Louise writes – ‘Would you be able to make a replica of the Imperial State Crown for the film ‘King Ralph’ in six weeks?’ The request was daunting since it was the first time we had been asked to make such an iconic object, one that is so familiar to so many people. I set about the task and started by dividing the crown into four parts and sent four people to the Tower of London to see the real thing.
Eric was to concentrate on the decorative bottom band, which forms a background to the Cullinan Diamond at the front, supplied to us by the production, and the Stuart Sapphire at the back. Bruce had to look at the alternating fleur-des-lis and crosses, mounted with diamonds and the Black Prince’s ruby at the front. Shirley was to observe the crossing bands of stylised oak leaf decoration that supported the diamond-studded ball surmounted by a cross at the top. Finally, John, a jeweller, who was mounting all the stones had to study all the mounts for the jewels. He also made the ball and cross at the top of the crown, plus the Black Prince’s ruby and the Stuart Sapphire in resin, since no replicas were available. All other jewels came from A E Ward. (Now in Hatton Garden) All four returned from the Tower complaining that they had only been allowed to go around the display twice and that the crown was so sparkly it was difficult to see much of the detail. ‘Good, because if you couldn’t see it clearly, no one else will know if we get something slightly wrong,’ was my reply. We tried to estimate the cost involved and quoted £10,000 plus Vat. This was accepted by the production and the next stage was to find out the head measurement of John Goodman, the actor playing ‘King Ralph’.
I asked on three different occasions and each time the measurement was different, so there was no choice but to ask if we could take a mould of John Goodman’s head.
He duly arrived at our Shepperton Studio workshop, straight from Heathrow Airport, extremely jet-lagged. We sat him on a stool at Alastair’s end of the workshop, put a rubber cap on his head and Alastair took a mould in Alginate, a dental mould making material. After that a coating of plaster had to stabilise the flexible mould while still on his head. John Goodman could not have been more accommodating and charming. I showed him the gilding brass and stones we had purchased and warned him that the finished crown would be rather heavy; his answer was ‘I will just have to do neck exercises’. The next process was to draw the various sections of the crown so that they could be cut out of gilding brass to form the base of the crown. We worked from a poster and various post cards, but the fact that Eric, Bruce and Shirley had seen the real object meant it was easier to decipher the images. Dean bent the brass to form the basic crown; it then went to Manny Green at City Plating to be nickel-plated. We sent the basic crown to John the jeweller for the stone setting. After three weeks John rang to say he wanted twice the amount of money he had quoted to do his share of the crown. ‘Should I stop work?’ He asked. ‘No,’ I said, ‘we have to deliver the finished article in two weeks time, so please continue.’ ‘But you won’t cover your costs.’ ‘I know, that’s a problem I will have to solve, we cannot stop production at this stage, we never let any of our clients down – no matter what the circumstances,’ and I wasn’t about to on this occasion. We had the mould of John Goodman’s head and vacuum formed six plastic head shapes with a ‘gutter’ around the rim. The outer head shape was covered in a dark red velvet and the outside edge of the ‘gutter’ with white mink dotted with pieces of ermine tail. When he wore the crown in the bath it fell into the water.
Obviously filming could not stop while the velvet and fur dried, so the extra linings could be replaced quickly as the metal part of the crown fitted into the ‘gutter’. Having his exact head shape also meant that the crown fitted perfectly when held in place by a leather chinstrap when ‘King Ralph’ played bowls in the palace.
In the end we did not make any money but because the production gave us a little extra from their budget we did just cover our costs. They were pleased with the finished result, achieved in just six weeks – and so were we.
We made other Royal Regalia a few times over the years, including an Orb and Sceptre for ‘Johnny English’ starring Rowan Atkinson and John Malkovich in 2003 plus many other props for the film. But more of that later.