Monday, 1 June 2015

A Year in Pictures – 28 and 29 May 2015 – Visions of Empire 1: Cutlasses and Lightsabers

The annual service for Trinitytide has just ended at St Olave Hart Street in the City of London. The Master, Elder Brethren, Younger Brethren, pensioners and staff of The Trinity House have left the church and processed to their lunch. The silver is being cleared away and once again the church is quiet. One of the two displays of flowers that stand to either side of the altar has as its background part of the monument to the Bayning brothers, Andrew and Paul, kneeling in their niches, clad in the scarlet robes of Aldermen, their hands held palm to palm in prayer to their MakerAndrew (died 1610) faces south, while Paul (died 1616) faces east and is the one seen here. They were from an Essex family and representative of the mercantile classes that flourished increasingly and rose to prominence in the reign of Elizabeth I. The Baynings themselves were active in the Levant trade and in the genesis of the East India Company, running privateer vessels and "opening up" the East. They were close contemporaries of the Queen's mysterious one-time resident sage and adviser, John Dee, who is sometimes said to have coined the expression "The British Empire"—whether or not he did, he was certainly, like the Baynings, an advocate of English expansion and therefore in at the beginning of the enterprise that developed eventually into the great imperial project.

On Friday, 29 May my steps took me past the shops and restaurants on the north side of Twickenham Green, where I was confronted by this representative of another Empire. George Lucas may have introduced us (and entertainingly so) to an empire that existed "a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away", but he, or at least his business enterprise, certainly had their feet very firmly planted on the soil of Planet Earth when they took the proprietor of the shop in which this Stormtrooper stands to court for breach of their intellectual property rights. Andrew Ainsworth had for a number of years been producing Star Wars costumes and full-size replicas of R2D2 from original moulds he had fashioned to give life to the designs that Lucas had approved for the 1977 movie that eventually became known as "Star Wars IV: A New Hope". I went into the shop to ask permission to photograph the items  on display, which was duly granted, and Mr Ainsworth and I had a most interesting conversation, in which he explained to me that Lucasfilm had lost the case because the crafting of the original moulds had been industrial design and not an artwork. I have since read that his friend, Nick Pemberton, a scenic artist, had made the clay model of the trooper's helmet from which Andrew worked and that the work was done speculatively and without payment. The moulds had remained—as they still do—Andrew's property and he was not therefore engaged in "passing off" Lucas's intellectual property as his own. The Far East is an important market for his Star Wars replica costumes and props, he told me, and I wish him well in anticipation of the forthcoming Star Wars VII.

To be continued...

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