We've all seen the vintage radios, televisions,
and telephones in TV series, but where do they come from?
The answer is largely from collectors like myself, once tracked down by production companies. In the first instance, it was via an internet posting via an acquaintance, to the effect that I had "one of the largest vintage TV collections in Australia".
Enquiries about my collection.
The production company concerned was doing a mini series, set in the 1960's, and enquired as to what sets I had, and would I be interested?
The hiring fee was quite good; it was $700 for eight sets. The props buyer / hirer arrived at my house one morning to have a look at what I had and what might be suitable. Photos were taken of likely looking sets.
I was assured that utmost care would be taken moving the sets to the filming location, and the sets would be carefully looked after. There was also mention of insurance if anything did go wrong.
Still, I was a bit nervous about seeing some of my sets depart, but it was an opportunity for fame, or so I thought.
Arrangements were made for collection, and a van turned up with one person to help lift the sets out. With my bad back I was expected to help lift out heavy console sets to the waiting van. In the name of fame and a new experience I thought, so I complied.
I was informed the sets would be away for six weeks, which was fine by me.
The sets I hired out were:
The sets return - The HMV.
The first set to be extracted from the van was the 20" HMV VA. The props buyer sheepishly explained it might have been slightly damaged. That was an understatement.
The set had been dropped, bending the steel cabinet and breaking the plastic cabinet front. The picture tube neck surround on the back cover had been pushed in. That was really sad because the cabinet and general condition of the set was much like new.
First sign of damage was the bent cabinet top and cracked picture tube mask. (The on-off knob was missing prior to me hiring the set out)
Moving to the left top we see the mask mounting studs broken off the cabinet.
The picture tube neck cover has been pushed in. The cardboard was torn off the rivets.
It was very fortunate that all the broken pieces of plastic had fallen inside the cabinet. After a week's work, I had the cabinet straightened out and all the plastic glued together. I then re rivetted the picture tube neck cover to the back where it had been pushed in. The way this set was treated was clearly a case of "I don't care, it's just a prop - kick it if it's in the way".
Both companies were happy to cough up some money for compensation; $200 for the first lot, and $50 for the 26" GE, but unfortunately money doesn't fix broken plastic parts that are no longer available.
To have the French polished cabinets redone would cost much more than that. In fact, I got the impression that damaging peoples prized possessions is commonplace; it seemed routine to pay compensation. The props buyer then actually admitted, "I can't keep an eye on them all the time".
The third request.
As a result of an article I contributed to in the Sydney Morning Herald, a regional gallery made a request to borrow a set for an exhibition lasting a few months. This didn't sound too bad at first as it was nearby, and the set would just be on display. However, I detected a bit of "I'm going to get used again". The organiser wanted me to transport the set there at my cost, and to suit their times. They seemed quite surprised that I have a 13 hr work day and I can't just make the hour round trip during working hours. Yes, they could come and collect the set, but only when it suited them.
No mention of being paid for the loan, despite the interest the exhibition was supposed to attract.
What made me really start to feel uncomfortable was when I enquired about the exhibition and was told it was interactive. Visions of grubby hands on the cabinet, an evil child smearing its snot on the picture tube face, missing knobs, plus miscellaneous scratches and gouges, as the public pored over it, made me decide to pull the plug on it. Memories of the 20" HMV reminded me never to risk it again.
What I noticed in all three cases was oodles of friendly charm to start with by the organiser. "We really depend on people like you - it's so hard to find sets like this". "We take really good care of them", they say.
But soon as you say "yes the sets are available", that friendly charm disappears. They're not interested in hearing anything about the sets themselves. "Who cares what year - it's a vintage TV isn't it"? (That's why you see a 1974 solid state Electrohome monitor in a mid 60's studio set).
After all, they've got my prized possessions in their hot little hands to make money for them, and that's the bottom line.
It was clearly evident that they are merely props, and that is the only value they have. It is completely beyond them that these sets are ones I've worked many hours on and are part of a highly prized personal collection, and have a history. They are simply a background ornament.
I did have ideas of having a few sets in crappy cabinets to hire out, knowing they'd get damaged, but in the end I'm just not comfortable with the way these people work.