"Filling The Void" - Interview with Production Designer, Richard Drew

Greetings, Ghostwatchers!

As development continues on our upcoming GHOSTWATCH: 'On The Night' Blu-ray, this seems the perfect opportunity to relax, unwind, and take in a brand-new exhibition at Worthing Museum, now open until 16th July 2023.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to speak with the man in the show's spotlight, the exceptional Richard Drew, Production Designer, who, we all know, worked with Ken Starkey in 1992 to bring the sets to life on everyone's favourite Hallowe'en Hoax.

Richard's experience in television production is now so extensive, his work has been made the focus of an exciting new show entitled, Filling The Void - 35 years of TV production design. I was fortunate enough to speak with Richard and find out more about the event...

RICH: Hi Richard, how did this exhibition come about, and could you tell us a little about your connection to the venue?

RICHARD: I approached the museum nearly a year ago about the idea of doing it. I’d fancied doing something like this for a little while, and I just took a punt in asking. They said 'yes', and it was just about finding a time… and then the stars aligned, and in November, they asked if I could have something ready for April. Worthing holds a place in my heart as I was a student studying TV and Stage Design down here in the mid 80s, the museum is barely 200 metres from the site of my old college. I moved here in 2019, from Brighton. Did I imagine I’d be living here in my 50s when I was a student down here in my teens? Probably not. Did I ever imagine I’d put an exhibition on? Definitely not.

What are your thoughts on your career becoming the subject of a full-blown exhibition, and what do you hope people take away from their visit?

Well, the main drive of the exhibition is to promote what the Art Dept. does, but also to show what is possible when you start out from somewhere like Worthing. My old college (West Sussex College of Design) is now called 'Northbrook' and based out of town. It has a good rep for producing Costume Designers, Wig Makers, Model Makers, Prop Makers … But I do think life in the big bad world beyond the confines of a campus is daunting to students. How do I make my mark in the world? Where do I start? The exhibition just shows there is a way, if you are bloody-minded and determined, like I was. I’m not very good at taking 'no' for an answer.

How were the pieces curated, and what input did you have? How would you describe the exhibition to anybody looking to visit?

It’s curated just by me. A lot of designers have their own private archive; collectively, if we pooled our talents, we’d put on an amazing exhibition of TV History, but it’s just the bits I’ve decided to hang onto. So, arguably, I’ve been curating for the last 35 years. It starts chronologically about my early days (see above) and then focuses on specific shows. I think it would be dull just to go '… and then I did this, and then I did this', so I’ve taken a handful of shows and done a case study on how the design came out; these include working drawings, sketches, pitches, concepts; as well as specifics, like how we rolled the yellow car on Inbetweeners into a lake - in the script, just two lines, but it took weeks of planning. 

On seeing so much of your work on display, collated in one space, did this shine a new light on your chosen field, or did you find yourself surprised by any particular aspect?

I think what comes across is how much I still love my profession and chosen line of work, and that I can’t imagine doing anything else. And also how much I love colour. I’ve always felt it, but it’s apparent I’m a BIG FAN of colour.

How much has set design changed in your experience, and has your approach remained constant? Are there tried and tested methods that still apply today, or do methods continue to evolve?

It’s something I do highlight in the exhibition, that when I started out, the fax machine was as cutting-edge as it got. I still draw by hand, but what’s apparent is as I’ve got older my drawing has got lazier as I’ve given over to getting "young people" - as I genuinely and lovingly call them (brilliant Art Directors and Assistants) - to turn my drawings into SketchUp/Vector works plans and models. There is definitely a transition from physical model to digital model that you can see in the exhibition. There are also sets I’ve designed that would not have been possible without technology. At its heart, all of what I’ve just said, it’s just about spatial awareness. I think in 3D, that just comes with experience, so if the idea is fundamentally solid, the technology allows for speed, choice, changes to facilitate that. Just having the tech on its own isn’t enough.

I have to ask, does Ghostwatch factor into the exhibition, and if so, how?

Ghostwatch does feature, it’s definitely a highlight of my assisting days. It’s staggering more people don’t know about it though. I’ve got prints of the original graphic panels and house plan on show (too scared to have the originals on display), I have unearthed two old newspaper cuttings about the aftermath which I didn’t know I had, they are displayed in a glass cabinet. They feel like holy relics.

How long is the exhibition expected to run?

Exhibition runs till mid-July, so it’s a good whack of time. Details can be found on the Worthing Museum website.

What have you got lined-up next, project-wise?

I’m off to Bristol and Bath next to do the fourth series of McDonald & Dodds for ITV, I’ve recently just finished shooting The Chelsea Detective for Acorn TV and The Kemps 2 for BBC Comedy. M&D takes me through till October.

With huge thanks to Richard for another fascinating interview - he truly is one of the good ones, and a real gent. If you have the good fortune of visiting his exhibition in Worthing, drop us a line on Twitter, as we'd love to hear from you! Richard can be reached directly @dickydrew and I highly recommend you give him a follow for more behind the scenes news and ruminations on contemporary and classic TV.

Until next time... try not to have sleepless nights.