Report by Kelvin Pope: The topic of the Tableau for Cliffe fireworks
is decided upon in July of each year. This is a big problem as
we have to not only think of something that will still be relevant
in November, but also hope that no one else in the town will build
the same thing. So far we have been lucky.
This year (2004) we decided to portray the local BBC reporter
who made it his personal quest to drive the Firle Bonfire Society
from existence for their portrayal of a Gypsy caravan as their
Tableau the year before. He has obviously never lived under the
conditions that the residents of Firle had to live under.
We start off with a wooden 'box' frame for the main part and
then add bits on as needed to create the right shape. To create
most of the curves, we use bamboo, which tends to give a nice
For the body, we use plywood formers on a central wooden spine
(2x2). As a note of interest, the human dimensions are taken from
the Michelangelo human drawings. The frames are then covered with
a layer of chicken wire and then papier-mâché is
fixed on top of that.
The first coat of papier-mâché has the added benefit
of tightening up the wire to give a nice taunt finish. There's
still at least two more layers to go though. A lot of the time,
changes will be made once the first coat of papier-mâché
It's only at this time that you can get a really good idea of
the shapes you have achieved. As an example, the head and neck
area of the ram went through many, many redesigns until we were
happy with it. This can seem like destroying a lot of hard work,
but it's the only way to get a good likeness.
The final coat of papier-mâché is put on with watered
down PVA glue. This helps to waterproof the tableau.
The ram's wool is actually loft insulation. We found that this
doesn't take emulsion paint, so we had to spray it with car paint.
A very messy day and a very heavy headache followed.
Once all the layers of papier-mâché are on and we're
happy with it, it can then be painted. We only use matt emulsion
as this cuts in better than any type of gloss paint. Also, gloss
looks awful under street lighting. It's very hard to paint something
in daylight that is going to be seen under street lighting, as
they tend to suck all the colour out of everything, which is why
they sometimes look awful in daylight!
Then of course, we have to fill it with fireworks. This is when
the artists and the builders fall out as no sooner have they painted
it, than we're cutting holes in it to put fireworks in. Then it's
repair again and again and paint again and again.
The pyro budget for each Tableau is circa £2k, which have fixed
constraints of a 15 x 8 foot bed and a maximum height of 16 feet.
Outside of these dimensions we have potential problems of it not
going around the town. Last year we built a skull and crossbones
that was 16 foot wide, so we had to make it swivel on the bed.
That was fun!
All the fuses are run in hose-pipe and blue water pipe. All the
electrical cables are also run in water pipe. We use four types
of fusing: Quickmatch, PIC ignitor cord, Bickford and Pyrolok.
Each individual relay will last up to two minutes and will have
numerous delays built in. The hope is that they will all follow
in order, but when you have to pack them in, things can sometimes
jump! The main thing is to limit where they can jump to and the
havoc they can cause.
All the bangs have their own buttons, apart from the final bang,
which also has a very long delay on it (two minutes) that is started
by the preceding relay. This is to guarantee that it will go.
There's a fortune of silver foil tape in there as everything
is foiled. All the pipes, all the fuses and all the joints in
the wood baffling between the relays.
The Tableau is paraded through the town of Lewes in a torch-lit
procession to show not only our members (for whom it is built)
but also the general public the object of our hatred or celebration
for the year.
Reactions are mixed depending on the topic. This year was very
good as it was a strong local topic and touched a nerve with the
locals, who loved it. Especially when the ram breathed smoke!
Sometimes, the crowd get a little over enthusiastic and try to
either climb on or damage it. We have to have a chat with them.
Also, we are getting increasingly more and more of the crowd carrying
fireworks and actually throwing them at the Tableau; we have a
chat with them too.
This year the team was 14 strong and we worked from the end of
August right up until the 5th of November. We left the shed early
on the 4th (6pm) which was very unusual, with the only work remaining
being the fixing on of a head and a hand, and general titivation
to keep us busy on the day.
We worked all weekends (Saturday and Sunday) as well as Monday,
Tuesday and Thursday nights. There's over two thousand man
hours invested in it.
That's two thousand man hours for a fireworks display that should
last six minutes, if we're lucky.... This year, it did
and went almost to plan. The only scare was that the final 6"
shell of the aerial display was a low burst and actually caught
the loft insulation alight! A quick dose of a fire extinguisher
sorted that out!
And then button number 12 was pushed, and nothing was left. As
for what's in the bangs, that's a Tableau secret, but the final
bang that cleared the cart was one button, one fuse, one container.
Return to main fireworks
thanks to Kelvin Pope. Pictures courtesy and ©2004 Kelvin
Pope except image of ram breathing smoke which is courtesy and
©2004 Roz South. This presentation ©2005 UK Firework
Review. All rights reserved.