Kenny Baker

On Tuesday the 7th of March 1995, Kenny Baker, the innards of R2D2 in STAR WARS was our guest and took part in a question and answer session with the group.

He also starred in TIME BANDITS as one of a gang of inept time travelling plunderers. Kenny has been a guest once before in March, 1990, when we were last in the same venue (although it was called The Bodega then).

Kenny has had a long and interesting career in TV, theatre and films. In the sixties he was in a TV film called MAN OF THE WORLD and since then has worked with nearly all comedians. Some of these are; Dicky Henderson, Lesley Crowther, Ken Dodd (as a Diddyman), Little and Large, Russ Abbot, Ben Elton, Dick Emery and Dave Allen. He has also been on 3,2,1 and Opportunity Knocks. Kenny has even met Laurel and Hardy.

His film career really took off with STAR WARS but he had been in film prior to this, called CIRCUS OF HORRORS.

The first STAR WARS film was made in 1977 and they had some location work to do in the desert. They went to Tunisia, where the mornings are bitterly cold and the afternoons scorching hot. There were also fierce sandstorms which caused many problems. Luckily Kenny was better off than Antony Daniels who played C3-P0 (the golden one). It took an hour for Daniels to get into his suit and the heat was unbearable in all that plastic. Kenny, on the other hand had a seat in R2-D2 and was not in contact with the walls at all. He also had a nice breeze blowing in from the bottom, and the white surface seemed to reflect the heat.

All the shots of R2-D2 were not of the one with Kenny inside, some were radio controlled models, which sometimes went out of control. Seemingly the one that Kenny was in was not always perfect, as the bright Tunisian sun sometimes got in his eyes and caused his to go off in the wrong direction.

Kenny was also in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI in the same role. One of these had location in Arizona which was little better than Tunisia by all accounts.

Kenny was also in THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980) as a `Plumed Dwarf' and FLASH GORDON (1980) as one of the army of dwarves. His next major work was in 1981 when he appeared in TIME BANDITS as Fidgit, one of a gang who were supposed to be helping the supreme being but ended up helping themselves to whatever treasure Time could offer them. This is an excellent film which bursts with inventiveness.

Kenny also had a part in AMADEUS which was released a year after RETURN OF THE JEDI. In 1986 he played the part of a busker (with Bill Moore) in MONA LISA, and was one of the goblins in LABYRINTH. In 1987 he played an Elf in a film version of SLEEPING BEAUTY.

He has been on the Royal Command Performance and in THE PARADISE CLUB (with dirty Den). He was also in the wonderful TV serialisation of THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, although like many of his parts he was in a costume and so can't easily be recognised.

However, comedy and drama are not the only strings to this man's bow, he has also appeared in commercials. He was in one for the South East Gas Board and one for BRITISH AIRWAYS won an award. This one involved two astronauts getting trapped on the moon and having to get British Airways to transport them home again.

His bread and butter work is in pantomime which he performs all over the world. The most usual pantomime he is asked to perform in? Snow White.


Kenny Baker at the Preston SF Group - March 1995

Star Wars

I saw George [Lucas] on Saturday. I was there right at the heart of Lucas Film on Saturday [March]. I went down to Lucas Valley which is just outside San Francisco. I haven't been there before. I met him in San Francisco two or three times before but never to Lucas Valley.

Cameras following X-wings down the street and shooting, and Luke Skywalker going... The camera is on a dolly track, on a boom in a rotating frame with bearings so it could go up and down and rotate all round and it's in a set which is like a set; a model as long of this room .

I was also an Ewok on a wire throwing rocks at these white guys in suits - what do you call them, Stormtroopers. I was on a wire throwing rocks on them, not very comfortable. That was all blue matt, there was no real guys down there, there was just nothing down there except mattresses in case i broke the wire. Just a blue screen behind me, they dubbed all these things in after. It's like these speeder bikes in the redwoods going at nine hundred miles an hour. I was just sitting on a bike and I travelled from here to you, I mean five to ten feet. Then you see me going whooosh! Magic films.

I'll start at the beginning. The first Star Wars movie film we were going to Tunisia. We got to the airport and everyone was whispering Alec Guiness was on the aeroplane; Sir Alec Guinness. Now we didn't know what the movie was all about at first - obviously. And I thought, you know, if Alec Guinness is in it someone must know what they're talking about. Because he wouldn't put his name to a rubbish film, would he. So we got on the aeroplane, and he's sitting there. He says please don't call me Sir Alec, call me Alec. Because he was such a big star there was such an aura about this guy we just called him Alec. Because that's what he is isn't he he's just an actor, like the rest of us. This guy could just disappear into a character and he's not Alec Guinness any more he's an actor, brilliant guy.

At the time I was working in a double act called the Minitones. Jack and I were working around London in the early seventies, and we were working every night, in cabarets and television. We heard about this movie and were asking what it was all about. Jimmy Jacobs ran the Gargoyle club in the West End of London and he knew my agent who was called Johnny Laycock, who was an ex-entertainer himself who turned from being an entertainer to being an agent. So there he was in Watford, or Bushey, we were living in Bushey at the time in North London. And this guy from the Gargoyle club phoned up John and said somebody's in town looking for a little guy to get into a robot. So he says where is it, so he says it's Twentieth Century Fox, and I think he said 10 o'clock on Monday morning. So I went down there and I met George Lucas, Garry Kurtz and Robert Watts who were all involved with the first Star Wars movie.

And I walked in and they said "Oh, you'll do!". I didn't have to act or anything, they just said You'll do.. Because they had made this robot and they couldn't find anyone to fit in it because it was too small. And because I'm small and have got little arms, and can sort of manipulate inside the robot with small arms, I was the only one who could fit in. Because Carrie Fisher was small and Mark Hamill was quite small and they wanted a smaller robot.

So I got the part, I didn't have to go and act or anything. So I'm in this robot and I thought I don't really want to be in it and at the time we were doing Opportunity Knocks with Hughie Green and I thought if I become a big star on television I don't want to be in a robot for the rest of my life.

So I turned it down - about three times I turned it down. Then eventually John Barry the second unit director turned up with Norman Reynolds the art director and Les Dilly. And they came to my house and said you've got to do this thing and I said why, and they said because you're the only guy who can get into the damn thing, and also you might make a lot of money, you can probably name your own price. I said What price. I don't know, you don't know what to ask for do you.

So anyway I went down to Harlesdon of all places, in NW London. Lee lighting. You know Lee electrics did the lighting. These two boys were electricians in north London somewhere. And they used to steal, puffs, they were called puffs the big lights they use to light films. They used to cut their way through the wire fences like getting into Colditz and steal these lights to go out lighting films. And they just about (lit) Shepperton studios with that. The Lee brothers, John and Benny Lee. We used to eat in a restaurant at Bromley that became Rediffusion Television on the north circuit. And they got bought out. The Lee boys bought it - Lee electrics. They used to say here comes Kenny Baker he's starving he's come in for a free meal. Benny used to grab hold of my fingers and say I love your little fingers they look like little sausages. He used to grab my hand, he just liked my fingers - he wasn't camp at all, I thought he was a bit you know peculiar but... It takes one to know one.

Anyway we're on the aeroplane and we all meet. Alec Guinness said just call me Alec. We get back to the hotel in the evening and everyone was saying, what did Alec Guinness say to you? My mate Jack said well he said to me " Get out of my way!". Everyone else said Don't call me Sir Alec just call me Alec. So Months later we're out in Tunisia and were in the canyon where the Javas were. Jack was the head Java who shot me with the gun. I wasn't in the robot at the time. We had a days off because obviously we don't film every day.

So Jack's in the canyon watching Alec Guinness filming. He found a rock in the middle of nowhere and sat on this rock about twenty yards away from the filming. Obi Wan Kenobi is doing his bit ... and the director says "Cut!" so he stops filming and turned round and Jack was sitting over there and Alec Guinness walks off the set slowly in Jack's direction, deep in thought. He gets closer and closer and Jack is just about to get up off the rock and walk away when he says "Get out of the way". And he remembers this from like six weeks before from the Lee electrics and he had Jack eventually. He had him beautifully, "get out of my way!" Its good isn't it, a guy of his stature, I mean he's a millionaire anyway. I went to my bank and said Alec Guinness had 2% of this movie and I'm going back 12 years. It was 400 million back in 1985. 6 million quid and that was then, and he's still working. He's like 80 something isn't he, still picking up awards. What chance have we got really.

You remember that bit in the desert when C3P0 and R2D2 are walking over the sand dunes, and I want to go this way and he wants to go that way, and he says "For goodness sake - you sod off that way" Thump, and he kicks me. I think he should have gone "Oww!". He sort of went Dunt and didn't feel it. If C3P0 had kicked me and said "Oww!" it would have been more realistic. I thought it was funny at the time.

We finished the filming in Tunisia and you know that big sand crawler with all the caterpillar tracks. It was huge, it was like a pair of semi-detached houses - it was as big as that, it was HUGE! It was out in this desert in Tunisia, 6 hours drive to the middle of nowhere. We were very nearly in Algeria. And the Algerians thought it was a bloody rocket launcher, and sent up a spy plane over to see what was going on.

We finished this film and got back to  a little island in the Mediterranean, beautiful little place it is. The actual filming place in Tunisia was like an Arab village with little mud houses but painted white - where the paint came from I don't know. No windows just a doorway, and a hole for a window. No streets, no pavements. The occasional light - where they got the electricity from I don't know. Terrible coffee. Forget the tea! And there was this head man of the village just sitting on his haunches. Where he got his washing done I'll never know - pure white robe. With a long white beard and a stick and long hair. And this guy sat there every day while we did those scenes in this village in the middle of Tunisia. And he's looking round and never said a word to anybody or even smiled. And I thought what the hell is going on in this guy's mind. He must have been eighty years old. And you look up and there's vapour trails in the sky from planes at about 40 thousand feet so you can't hear them. That's why they film out in these places so there's no interruption filming. And this guy is watching us going around with robots, and there's vapour trails in the sky, and they're still running around on donkeys - with no saddles. Its like Jesus Christ time. It's just like going back to the Bible times. It's amazing isn't it, and it's only about 4 hours flight away - less than that probably. These are the places you go to film, how they find these places I'll never know. [BT: That was in the first star wars - it wasn't a set?] no it was for real, in Tunisia, that was the village. And the funny thing was they had TV aerials - no televisions just the aerials.

And this guy was there every day, what does he think was going on. Anyway they knocked down walls and everything to get the dollies through with the cameras on them. They knocked down walls of some of these houses. And they said we'll build them all back up again before we go away we'll build them up again. So they got away with that. So we get to the airport..... and we were throwing money to them - it was no use to us. One day we were in the hotel after filming and one of these Arab boys came up to me, gave me a rose and walked away again. I thought oh well. Apparently they say the next messiah will be born of man. When Jesus Christ is born again he will come from a man - so what he was giving me this rose for I don't know, that's why they wear those funny trousers like they do in India. I hope there's no Indians in the audience.

The next filming was in Norway - I didn't go there. The one scene I did, I was with the second unit director called John Barrie, and I was filming in Elstre on stage, it was a snow scene. But I wasn't involved in the snow scenes in Norway. They had this scene with me in case... sort of things... to give it continuity. And I'm on the set with John Barrie and he's got the blowers blowing the snow and all this. And he says I've got a bit of a headache, and someone said go and have some lunch, have a headache pill and we'll see you tomorrow. And he went home and he died. He was dead by tea time, and I was filming with him in the morning. It was really frightening. He had meningitis and it was a quick as that. Filming in the morning and dead by tea time. John Barry, and he was a nice guy too, a shame. that's a sad story.

I wasn't involved in the filming Norway scenes thank goodness because it was 40 degrees below. If I'd gone out there I'd been the only frigid midget with a rigid digit. In fact it might not have been a ridged digit. I used to work in the ice shows at Wembley and they used to say to me you're the only frigid midget with a rigid digit. So that's where I got that one from. Anyway I didn't go to Norway.

The Norway scenes were in the Empire Strikes Back, The Return of The Jedi was in Arizona and the redwoods in California. That was a good scene. You see there were Ewoks in that. The first one was with George and it was his story and he knew the thing inside out and he used me quite a lot in the first movie. The second movie was Irvin Kershna, and he was about 60-75 year old guy and a knock out director. A tall thin grey haired guy with a twinkle in his eye, and a real funny sense of humour. We'd do a scene and he's go "Hey, I've got a better idea." And he's change the whole thing. And he just sounded like Kermit the frog. He was lovely old Kermit - I called him Kermit. Ha Ha. He was great he's still about I think he's still directing. But I wasn't involved in that one very much. The last one was Richard Markin, and he died. That film had quite a lot of events going on in that film. He didn't use me very much. In fact he came to me at the beginning of the movie and said to me "I'd like to use you a lot more because when you're in the robot it wobbles and it shakes and the head goes round." I said "I know because I'm pissed half the time." No I didn't.

So he says, It comes to life more when you're in it more than it does when it's got three legs. And he hardly ever used me in the last movie and I was a bit choked about it really. And I was in every day, 8 till 8. Long days filming and if your not being used it can be a bit boring. They say grab the money and run, but when you're a pro, and I've been a pro since I was 16. I wasn't in films but I was in cabaret, and ice shows and pantomimes, summer seasons and reviews and all kinds of summer shows since 1950 and I didn't get into Star Wars until 1976. So that was 27 years after, I was about 38 or something like that when I got into the movies, because I'd been in the business since I was 16. So these things didn't phase me. I didn't like being on the payroll and not doing something.

Because I'm used to be paid and working for it instead of taking the money and going or getting a pay cheque every week or whatever it is. When you're sitting on a movie every day, and doing nothing which I was doing, for weeks and weeks and weeks, and eventually it doesn't matter how interesting the film is you get bored just sitting there all day long. And if I'm in a sound stage where there's no movement of air, 'cos they close the doors; they ring the bell and the doors shut just like aircraft hangar doors. And these doors are airtight, and there's no sound and no air movement, nothing. And if it's a heavy scene with a lot of special effects and Christ knows what, it can go on forever, and you sit there and there's all this heat and there's no air moving and you fall asleep. Sometimes I knew they weren't going to get any where near me and so I'd say, I'm going to take off. When we were doing the last picture it was all down to Ewoks. Now I was the guinea pig for the Ewoks. To try to get these eyelids to move. They had the eyes, but unless you blink they don't come to life they're staring, it's not natural, they wanted these eyes to blink. The way they got them to blink is that they had these gas canister on a belt and tubes and the tubes went to a ball in our hand and from ball in our hand up our arm into the head to the eyelids. And you'd squeeze it and it would go 'pssst'. All these little Ewoks were walking around going 'pssst, pssst, pssst'. And when it got hot the little rubber tubes used to swell in the heat and fly off the brass connection and I got this icy cold blast at the back. I got caught twice, once was at Eltree. I was in the special effects wardrobe with Stuart Freeborn trying to get these bloody eyelids to move. Because you've got that distance from the canister to the eyelids and then you've got the actual eyelid and the fur of the actual Ewok. And it slowed down by the time it got there it was pretty weak, and we had a hell of a job trying to get them working. So I spent a day in Elstree, at least a day and I got caught. David Tomblin said I want Kenny in the robot now to do this bit but I was gone I was out in wardrobe. So I was in the dog-house with David Tomblin because I wasn't on the set. I said I told Dick Pott (?) the third assistant, I told Dick I was down there. And he said you shouldn't tell him you should tell me. I said how can I tell you you're busy directing. So I was in the dog-house.

So we get to Yuma Arizona same thing again. Got to Spar Jack (?), and the film out there was called Blue Harvest, because they didn't want the locals to know what was going on. There was all these bikers on the sand dunes on Honda bikes with big fat rubber tyres. Up and down the sand dunes. I don't know what they see in it but this is what they'd been doing, and they discovered there was a film being made, and they'd got these long-distance cameras and binoculars and God knows what else. And we're walking around with these Blue Harvest caps on, trying to kid them there's nothing going on - but you really couldn't kid them. And I was up there on the sand barge one day, and it's quite a high thing, about three ladders to climb to get to the deck of this barge and the skip which was next to it. And I had this one shot where I fired a wire across from the barge across to the skip where Luke Skywalker was fighting with - you all know what I'm talking about. That's all I did just get in the robot and fire this wire like when you go ship to ship when you fire the wire across. And there was nothing coming up and Stuart Freeborn said `when you get a minute, come down to the caravan and we'll try to sort out the Ewok's eyes. Because that was the next scene.

We were doing this in the desert in Arizona then we flew on to California to the Redwoods. So I'm down there again with Stuart Freeborn and what happens? David Tomblin says `Where's Kenny Baker.' And he's not here again! I'm down in the caravan trying to sort out these bloody eyelids for Ewoks. So that was twice I was in the doghouse. Anyway we finish up in Arizona and we fly to California to Crescent City; Brookins Oregon just over the border in Brookins Oregon. In motels, and they've got platforms for the sinks and they've got hanging wardrobe layouts for the wardrobes so we can reach the wardrobe to hang our clothes on. Very good that, wasn't it? Ass set up for us. And I met all these American dwarves or midgets, that were these Ewoks. There was six of us went over. Six of them came over to England and six of us went over there. There was Jack Purvis, there was Mike Edmond, there was me and my wife and a couple of other guys. I had a stunt double who was a little black guy from LA.

(Kevin : It's the guy who does the Sega advert, the guy with the moustache)

Tony! A real swinger, a little black dude. He was my double, great. I went into this room and there were 200 of them and this guy says `I'm the spokesman for all the little people I want you to come and meet all the American little people.' So I go like this (walking down the row inspecting them). I felt like Prince Charles or John Cleese in Time Bandits.

I say, "How long have you been a dwarf?"
"About 3 foot six inches."
I say, "That's a long time."

I met all these little people from America, and I do a cabaret act. I'm going to Tennerife on Friday and I'm working in the hotels in Tenerife. And I've worked in Lake Taho in America after the last Star Wars movie, with my partner Jack. I've been used to cabaret, that's my natural scene. When I went to the states I met all them 200 little people and not one of them did a cabaret act. In fact I've just been to America and I came back yesterday and I'm a bit jet-lagged today actually.

I've been out there to do an audition. It was meant to be a live audition but I took a tape. So they watched the tape. So if I get the gig I'm there from November till next May in Palm Springs in a review called the Follies. What surprises me more than anything is that there's not another little guy in the whole of America that seems to be able to do that thing that I'm doing. I've done a cabaret act for 35 years now with my double act and my solo act. And I've been to America and I met all these little guys and there's not one of them, as far as I know, who can do an act. Which is amazing isn't it. I mean America is like show business!