Peter Wragg (1946–2012)

Peter Wragg, who began his career at AP Films and rose to head the BBCs Visual Effects Department, died on 13th April at the age of 65. Peter was a keen model maker in his youth and was working in a bank when he got his start as an assistant in AP Films’ Visual Effects Department after his father did some building work for the company. Once there, he demonstrated a flair for making the notoriously recalcitrant Thunderbird 2 fly realistically and became an integral part of Derek Meddings’ team, flying models, constructing sets and landscapes and learning the art of pyrotechnic effects. So highly thought of was he within a short space of time that Peter was Second Unit Visual Effects Director on the film Thunderbirds Are Go.

He retained this post for Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons and Joe 90 and also worked on The Secret Service and UFO. He remained with AP Films/Century 21 until the completion of UFO in 1970, at which point the company closed and the highly skilled model units broke up at a time of contraction in the British film industry. With film work scarce Peter left film-making to retrain as a tool-maker, a trade he remained in for several years until he learned from an old Century 21 colleague that there was a temporary opening at the BBC for a Visual Effects Assistant. Signing an initial four month contract, he was to stay with the Corporation for 24 years, eventually becoming joint head of the department.

For the BBC his work appeared in a wide variety of programmes, including the 1980 time travelling Play for Today production The Flip Side Of Dominic Hyde, the terrifying 1984 nuclear holocaust drama Threads and most famously Red Dwarf. He worked, however, on a wide range of series, such as the comedies Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em (Peter’s first job for the BBC), The Two Ronnies, Bottom, The Detectives, Filthy, Rich & Catflap and ‘Allo ‘Allo. Naturally he contributed special effects to Doctor Who, including the serials The Visitation, Resurrection Of The Daleks and Mindwarp. For the 1977 story Image Of The Fendahl he even appeared inside the costume of one of his creations, a Fendahleen.

Red Dwarf remained the work he was best known for amongst science fiction fans, making typically slim BBC budgets look as impressive as Hollywood productions. Among his many designs for the series were three of Red Dwarf’s most iconic items: the eponymous craft, a huge industrial looking red beast; the angular Kryten the android, brought to life by actor Robert Llewellyn, and the Starbug, which betrayed design influences from Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons and UFO. The latter was one of the many ideas brought to the production team by Peter himself, which the delighted producers then worked into the series. Other examples include the snowbound setting of Marooned and the ocean covered moon of Back To Reality.

Peter retired in 2000, a year after the BBC cancelled Red Dwarf, and by April 2003 the centre of excellence that was the BBC’s Visual Effects Department was closed down, a victim of the ‘Producer Choice’ policy of decentralising production services to encourage the independent sector. He reported to old friends and colleagues that he was very happy in his retirement and his death after a short illness came as a terrible to shock to all who knew him.

Peter Wragg died in hospital on Friday 13th April. His funeral was at All Saints Church, Walden, Hertfordshire on Wednesday 25th April 2012. He leaves a wife Hilary, son Neil and daughter Nathalie.

Originally published in FAB 73.