘Is it OK?’ they shouted. We stuck our heads out and replied ‘ready when you are’ – and with that the whole building went up! I got blown into the water tank and BERT AKEHURST (he’s still with me I’m glad to say) lost some of his clothes. We had a spell of inactivity after that little one…”
Tony’s store has come a long way from those early days. It now comprises two floors and houses over three thousand items, from 15 feet high cacti to complete suites of furniture.
Apart from the stock of property items, the hired props coming into the studios to be used on productions can also prove a headache. Tony has had to deal with vultures, a lion, penguins, and donkeys in his time, but the show which provided him with the most headaches – and incidentally, the most enjoyment – was “After Hours”.
“You had to be a bit touched to be connected with that show… it helped tremendously! I remember wanting to ask Promotion’s RON WALSBY something – he was stage manager then and was also rehearsing a Cossack dance – so I had to join in, bobbing up and down while talking.
“I also remember in the early days, I went shopping in Kingston for Ad-mag kitchen dressings with a woman driver of a hire car service we used in those days. To my amusement – but not the driver’s – an old saleslady came up with the following advice: ‘For two young people starting out in the world I’d buy something a little more expensive…'”
Tony lives in Brighton with his wife and 11-year-old electronics-mad son, and nine-year-old Jacqueline who desperately wants to be his secretary. Tony ‘digs’ locally and goes home weekends, where he relaxes when necessary by interior decorating. One of his favourite interests – and least talked about -is raising funds for a Thames Ditton orphanage.
Looking back, reminiscing, Tony is pleased with life at ABC. “That French Resistance series when we went to France was the thing. I was in charge of explosions and things. We stayed in San Viatre, and what a night we had celebrating my birthday with the locals, with sou’westers and rubber boots filled to overflowing with champagne. They got the town band to play when we left. If I had stayed for a couple of more weeks I could have been Mayor, I tell you. Me and my explosions – I was the biggest noise they’d ever heard!
“Ah well, that’s how it goes . . .”