Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Roland Emmett


Click on the above picture to play film at Pathe News website.

The wonderful eccentric world of Roland Emmett. I first saw his work at the Battersea Pleasure Gardens in 1953- The Far Tottering & Oyster Creek Railway. There is one of his moving sculptural clocks in the mall in Basildon -sadly not working when I last saw it.

Wikipedia says -

"Frederick Rowland Emett (22 October 1906 – 13 November 1990) OBE, his name frequently misspelled as Roland Emmett, was an English cartoonist and constructor of whimsical kinetic sculpture.

Emett was born in New Southgate, London, the son of a businessman and amateur inventor, and the grandson of Queen Victoria's engraver. He was educated at Waverley Grammar School in Birmingham, where he excelled in drawing, caricaturing his teachers and also vehicles and machinery. When he was only fourteen he took out a patent on a gramophone volume control. He studied at Birmingham School of Arts and Crafts and one of his landscapes, Cornish Harbour, was exhibited at the Royal Academy; it is now in the Tate collection.

An otherwise undistinguished career was interrupted by World War II, when he worked as a draughtsman for the Air Ministry, while perfecting his gift for drawing cartoons. From 1939 through the 1940s, he published regularly in Punch – making drawings or watercolours of strange, bumbling trains with silly names. On 12 April 1941 he married Mary Evans, the daughter of a Birmingham silversmith. It was Mary who would manage his business interests. They adopted a daughter, Claire.

In 1947 his cartoons came to life on the stage of the Gobe Theatre, London, in Between the Lines, a scene for Laurier Lister's revue Twopence Coloured, with Max Adrian as an eccentric signalman at Friars Fidgeting Signal Box. In 1951, at the Festival of Britain, his most famous steam locomotive, Nellie, was made into a copper and mahogany kinetic sculpture and was one of the festival’s most popular attractions. There was an unfortunate fatality when the train came off the line. Two of his other trains were created for the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Branch Railway. At this time he was living in Cornwall and working in a studio in a boat-loft at Polperro; later he would return to West Cornwall before eventually settling for the rest of his life at Ditchling, in Sussex.

Emett parted company with Punch magazine soon after Malcolm Muggeridge became editor and began systematic changes to the magazine. After a spread in Life magazine on 5 July 1954, his work was much in demand in the United States.

He turned more and more to designing and supervising the building of what he called his things – always with silly names such as "The Featherstone-Kite Openwork Basketweave Mark Two Gentleman’s Flying Machine", two copies of which exist, one placed in a glass cage in the Merrion Centre, Leeds). In the mid-1960s he was commissioned by Honeywell to create a mechanical computer, which he named "The Forget-Me-Not Computer." In 1968 he designed the elaborate inventions of Caractacus Potts (played by Dick Van Dyke for the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

In 1973 his water powered musical clock, "The Aqua Horological Tintinnabulator", was installed on the lower floor of the Victoria Centre, Nottingham, UK which can still be seen at work there.

His larger works, such as Emettland, went on extended tours, ending up in prestigious venues such as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The Ontario Science Centre in Toronto has a collection of about ten Rowland Emett creations and every December displays the restored working pieces, usually under the title "Dream Machines".

A 30 foot square mosaic by Roland Emett, installed around 1960, can be seen on the side of the NCP car park in The Marlowes, Hemel Hempstead.

His works are fundamentally different from those of Heath Robinson in that they are actually buildable, and would work. The works of the artist Jean Tinguely are a better comparison, "using assemblages of industrial detritus to burlesque effect".[citation needed]

When asked how he came up with his strange designs, Emett remarked:

"It is a well known fact that all inventors get their first ideas on the back of an envelope. I take slight exception to this, I use the front so that I can incorporate the stamp and then the design is already half done."

He was fair-haired and fresh-faced, looked younger than his years, and bore a resemblance to Danny Kaye. In 1978 he was awarded an OBE, and died on 13 November 1990 in a Sussex nursing home."

1 comment:

Russell 'C.J.' Duffy said...

What a true Englishman. Wonderfully eccentric and funny with it!!