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Top Gear Oliver Auction 0 12 July 2016

An interview with Jonathan – BBC’s Top Gear & The Epic Auction

Epic Studios is a former Anglia Television studio with a rich history and enormous stock pile of associated memorabilia – the result of years of exciting TV and video production. Since the 90s, our studios have been home to iconic series’ like ‘Sale of the Century’, ‘Knightmare’, ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, ‘Trisha’, ‘Loose Women’ and Anglia TV news. More recently they have hosted regional BBC panel / debate shows (such as the recent BBC EU Referendum Debate); various other TV and video productions (including music videos and streamed gaming events) and lots of sport-based entertainment (like Darts Matchplay Tournaments, televised World Association Wrestling events and Ultra White Collar Boxing), alongside a lively music calendar.

Owner Jonathan Thursby also has personal links to TV greats, such as the original series of BBC’s Top Gear. His other company www.evcam.com provided specialist cameras and equipment for numerous episodes of the programme including those shot Botswana, Vietnam and USA.

He has decided that the time has come to let some branded equipment and memorabilia go, from both Epic Studios’ history and his time with the Top Gear crew. A decision that has caused an excited stir among television enthusiasts.

Last week I caught up with Jonathan at EV Offshore and got the low down on what collectors can expect to find at the coming auction (21st July), why it is happening now and just a bit more about the man himself. This is how it went…

Jonathan Thursby - Epic Studios

What was it about the studios that attracted you when you took them on in 2012?

Above all else, it was my passion for television production that attracted me to the project. It is an amazing resource and I was very excited to continue with the council’s vision, bringing a media hub together in Norwich.

It was Epic Studios’ 4th birthday last month – 4 years on, are you happy with the way that things have progressed?

It has been an interesting 4 years . Linda, the family and I have put 24 hours in a day at times but it has been huge fun. It really has tweaked my passion back into TV. Yes I’m happy with where we are now, the future is settled and we have a very bright future.

I know you have been quite hands on at Epic Studios, what have the highlights and happiest memories been since you embarked on this project?

Over the last 4 years there have been too many highlights to name! Some of the fun times? From working behind the bar, which I’ve never done before in my life, trying to serve 700 people – incredible experience…tough work (so I fully appreciate bar staff!). To producing people like Howard Jones and Midge Ure, you know, incredible characters from the 60s & 70 & 80s. We’ve had so much talent here and I’ve been able to produce, edit, or provide camera-work. When I was young growing up, I’d have given my right eye to do this, now I’ve done it, so…there are too many good things I can think of. In the 4 years we’ve been doing it. Everything, everything we’ve done at Epic has been a proud moment and we’ve learnt from and done better the next time.

Howard Jones

It feels like a real family project, like you’re all involved. Has the whole family embraced Epic Studios?

The family have embraced Epic Studios fully. My 2 sons are involved as much as Linda and I, whether it’s editing, camera work, post-production…even filming this interview.

There is an incredible collection of exciting memorabilia at Epic Studios that has built up over a number of years, right since it was Anglia TV. I’ve seen Anglia TV equipment and series images;  drum skins signed by artists who have performed here since you’ve taken it on and there’s also Top Gear behind-the-scenes photographs and memorabilia. Why have you decided to let all this go now?

The simple reason why we are opening up the auction to everyone is the fact that we’ve run out of space. The media hub concept is working so well, we’re at 100% occupancy, we just need the space – and there’s incredible memorabilia at Epic Studios, Pictures of Top Gear days, World Rally, Power boat racing, from all the Anglia television days and the council run days. We have drum skins signed by all the people who have played at Epic. You know, it’s an interesting place!

Top Gear Photos

Top Gear is very much in the public eye at the moment – it’s a big story with the new series. I’ve heard that you had direct involvement with some of the earlier shows, featuring the original line up –  including those shot in Botswana, Vietnam and USA? Could you tell me a little bit about that?

I was involved with filming and specialist cameras used on Top Gear from 1993 to 2010. Some of those programmes have gone down in history as the greats and I think for the crew – including Jeremy and the boys and possibly the audience – Botswana is held as one of the best ever Top Gears. It was the most fun to film, it was the most hard work, the most demanding in every way. It used my compete skill set, not just as a camera man – keeping cameras running in the heat and the dust – but as an engineer, whether that was an electronic or mechanical engineer. Myself and the team I was with, we had to keep the cars going. So you’ll see behind the scenes that we were keeping the cars going throughout the day, all the time, it was immense fun.

Jeramy Clarkson Top GearEpic Studios Auction

So this was your original company Extreme Video? Sister company EV Offshore also specialises in the design, development and provision of bespoke cameras for extreme conditions filming doesn’t it? When did EV Offshore come about?

By about 2000, Extreme Video was providing  70% of extreme camera work to TV productions in the UK and Europe. We were involved with World Rally Championships, British Touring Car Championships, Formula 3, European Championships, Offshore Power boat racing, round the world yacht racing,.. We were designing and building cameras for extreme environments and had great success with it. I traveled the world, had great fun! But I was soon looking for bigger challenges. Television was changing, Go-Pro was still a few years off but I could sense it coming, so I looked to another industry – somewhere I could take my skill set to. The oil industry was big in Great Yarmouth and it seemed a natural progression to put cameras down oil wells. So we started to build and design high pressure, high temperature cameras of a high quality that had never been seen before in the oil industry. I started EV Offshore in 2000 alongside Extreme Video. We were able to build robust cameras for extreme environments. A camera in an oil well is pretty extreme. We went on a world wide expansion in 2010 and EV is now the global leader in ‘down hole’ video technology.

BBC Drone Camara

How have you responded to the drone phenomenon?

Well, ever-wanting to be up on technology, I’ve been watching drones for the last 5 or 6 years. I’ve had a hobbie in flying not only model aircraft and helicopters but real aircraft – real helicopters. So I have been watching drones and what they’re capable of and there have been many people popping up as professional drone pilots. Where we differentiate ourselves is that both Gary, my main pilot, and myself, have 30 years of model experience behind us [and] 30 years of extreme camera experience behind us with experience of working on large sets, small sets and widely remote sets. We can fly accurately. Putting those 2 things together, we can provide top notch drone footage. Over the last 2 years our drone experience has gone from children’s television CBBCs ‘Airmageddon’ to filming gas terminals with infrared cameras finding hotspots.

What is the most unusual thing that your specialised cameras have been used for?

There have been lots of things. For example, we built the first hidden cameras that went in to film animal cruelty. It was a challenge because the tape decks were very large in those days and they had to be hidden on the person. It was also very upsetting watching the footage back and seeing what went on. We never filmed it, we just designed the equipment – the people filming it were putting their lives at risk because some of these companies and organisations would have a go at them. They were travelling all over England, Europe and the world, filming these bad conditions. But hopefully it’s helped animals.

So we’ve spoken a little about your connection with BBC’s Top Gear. What’s Jeremy Clarkson really like to work with? 

Jeremy and I have quite a different relationship to most crew because we go back for so many years, I met him first in 1993 and he respects what I do and he knows that I work hard at what I do. So he gave me a hard time – but a relatively easy time! One of Jeremy’s nicknames for me was Norfolk, or HMS Turnip, because obviously, farmer – Norfolk…. I have got big hands [smiles]. Now James May, he is probably one of the most intelligent people I know, he has a photographic memory but mechanically is appalling. For example in Botswana, we were bleeding the brake shoes on ‘Oliver’ the Vauxhall Cadet and James had read the Haynes manual . He could tell us exactly how many pumps of the foot brake we needed to do and how many turns we needed to adjust for the brake shoes, but give him a spanner and he hadn’t got a hope – bit like Jeremy with his hammer! But Richard Hammond, totally the opposite, gun ho, didn’t read the manual, but got a spanner and a hack saw and started hacking up everything he could find. May not have been useful but he was certainly enthusiastic! 

Top Gear Oliver

Was that a pet name for a vehicle I just heard?

Oliver? Yeah. So you’ll see the Top Gear poster which they all scribbled over (in with auction memorabilia), you’ll see the centre piece is Oliver. Now we made Oliver a submarine. We designed it so we could drive into the river and drive out again relatively safely. It would have worked but Richard was so petrified the first time we did it – because there really were crocodiles around. There was a man there with a big gun, but he [Richard] was really there and turned the cameras off by accident as he drove in. He left the car in for 5 minutes while they were filming all the hoohaa etc. We retrieved the car, checked the footage, realised that Richard had accidentally turned the cameras off and we had to try to get the car going again to re-shoot. We managed to get it going, re shot it for the interior shots and then we pulled the car out. They did all the pieces to camera where Jeremy was laughing over the radio etc. which you see in the show. He left us at the site of Oliver while the whole crew went back to camp and bet that he would never see the car again! Well, anything to rise to a challenge, we spent 2 hours taking the engine apart, cleaning the distributor, cleaning the fuel lines and we got it going again. The shots you see on the footage are me driving it back to camp and Jeremy’s amazement that it’s turning up and we kept it going.

Botswana has so many stories. I mean there are stories for all of them. For example, Vietnam, the big thing at Vietnam… they got it slightly wrong, how much travelling we would do a day. Normally you’d plan in a car to do average 50-55 miles a day, with all the filming and the stops etc. With the bikes, they planned 35 miles a day, we actually made 10, so they were incredibly long days – from 6 in the morning till 8 at night. As I said they were long, hard days. So we got to a train…and we had a few sleeper carriages which had four beds in each. Jeremy decided to take himself off and try to get some sleep in one carriage. The whole team, including James and Richard, got in another cabin. We drank all the beer on the train, made a lot of noise and we purposely kept Jeremy up until he finally came through the door, opened the door about to swear at everyone then he realised it was the whole team in there. He went back to sleep …we had a hangover for a few days.

So Oliver is within the memorabilia?

Yes, there are many pictures of Oliver and Richard, it was an incredible little car. It was a 1960s, so no technology, just basic mechanics, easy to fix. On the other hand we had a Mercedes there (to be far to Mercedes the only thing that went wrong was one of the spark cables failed but apart from that it never put a foot wrong) but the Alpha had electronics which were just appalling. How we got it over the start and finish line…well we only just got it over the start line, because it was boiling the water up before we even started. So then how we managed to do 1000 miles and keep it going! …It was an automatic gear box and got stuck in second, so we had to push start it because it just wouldn’t start, couldn’t change gear, the starter motor wouldn’t always engage so you had to hit it with a hammer to start it, etc. etc. Whereas Oliver, the 1960s car, just kept going and going and going and it was fun to drive.

Were you ever The Stig?

A few times. There are a few Stigs, I can give you a clue as obviously I wouldn’t really fit into a normal Stig race suit so …maybe there was a lorry driver around somewhere? [Laughs]

Who is the Stig

What are your plans for the Studio in the coming months / years?

So over the last 4 years we have  been successful at many things and the local wrestling, WAW, at the moment has the potential of a world wide TV deal and that will progress into something pretty major for Norwich. For the team, everyone’s put effort into it, whether that’s the actual wrestlers, the mangers of the wrestlers, Epic staff… you know we have done it as a team and it now has the potential to be sold to a major UK channel, several US channels and some other European channels, So, I’d like to use that model on other things that we’ve been involved in, like, say, a new music show, like The Tube or the Old Grey Whistle test. We have plans for that and the internet is a big thing for TV a new way of getting to youngsters YouTube. Over the 4 years we’ve had 1.2 million hits on our videos, we’ve probably got a thousand videos up and those hits are not just from Norwich or the UK, they are from all over the world. Suddenly any performer can reach across to New Zealand…I mean we’ve had views from everywhere and it’s really humbling to see how small the world is and how easy it is to reach these people now.

Epic Studios AuctionEpic Studios Auction

So lots of sport and music coming up at Epic Studios?

Yeah, we’re going to do more and more sport and more real TV programmes and watch this space for a music show!

If you’d like to see images of some of the most exciting pieces up for auction, or to arrange a private viewing, please go to www.ppauctions.com or contact us on hello@epic-tv.com for more information. You can also read more on our previous blog

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