Fast Track: CV Peter Wragg - An all-action model career in television

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The Independent Culture
Peter Wragg, 51, is manager of the BBC's visual effects department. His big break came when his bosses discovered that he was a dab hand at flying the Thunderbird model rockets.

I ALWAYS wanted to make models. As a kid, I started off with kit planes and then graduated to more creative and ambitious constructions of my own. But there was no immediate way I could see of transferring my passion into a job. So when I left school, at 16 - with five O-levels - I went to work at a bank near my home in Slough.

Eighteen months later, however, my dad's building firm did some work for a local company called AP Films, which was looking for assistants. I joined them as soon as I could; after all, they were responsible for puppet-based programmes such as Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90.

I soon moved into the production side of things and became a special effects assistant. Then, one day, I seized my chance when they were trying to fly one of the Thunderbird ships that wasn't working. I had a go, and was thrilled to find I had the knack. From then on, that was my job - along with being partly responsible for building the basic sets and landscapes.

One of my proudest moments came on my 21st birthday, which coincided with the London premiere of the Thunderbirds Are Go feature film. It was fantastic seeing my name in the credits.

My time at AP Films - which later became 21st Century - ended five years later when it was forced to close down. Since the industry was going through a pretty bad period, I went to a government training centre and got myself a tool-making qualification.

I got a job at a factory in High Wycombe after that, but five years later some of the special effects people I'd kept in touch with advised me to try to join them at the BBC. I was offered a four-month contract. It was less money and less security than I'd become used to, but my wife told me to go for it. I started as a visual effects assistant, and a few years later I became a designer, and eventually a senior designer. Last year, I became manager of the department.

I've worked on most of the BBC's programmes that have needed special effects - from Doctor Who through to comedy shows such as The Two Ronnies. In fact, I've won three Royal Television Awards for Red Dwarf, and did two series of Bottom with Rik Mayall.

Special effects attracts a lot of people, so nowadays you can't get into the industry very easily without qualifications. Different colleges run good courses and we see people with degrees ranging from technical arts or industrial and mechanical design, to furniture design. I would advise people to become flexible and multi-skilled.

Some people end up working on feature films, and a few even go to Hollywood. But films are different from television programmes in that a director of special effects tends to be hired, who then puts together a team of freelances.

As part of the changes at the BBC, we now operate on a freelance basis ourselves. We have done work for Granada, Carlton, Tyne-Tees and Channel 4, and we hope to do more feature film work.

Funny things happen in this field. Once, I needed to make a section of a bridge collapse. We even got underwater training so that we wouldn't have to explain the effects to divers. But when I pulled the support of the bridge away, the scaffolding locked and the bridge just would not fall down. All of these extras were jumping up and down like mad, but nothing whatsoever happened. Thankfully, the next day, it did.