Monday, 28 December 2020

THE MOTEL SIGN - REPLICA

 


HERE IT IS - THE BIG ONE - QUITE LITERALLY!

If Meg’s sitting room is the iconic interior set from the series, then the image of the motel with its famous red sign must be the iconic exterior. It appeared regularly in the show from the mid-sixties right up until 1981 – on the night of the motel fire. 

A drawing of it was seen on the motel noticeboard throughout the 1970’s and more recently, a recreation appeared in the 2018 series of “Endeavour” when Morse visits a “Crossroads Motel”…

Image that appeared on the motel notice board - and reprinted in the 1979 Special Book

Recreation of the motel sign from "Endeavour: Passenger" (2018)

Sadly, it is not possible to watch any episodes from this period that feature moving footage of the sign as so many of them have been wiped – However, a still caption featuring the red sign at the location used for the motel (Shropshire Farm Institute in Bascurch, Shropshire) was used regularly in the programme, and can be seen in many of the episodes that were released on the DVD box-set.

Episode Opening - Photo Caption

End of Part One

Part Two

The sign was used memorably in 1971 for a photoshoot arranged to celebrate 1500 episodes of Crossroads. Here it has been re-positioned in front of a different building on the college campus...

Photo celebrating 1500 episodes of Crossroads - Noele Gordon and Roger Tonge

It also featured in this “behind the scenes” shot of Noele Gordon with producer, Reg Watson and again in a recently discovered ATV photo taken at the Longshoot Motel in Nuneaton.

Noele Gordon and Reg Watson on Location

The sign at the Longshoot Motel in the 1970's


What DOES exist in the archive of episodes is this scene from episode 498, (1966) where Andy Fraser is talking outside the supermarket. It’s clear that he and Meg use the same sign suppliers!

The Supermarket run by Andy Fraser - Episode 498 - LINK


A few years ago, a 30 second film trim featuring Noele  Gordon walking past the sign was discovered at ITV, alongside footage shot in the UK, Spain and Tunisia. It is fair to say that in this clip, the sign does indeed wobble. 

Image courtesy of the Crossroads Appreciation Society

In 1988, Central Television axed the show and arranged an auction of many items of scenery and props. The auction was covered extensively in the press and many items were bought by the Daily Mirror to give away as competition prizes.

Open weekend for viewing at Biddle & Webb

Front Page of the Auction Catalogue - Courtesy of John Jameson-Davis

Photo of the Auction Room - Courtesy of John Jameson Davis


Several iconic pieces were bought by fans of the programme, including item number 285 “Crossroads  Motel Bar” free standing sign." - which was bought by Kathleen Hudson, for her grandson, Simon Cole of the Crossroads Appreciation Society. 

Kathleen with the motel sign - Image courtesy of the Crossroads Appreciation Society


It is now in the possession of Crossroads super-fan, Peter Kingsman – also the owner of Meg’s bureau, Jill’s rocking chair and various other amazing pieces of memorabilia. In fact it has often appeared on TV since its use in the programme. 

"Crossroads: 30 Years On" - Pictured with Peter Kingsman (1994)

Outside the Roses Theatre - Tewksbury (Pebble Mill 1989)

"Soap Secrets" - 2000

Now – I knew that there was no way that I would be able to add the real sign to my collection – and I know that it is safe in Peter’s hands – but about six years ago, way back in 2014, I decided that I wanted to create some kind of replica of the original - and that is where this story really begins…

STAGE 1: RESEARCH

The major problem was always going to be getting hold of the correct lettering. Had I started this project thirty years ago there wouldn’t have been a problem, as I remember this particular sign lettering everywhere as a child – in fact my dad used to have HUGE versions of it on the side of the place where he worked in the 1980s. I remember the day when the business was taken over and they took down the lettering. You do still see it around the place – quite often on businesses and shops from the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Advertising for Graham Lyon's "Motel Number 1" - The Royal Oak

Interestingly, as you can see above, Graham Lyon Motels used a similar font on their advertising brochures from the 1960’s and here are two examples of the lettering being used on actual motels – the first, the Saxon Cross Motel, Sandbach, which closed in 2007 and the second is from T&J Motel still trading on the A21. 

        

The remains of the Saxon Cross Motel (Since demolished)

T&J Motel on the A21


I snapped these two images not far from my house just a few months ago...

Wilson Bros - Sheffield

Clamark House - Sheffield - Sign since removed

My family are quite used to me asking for a photo in front of a random shop whenever we go anywhere...

Opticians - Looe, Cornwall.

Aldeburgh Sweet Shop, Suffolk - Sign since removed.

As a matter of interest, there are many similar “fonts” out there on the internet that are NEARLY right for the job. I say “nearly” because I was very clear with myself that I wanted my replica to be as close to the original sign as possible – and that would mean that ONLY the exact type would be acceptable.

Advert for Intersigns letters from Vantec LTD

So what are they? Well after a bit of internet research, and through chatting with various people online I found out that they are injection moulded letters produced by a company called “Inter-Signs” that was based in Bristol. The lettering was so versatile that it turns up on restaurants, pubs, chemists, opticians, shops, farms and yes – even motels!  One reason that the letters appear everywhere is that they were often sold as DIY items that you could “fix yourself”, which meant that people could easily create their own inexpensive, professional-looking signs ……

German Catalogue - Page 1

German Catalogue - Page 2 - Note name "Festive"

German Catalogue - Page 3

Jayville Engineering LTD, Telford

Although the catalogue names the particular lettering "Festive", it is often called “Stymie Bold” and there are appreciation groups on the internet and social media. In fact – visiting these sites was my first port-of-call when researching the letters.




STAGE 2: COLLECTING

I thought this would be the easy part. It wasn’t. I have spent the best part of six years scouring antiques shops, flea markets, reclamation yards and disused factory units to locate genuine 1960’s letters. Of course we are in the age of the internet, and as I’ve discussed many times, ebay is a fantastic resource for collectors. During the early part of my search I managed to gather a fairly large pile of inter-signs letters… of various sizes!

3" 4" 6" and 9" examples

My first purchases were of four inch high letters and (joy of joys) they were even the correct red colour. It was actually fairly easy to collect many of these as they often came up in “job-lots” and by the time I wrote and produced some short videos for Big Centre TV in 2015 I had the correct letters to spell out “MOTEL” for use on the set…

 

Crossroads: On Location for Big Centre TV

This is a lie actually – as I had MQTFL – but some sneakily placed collectables hid this fact. Ironically, the week after I produced my last video I bought another tranche of letters and had almost everything I needed to write “CROSSROADS MOTEL”.

It was around this time that I decided that I should not only try to recreate a similar motel sign – but THE motel sign – and I came to the rather frustrating realisation that I had got the wrong size. It was clear from looking at the existing publicity photographs that my letters were going to be far too small.

Of course, it wasn’t difficult to look at the collection that I had, and decide which would be the most likely candidates for the correct size. Very quickly I worked out that the “CROSSROADS MOTEL” part was actually made out of letters that were six inches high.

With this in mind, I broke down the individual parts of the sign using Photoshop to compare the relative sizes. My original calculations are in this image…


CROSSROADS MOTEL – 6 inches high

BAR RESTAURANT – Half of the CROSSROADS MOTEL size – 3 inches high

SWIMMING POOL – A third of the CROSSROADS MOTEL letters – 2 inches high.

I was also able to work out (roughly) how large the back board would need to be – but that would need to come later.

So from 2015 until 2018 I set about collecting as many of the original size letters as I could – and I actually did quite well –all things considered…

CROSSROADS MOTEL

The collection nears completion...

Some of the letters before stripping

As you can see, some of the six inch letters came to me in a very sorry state – with years and years of grime, cracks and damage on many of them and layers….and layers….and LAYERS of paint on several others.

Often simple paint thinner / nail polish remover was enough to remove most of the paint – but occasionally I had to resort to scraping with a razor blade – and even softening paint in the dishwasher before it would come off.

When I look back, I had white ones with black edging, blue ones with white edging and black ones with white edging, but actually no red ones with white edging – but I always knew that I would need to repaint them anyway to get the “new motel” look so that wasn’t really a problem.


BAR RESTAURANT

The three inch letters were actually fairly easy – up to a point. I did really well collecting these and had almost collected all of them, but there were some that were damaged and some that were just impossible to find. I toyed with the idea of moulding / vacuum forming some, but then I got talking to a friend online, who just happened to have experience of creating sign lettering. He suggested to me that if we could scan copies of the original letters, he could trace them electronically and create svg files that could be used to 3D print replicas…

Initially I was unsure about doing this as I wanted my sign to be as screen accurate as possible, but in the end, common sense prevailed and we went for it – I scanned all of my letters, whether they were 3, 4, 6 or 9 inch versions – and eventually we had almost the complete alphabet. 

One amazing thing about the craftsmanship of the original letters is that they are absolutely and definitely made in scale with each other – which meant that we were able to use 9 inch letters and three inch letters as reference.

Sadly some of the letters we needed to scan were missing, and this is where my friend’s genius talent came in – He was able to calculate the dimensions of the missing letters using the existing letters and photographs of the ones we didn’t have (from the Stymie Bold Facebook group and other places) which meant that eventually we had the complete alphabet – including punctuation and numbers.

At this point I got in touch with a delightful couple that I had made contact with through ebay – who told me that they were able to produce 3D printed letters in “any” font. I sent them copies of the svg files and within just a few days they had printed me off some sample letters – in red and white!

Some very clever manipulation on the computer...

Comparison: Original (left) 3D Print (right)

When the samples arrived in the post I was amazed – as you can see from the image above, there was very little difference between the originals and the new versions. It was then that I decided to use printed copies for all of the “BAR RESTAURANT” letters.

SWIMMING POOL OPEN TO NON RESIDENTS

At no point did I ever manage to collect ANY original  2 inch letters. I have seen some come up on ebay recently, but by then I had already arranged for them to be 3D printed. Myself and my lettering expert friend did have to look closely at photographs to decide whether they also had the raised edge of their larger counterparts, and in the end we called on Mike Garret of the Crossroads Appreciation Society, who was able to send us a detailed photograph from when the sign was on display at the Roses Theatre in Tewksbury (1989)

John Jameson Davis and Stan Stennet (1989)

Small letters being 3D Printed

STAGE 3: CONSTRUCTION

By 2018 I had MOST of the letters that I needed to complete the project so I decided that it was time to build the sign backing. Using the Photoshopped image I had created years before, and by laying out the letters I had collected, I worked out the height and width of the sign – so off I went to Homebase to get the wood cut. 

Initially I chose a thick MDF for the backing and a pine skirting board for the frame. The skirting board had exactly the right curved bevel on it and looked pretty accurate. 

I built the sign, placed the letters on it – and realised that I had miscalculated slightly and that the letters were a bit squashed together. Undetered I pressed-on and painted  the frame using (what I thought was) a pretty good colour match for the original red letters I had in my collection. I cant remember now which paint I used – but it was “off the shelf” and although it was a bit darker than I would have liked it seemed to be OK.

A bit too dark

Testing the letters before the painting - Note the "H" placeholder

I felt quite pleased with myself when I located a paint called “cherry red” which was suitable for plastic – so I duly sprayed all of the six inch letters I had, plus the ones that I had printed in red and white. I then spent an evening with my son carefully painting the white edging back onto all of the letters. 

Cherry Red - Painted Letters


At this point I probably should have been satisfied with what I had and stuck the letters down...

But I was still waiting for an “M” for Motel and in my heart I knew that I wasn't completely happy...

… the niggle about the size of the board, and the colour of the lettering just wouldn’t go away – so even though I’d spent a small fortune on it – I scrapped the board and started again. This time I went for a thinner MDF which is a little wobbly for a real-life sign but perfectly acceptable as a TV prop and MUCH lighter to move around. I also opted to create my own edging using planed pine and separate quad edging as I felt that my first attempt had been a little thick.

After much searching, I discovered that Halfords stock a car paint that is almost a perfect match for the original letters. If you’re interested it is “Volkswagon Mars Red”. So I spent ANOTHER afternoon respraying the letters, then another evening reapplying the white edging – but this time I was satisfied!

Once I knew the exact colour that I wanted I was able to get a red paint mixed for the sign frame that would be more screen accurate – and so in 2019  I finally assembled the sign – minus the missing M and hung it on the wall.

To say that the “M” proved a problem would be an understatement. The 3D printing people didn’t have a printer big enough – and even if they had, and even if we could have printed a bevelled edge, I would KNOW that it wasn’t original. So I just had to wait. I had a three inch, a four inch, even a 9 inch M – but none of these would do. I had an “H” – so could have gone down the “Hotel” route – but no….

I had family members, work colleagues, even people I met online looking for one – but nothing came up. Not once!

And then one night last month I was doing some work late at night – 1:30am to be precise and I was waiting for some printing to come out so I idly went on ebay and typed in “job lot letters”- and there – right in front of me was the missing M – not only that – it was in pristine condition, never having been used…. and even BETTER than that – it was a “BUY IT NOW” sale. So I did!

Six LONG years later...

And here we are – over six years since I first decided to embark on the project – the (almost) complete sign. I still have the legs to build – and I’m not completely happy with the spacing of the letters – but it’s complete. 

Complete at last!

Peter Kingsman with the original sign