Normally, when we pick out something to carry the “Retrotechtacular” banner, it’s a film from the good old days when technology was young and fresh, and filmmakers were paid by one corporate giant or another to produce a film extolling the benefits of their products or services, often with a not-so-subtle “celebrate the march of progress” undertone.
So when we spied this remastered version of The Secret Life of the Electric Light, an episode from [Tim Hunkin]’s fabulous educational The Secret Life of Machines TV series, we didn’t really think it would be good Retrotechtacular fodder. But just watching a few minutes reminded us of why the series was must-see TV back in the 1990s (when it first aired widely here in the States), especially for the budding geek. When viewed with eyes more used to CGI animations and high production values, what [Tim] and his collaborator, the late [Rex Garrod], accomplished with each of these programs is truly astounding. Almost every bit of the material, as well as the delivery, has an off-the-cuff quality to it that belies what must have taken an enormous amount of planning and organization to pull off. [Tim] and [Rex] obviously went to a lot of trouble to make it look like they didn’t go to a lot of trouble, and the result is films that home in on the essentials of technology in a way few programs have ever managed, and none since. And the set-piece at the end of each episode — often meeting its pyrotechnic destruction — always were real crowd-pleasers. They still are.
We have to say the remastered versions of The Secret Life episodes, all of which appear to be posted at [Tim]’s YouTube channel, look just great, and the retrospectives at the end of each episode where he talks about the travails of production are priceless. Also posted are his more recent The Secret Life of Components, which is a treasure trove of practical tips for makers and backyard engineers that’s well worth watching too.
Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: The Secret Life Of The Electric Light”
Earlier this month, the youth motocross champion, special effects creator, inventor, TV presenter, and Robot Wars competitor, [Rex Garrod] died at the age of 75 after a long battle with dementia. We do not often carry obituaries here at Hackaday, and it’s possible that if you are not a Brit you may not have heard of [Rex], but his work in the time before YouTube would have made him an international must-watch star had he been operating in the age of on-demand Internet video.
I first became aware of Rex when he appeared as assistant to [Tim Hunkin] on his Secret Life of Machines TV series in the late 1980s. He was the man whose job we all wanted, making the most incredible machines and operating them for our entertainment. Our Hardware heroes tribute to [Tim] has a picture of him operating the needle on a giant mock-up of a sewing machine, but he appeared in many more episodes. Of the many tributes to [Rex] that have appeared over the last few days it is [Tim]’s one that probably says the most about his appeal to our community. His propensity for picking up interesting parts from junkyards strikes a chord, and the tale of hugely overpowering car wiper motors by allowing them to be submerged in water is pure genius.
To a slightly younger generation he is best known for his appearances in the British Robot Wars series‘ with his Cassius series of fighting robots. He created one of the first really potent flipper robots in UK robotic combat, and incidentally the first effective self-righting mechanism. As one of the many members of the SMIDSY team that didn’t appear on the recorded TV series’ I encountered him only peripherally, but I remember his work being a major influence on SMIDSY’s run-any-way-up design. Meanwhile for a younger generation still he created the models for the popular children’s TV character Brum, an anthropomorphised scale-model Austin 7 car.
We’ll leave you with a couple of videos featuring [Rex]. The first is from The Secret Life of Machines, in which along with [Tim] he helps explain electronics from first principles, while the second is a fan-created medley of his Robot Wars appearances. Rest in peace [Rex], and thank you.
Continue reading “RIP Rex Garrod, Creator Extraordinaire”