N I C H O L A S & T O S K A
K E E P I N G W A T C H
In the mid 1970’s I was working as a dog handler for a private security firm based in Surrey who held the contract for Shepperton Studios. Following a spate of break-ins and burglaries, the studio requested that my employers add a dog patrol to the existing static security presence and I and my German Shepherd female, Toska were assigned to the position. We made several arrests in the first few weeks and, during this period, Richard Donner and the Superman crew moved into the studios and occupied a number of offices, stages and outlying buildings.
We regularly crossed paths with Richard Donner whilst patrolling and it was not long before my employers informed me that he had requested that Toska and I work exclusively for the Superman production throughout its stay at Shepperton and another dog and handler be brought in for the general studio patrols. I was to be responsible for guarding all the production’s facilities, whilst also being available for first aid and fire protection duties during any filming that took place during my rostered shifts. In the case of my being needed on set (as I was for instance during the filming of the destruction of Krypton sequences and the scenes set in the Council Chamber) then my dog would be housed in the stunt men’s office until my return.
After I received a frantic radio call for help from the stunt performers one afternoon to inform me that my dog would not let them into their office, I made up a reversible sign for the door : ‘The dog is inside’ or ‘The dog is out on patrol’. My shifts mostly ran from 6 pm to 6 am, 6 days per week and I had plenty of opportunity to wander through the sets, offices and costume department after everyone had left for the day. One outlying office was filled with a long line of display boards containing the story boards for all the upcoming sequences and copies of all the ongoing script changes and updates. The wardrobe department was fascinating and I have to admit to slipping my slender 5’10” frame into one of 6’4″ Christopher Reeve’s Superman costumes one long, quiet weekend. The result was most unimpressive and fortunately, this being long before the age of digital cameras, no selfies were taken and as the whole production was being made with an element of secrecy regarding the special effects, etc. I unfortunately took no photos of the production. One particularly striking example of this secrecy occurred when both myself and the Studio’s dog handler were tasked to stand guard outside the largest of the stages (a huge, silent stage that had served as the X-Wing hangar in the first Star Wars movie) and forbid entry to anyone whilst a long series of flying tests were carried out inside with Superman and his adversaries from Superman II.
The whole experience was both interesting and a lot of fun. Richard Donner was always pleasant and friendly to Toska and myself, as were all the rest of the crew. During the course of the production’s time at Shepperton, all my work on the various stages mostly involved Marlon Brando, Susannah York and Harry Andrews However, I did regularly visit and check up on both Marlon Brando’s trailer (fridge filled to overflowing with the bottled spring water he required, but he was never in residence when I visited) and that of Christopher Reeve: fridge filled with protein supplement drinks and the floor of the trailer covered with the weight training equipment that Dave Prowse had provided as part of his exercise/muscle building regime.
My memories of Christopher Reeve from over forty years ago, based on short, off set encounters, are of a pleasant young man (he was two years younger than me), with a slow smile and a ready nod or word of welcome. I also met Terence Stamp, Trevor Howard, Sarah Douglas, William Russell and Dave Prowse (the 6’6″ body builder who had played Darth Vader in Star Wars and was then hired to help Christopher Reeve bulk up his physique to adequately fill out the Superman suit). Eventually, of course, the production moved on to Pinewood Studios and Toska and I returned to general Studio patrols, spending our shifts wandering through the abandoned streets of the sets from the musical, ‘Oliver’ and passing by the discarded Guns of Navarone. Hope this may be of interest.