An Explosive Evening

What better way to round off the programme before the Summer (?) break than with a bang. That's just what our programme planners did, when they invited Malcolm Ingry to attend our July meeting to give a talk intriguingly titled "The 'Safe' Use of Commercial Explosives in Special Effects and Demolitions". Malcolm is a leading UK explosives expert, with a lifelong involvement in explosives and as our Chairman said by way of introduction, a "Chasetown lad", who started work from school at Cannock Wood Colliery.

Malcolm's presentation, supported by visual and audible effects, left the audience in no doubt as to the frightening power of explosives. If respected and used properly, they are a superb tool aiding economic development, but in the wrong hands ... Malcolm looked at both their benign and aggressive uses. They are used in quarrying, pipeline excavation, landmine clearance, building demolition and film making's special effects. How do you make a special effect explosion in a film? Well, dig a shallow hole and place some sandbags in it. Put a very small amount of nitro glycerine on top. Cover with bags of lime and some bags of peat and detonate (Not to be done at home!). We saw filmed examples of the potential damage a small amount of Semtex in a shoe could cause, drilling through tough steel; we saw what happened to a caravan if a small amount of propane inside were detonated (no caravan left!). Malcolm took us to a quarry where police and military personnel were working with him to develop a powerful water gun, capable of blowing holes in vehicles suspected of carrying bombs without causing dangerous sparks. Again, the results were spectacular.

On the lighter side, he explained how film directors' demanding desires for increasingly dramatic special effects were translated into the real thing at a cost of millions of pounds. That moved us onto looking at the skills of building demolition - using explosives to cut through steel and concrete. The dramatic demolition of the former tax office in Bootle (one of his biggest challenges, he said) was watched with special interest! No one slept in the audience, when Malcolm unwound thirty feet of green cable, explaining that it was a non electric detonator, lightly coated internally with an explosive material. As a linking cable to charges throughout a building, it only had to be triggered at one end for the charge to pass rapidly along it and trigger the explosions, which is exactly what it did in the room - thankfully without any explosives attached to the "business" end. The one image that will remain in the audience's minds for some time was that of an articulated lorry and covered trailer being somersaulted into the air by a planned explosion. We in the audience now know how it was done!

Perhaps the talk was not one that related closely to the interests of the Civic Society which is more concerned with preservation rather than demolition; but nevertheless it was an entertaining and educational evening, with many thanks to a local boy made good!

Roger Hockney
July 2012