profiles - a light-hearted look at industry personalities

No. 2 in a continuing series

Caricatures by

David Lewis

John Watt

Lighting Designer and Television Lighting Director

John Watt left school at 15 having failed to educate a single teacher into seeing things his way. Whilst there he was the only non-academic, non-sporting boy amongst 500 and carved out his salvation by lighting plays. He disproved daily the erroneous beliefs that a) 230 volts is a killer voltage, b) that you can only run about three-and-a-half kilowatts from a 15 amp socket and c) that fire on stage is bad news. He kept quiet and was congratulated by the head, for the first and last time, for producing a smoke effect 25 years ahead of its time.

Apprenticed to a small engineering company he made the tea and became saturated in tenacious, evil smelling cutting oil for five years. However, this enabled him to spend joyous evenings at the local touring theatre lighting and stage managing in the true ENSA tradition (every night something atrocious). This was a three-wire DC venue, so his poor conductivity was put to a more severe test. Real education began as the main intake was through the chorus dressing room, and he duly married Rosemary to ensure the availability of a regular follow spot operator. "You know what it's like when they keep changing!"

Then came two years as a Brylcream boy and national service - "up to me neck in muck and bullets" - but mainly wiring Vulcan bombers. Britain's nuclear deterrent was largely dependent on a box of relays wired by JW, probably the nearest he ever got to real power (except in the chorus dressing room!).

ABC-TV took him on as a trainee for nine months and then allowed him to stay, although they didn't realise he would have paid them. He was lighting within three years and until they lost the franchise on black Sunday. Next stop was YTV for 16 years, working on dramas, sit coms' and light entertainment, and he thought it would never end. Then he moved to TV-AM in an executive role, miscast maybe, but as the German said on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In: "very interesting". He still thinks Peter Jay had it right. Then he spent five years at Central but he feels they never understood his sense of humour, and aren't alone in doing so.

Freelancing is a challenge, and he thinks overpopulated with young turks.

"How are you doing Watty?"
"Just managing to keep my head below water as usual, thanks!"

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