Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The story of the vans adventures in London. July 2013.

Before I tell you about the adventures I had with the JB van in London, let me tell you a bit of the history of the firm that hired the van for this event.

The History of R G Jones.

Ronald Geoffrey Jones was born in Caerphilly in South Wales. From an early age he loved designing and building gadgets. Entirely self-taught, he was equally skilled at carpentry and metalwork and was very quickly able to construct a power amplifier and other pieces of electronic equipment.

Known as Geoff or RG, his first job on leaving school was for a company called Milton. He became a salesman for the company and from a caravan, in which he also lived, he sold his wares in town markets all around Wales. Getting himself heard above the other market traders was hard work and he soon began to turn his mind again to electronically-amplified sound. Totally undaunted by his lack of training in electronics, he procured all the necessary components and had soon assembled a system. Two large horn loudspeakers, the flares constructed entirely by him out of bits of timber, were mounted on top of the car which towed his caravan. Inside, he installed a microphone connected to an amplifier powered by four 12-volt batteries and a rotary (48V to 230V) convertor. It worked! The young RG Jones was now able to advertise himself effortlessly to the crowds, giving him a distinct advantage over the other retailers. Such was the success of his enterprise that his employers asked him to build a further fifteen more systems to equip the rest of the Milton force. So by the tender age of just eighteen, the same year Queen Elizabeth II was born, with the BBC barely formed and Stalin just in power, the young RG Jones went into business for himself!

By 1939 the world was watching on as Germany invaded Poland and began World War 2. Just the year before, The War of The Worlds had been broadcasted on the radio and caused total the real panic was beginning to unfold. It must have been an extraordinary time to live in and RG Jones continued to expand his business despite this. He and his wife moved to South West London, renting a space in an orchard for their caravan! Here, he erected a shed for his office and generated a business producing and hiring out public address systems.

During the Second World War, mobile PA equipment from RG Jones was used by The Home Guard, The Red Cross and even at Liverpool Docks for controlling the landing of thousands of American troops.
RG was also contracted to refit Green Line coaches which had been loaned to the American red Cross who painted them grey and renamed them "Clubmobiles". Each one was fitted with a microphone, loudspeakers, a wireless and gramophone. Alongside the Clubmobiles, RG's fitted PA into Blood Donor vans. Meanwhile, the RG Jones studio was also busy producing records of radio plays for entertainment used by the armed forces.
Ewell school sports day 1972.

Outside a manor house in Mitcham, this was demolished to build Mitcham college.
Now this is where the story really starts. In 2007 to celebrate 80 years in business the management at R G Jones set about finding an old van to promote their company. Now not knowing anything about old vehicles they posted pictures of their 1950 vans on various forum sites to find out what they were.
Once they had been identified the search was on to find a van to hire.
Now there are many vans out there but finding an owner that had a plain van that was willing to have it sign written for a short time proved the problem.
That’s when R G Jones found my blog site and saw my JB van for the first time.
Somewhat rough and ready or “work-a-day” as I like to call it, I’ve used it for general transport and have been lucky in getting various hire jobs for film and TV programmes over the years.
Now when on hire it is a “prop” to be used and abused how the director wants.
Superman spoof video.
It has had many liveries applied over the years for its film work and when removed they always leave marks. Not a problem, a quick re-paint normally covers up most things. This J/B van gets requested about twice a year for various productions and has appeared in Dr Who, Willy Wonka, My Week with Marilyn and various period crime dramas.
Dr Who and a J type.
R G Jones had hired my van before, it was used by them for a 5-day display in Henley music festival in 2007.
It was a success and there was talk of more events but in the end they did not ring for 6 years!
The call came early this year, it was about hiring my JB van for a special London event. No details given, rather hush hush.
After about 3 months of e-mail exchanges I was given the full details of the event, 6 days hire for Buckingham Palace. The van would need to be sign written then driven up to the Palace.
So I under took a quick re-paint of the van and purchased new number plates just for this event.
So finally I was given the dates I needed and plans were made.

 I took the van to the head quarters of R G Jones in Wimbledon SW19 to have the sign writing carried out. I'm glad the tennis had finished but it was still a nightmare journey.
 Some of the sign writing they had ordered was not to their liking once it was on the van so it was removed by the guy doing the job. It still looks good, maybe a nice drop shadow on the lettering would also improve it still more.
I also had to load up with four large horn speakers, they will be mounted on a frame and then mounted on the roof to play period fifties music to Her Majesty The Queen and her guests while the van is on display in Buckingham Palace gardens.
I will have to get up early tomorrow morning, I should leave home at about 4.30 am to give me time to  "book in" at the check point in Constitution Hill SW1.
Wish me luck.
"The Plan", take the JB van to London. Park as near to Buckingham Palace and await the 7 am booking in time slot, then drive into the Palace.
What could be simpler than that?
So this would mean an early start, not a problem I never like to panic and to be running late, lets go early and have an easy drive into the heart of London SW1.
Alarm set for 4am, a quick breakfast and I'm off, picking up the M4 motor-way at Langley. Already speed restriction signs flashing but these were for the M25 intersection maybe an accident or over running road works, I'm not bothered I'm not going that way!
A very easy drive in, to show how easy, no problem changing lanes as and when I needed to, something that a normal drive in an old van is not an easy manoeuvre.
Along Knightsbridge (A4) to Hyde Park corner, I sailed around that and turned into Belgrave square, home of many Embassies. I had checked out the area via Google maps and road view and also a few websites to check out the parking restrictions. Free parking till 8.30 am, ideal location.
Current time it's 6.05 am, my booking in time is 7.00 am on the dot, location Constitution Hill. Lets go for a walk and check out the area.
Looking back, a rather lonely sight, a small JB van lost in a vast London square.

On route I found a coffee shop, I needed that, but could have done without the burnt fingers, I find take away coffee cups always leak no matter how slow you walk.
 I walked across Hyde Park corner, I won't try that later! Then down the north side of Buckingham Palaces security wall to the magnificent front facade.
 Not much going on here, not even soldiers on patrol.
But wait, out the front of the Palace were this wedding couple, doing the new "fad" thing, their own wedding in their own country and then for a honeymoon (strange word?) to go to other parts of the world and be photographed in front of iconic buildings and locations, or so one of the gun carrying police officers explained before he moved the happy couple on. Maybe not so happy now.
 No sooner had the area been cleared and three cyclist turned up and got in my way, you can tell by the long shadows it's still early in the morning. By mid morning this area will be swarming with sightseers. Time to retrace my steps to get back to the van.
 So back up Consititution Hill road, empty apart from the cones put out for the festival traffic.
 On the way I met up with Simon Pegg lookalike who was my contact from R G Jones,
( the firm who were hiring my van for 6 days) he explained he had his pass to get in to the Palace grounds but the paperwork for my pass was not going to happen and that I would have to just tag along as far as I could. A bit of a shame but not a big problem after all they were hiring the van, my job for the day was to get it to London.
While we waited there one of his team passed by with one of their modern vans so an "old and new" picture was taken.
 Also as now I did not have clearance "Simon" would have to drive the van in. So could I let him have a test drive of the van? Not a problem but the other change of plan was that the booking in time had now altered to 9 am.
So into the hot seat and around and around Belgrave Square we went, some of the Embassies have Police officers on their steps and slowly they seemed to get amused and bemused as this old van kept going round and round with gears crunching at every change.
Soon "Simon" was use to the high biting clutch pedal and long "pudding stirrer " of a gear lever and all was going well.
At 8.45 am we set off to the check point, around Hyde Park corner we went, extremely manic traffic now, rush hour, more like slow jam packed hour!
Still we got into the coned off festival traffic line. Passes to be checked, vehicles to be searched, sniffer dogs to check us out and a nice airport style "PAT" down.
Each officer placed a sticker on our vans security pass, each officer told me I could not go into the Palace gardens but sit in the van I did. Security had expected to deal with each vehicle in about 8 minutes but already there was a massive backlog. It was something to do with emergency gas works on the other side of the Palace where the vehicle entrance was. So it was decided that a batch of vehicles would be allowed through the main gate to make up a bit of time. At this point I was thrown out and had to let  "Simon" drive the rest of the way on his own.
 Some of the army horses out for their daily exercise, they passed us by then the van was allowed to go to the next check point in front of the Palace.
 I had a quick word to "Simon", please drive in slowly so I can get some shots I asked.
 OBL's turn to enter and a nice slow take off allowed the assembled spectators a good view.
 OBL going in and at a rate of knots! ( maybe it will get an OBE).
Too late, within seconds the van was in and the gates were already closing.
Once inside the van had to wait again with some vehicles trying to get out, the organised exit route was blocked by an articulated lorry, the side gates were just not designed for 42 ton,  12 wheeler trailers or so I was told by one of the many yellow vested marshals.
 Awaiting the OK to enter the Palace gardens.

There she goes, into the unknown. Out of my sight till Sunday.
What happened to me? Well I'm on my own now, it's 10.30 am and its time I went back to work. So a nice stroll in Hyde Park pass the Serpentine pond and up to Paddington station.

With my ticket purchased its off to work I go, the cost of the day? An early start, coffee, a £9.30 ticket, the congestion charge to pay (£10), and an unpaid morning off work, was it worth it? I missed out on the drive into the palace but at least I was there to see the van drive in and I do have the first of many pictures of the van within the gardens.

Now the next problem, how the heck am I going to get the van out of the Palace?
Further pictures of the van within the gardens.

Buckingham Palace Sunday 14th July.
The main man from R G Jones with his latest advertising tool.

A view of the van from the nearest shady tree, temperature reached 31 degrees today.
Too many people, too hot but a fantastic atmosphere.
The van is stuck in the Palace another night, the earliest it can be removed is Monday afternoon.
Well the van stayed in the gardens till Monday morning and then it was allowed out.
The driver was very nervous about driving the van the 8 miles back to Wimbledon. They had called me to say the van was being released but as it was full of all their sound system stuff it seemed silly for me to collected it then take it to Wimbledon to be unloaded, then for me to drive it back home.
The driver stopped half way back to his "works" to let the engine cool down, well it was another scorching day and the traffic was very heavy. It just so happened that he managed to stop in a Pub car park, so he was able to cool down as well.
An un-eventful drive and the van was un-loaded and stayed over night in their warehouse.
I collected the van and the first port of call was a petrol station, the van was running on the fumes in the tank. 
A drive back to work, no problems and at the end of it I was very glad it was all over.
Never again.