Geeks, nerds or whatever you called those kids at school, I guess I was one of those. I was heavily into computers, programming, building, taking apart, fixing, you name it I was doing it. Being one of those kids I was also into the technical side of the theatre productions, doing lighting and sound for school plays and events. Little did I know then that doing that would give me an opportunity to start a lifelong career in the fireworks industry!
The school I attended, Reading Blue Coat School in Sonning Berkshire had a Nov 5th fireworks display, when I attended the school the rumour was the chemistry teacher made the fireworks for the show, of course this was a twisted form of the truth, but to this day some of the students at the school believe it! I was asked as my role of chief AV geek to setup the school PA system on the back lawn for announcements during the show which I duly did. I stayed at school after the end of the day to setup and whilst waiting for the start of the show i watched the team setup the fireworks display.
I remember the excitement of being on the fireworks side of the crowd barrier watching the show as the shadowy figures ran around lighting the fireworks. It was fantastic! The crowd cheered at the end of the show and I was hooked!
Much to my excitement I was asked by my chemistry teacher who ran the show if I was interested in helping with the fireworks setup the next year, which of course I accepted with glee! Reading Blue Coat School has always focused on the co-curricular activities to give their students a well rounded education, it was true when I was there and is true now.
A year is a long time to wait when you are at school, but it finally came around. During that time I had been involved in some planning meetings to see how the show was put together. Again much to my excitement I found out they used basic electrical push button firing modules to let off some of the fireworks. Being an uber geek this was the icing on the cake!
I have to say back then it was a different time, these days taking students to help fire fireworks displays would just not happen. You started by firing the fireworks electrically then progressed onto hand firing when you were upper sixth form or had left the school. There was a core group of 4 or 5 students/ex-students who helped run the show along with Paul our chemistry teacher. As time progressed I was getting more into the electrical firing of fireworks, building more elaborate firing systems to fire larger numbers of fireworks. Some of these systems were very successful, others not so much. Whilst other students were doing activities, like sports or chess club, I was in the chemistry labs with multi-meters, bulbs and firing systems trying to track down strange faults we had discovered. Building something that you were responsible for making work when you are only 15 and where it will be tested in front of hundreds of people with no second chances was exhilarating! I mean come on, how many kids at 15 get to fire fireworks mortar shells using an electric system they built themselves!
After I left Blue Coat I attended Reading University, by this time the law had changed on who could buy professional fireworks, the current team at that time of 3 ex-students and Paul got together to discuss what we should do. The options were, stop doing fireworks displays or start up a company. At this point being 18 and having no experience of running a company I was reliant on the other partners who were slightly older than me to do the leg work. However in 1999 myself along with 2 ex-students (John Field and Tony Stevens) and Paul our ex-chemistry teacher started Sonning Fireworks Ltd and that is where the fun really started!
to be continued.....
Chris Clarke is the Technical Director of Sonning Fireworks Ltd, he is responsible for their firing systems and show designs. Chris has spoken at the UK Pyrotechnics Society AGM on firing system architectures and pyromusical fireworks display design as well as selling his firing system software IonFire around the world.
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