Charles Moran left school with no qualifications - but that has not stopped him becoming one of Britain's foremost demolition experts. What makes the demolition man tick? Mark Court reports
A PEWTER hand-grenade sits menacingly on Charles Moran's huge and uncluttered desk. It's only a paperweight but it gives a clear indication of Mr Moran's stock in trade.
The pictures that hang on the oak-panelled walls of his office yield further clues.
They record the dying moments of buildings, bridges and power stations, being blown to pieces amid dense clouds of dust and debris.
Such scenes of devastation are all in a day's work for Mr Moran, managing director of Controlled Demolition - a company that blasted its way into the Guinness Book of Records by simultaneously blowing up eight tower blocks in Manchester.
In contrast to all this mayhem, Mr Moran comes across as a calm, softly spoken and well-
balanced individual. He was not, he says, a destructive child, just inquisitive: 'I used to like to take things to bits and put them back together again to figure out how they worked.'
These days he specialises in taking things apart and he can't help looking at buildings with a view to pulling them down.
'It's not every building and it's not every day,' he says with a gleam in his eyes. 'It's just on the odd day that I think: 'The guy that designed that building gave no thought to how it could be taken down again'.'
Mr Moran is a demolition professional with an all-action lifestyle. He flies to work by helicopter and in his dark clothing looks every inch the Milk Tray man.
A proud Yorkshire-man, he is gaining an international reputation as the Red Adair of demolition.
He has blown up hotels in Dubai, hospitals in Athens and tower blocks in Korea. After our meeting, he was due to fly out to South Africa to prepare for blowing up half of an office block in Johannesburg.
Mr Moran has come a long way indeed since leaving school with no qualifications. As a teenager he started work in the motor trade before drifting into demolition, where he found his forte.
'I was in the right place at the right time. A machine broke down with no one to drive it. I fixed it, which kept everybody working, and the boss turned up and gave me a full-time job,' he recalls.
He worked his way up before setting up Controlled Demolition in 1982. The company now has a turnover of around £10 million, making it one of the biggest demolition companies in the UK. Last year, it made a pre-tax profit of more than £1.1m and has turned Mr Moran into a wealthy man. He was paid a salary of more than £170,000 in addition to the usual perks of running a successful company.
In 1996, the company outgrew its headquarters on an industrial estate between Leeds and Bradford and moved to a fine Yorkshire stone mansion perched over the M62 at Cleckheaton, to the west of Leeds. From this base, Mr Moran and his team of 50 full-time staff plot the destruction of tower blocks and chimneys around the world.
Mr Moran believes explosives should be used much more widely in demolition, not because he is trigger-happy but in the interests of safety.
'A lot of people I worked with 20 years ago are now dead - killed by walls or scaffold tubes falling on top of them or by falling off buildings. The argument for explosives is that the building remains to all intents and purposes intact until you press the button, so you can move everybody to a safe distance when the building comes down.'
Mr Moran puts the success of his company, which carries out traditional demolition as well as using explosives, down to planning, preparation and the ability to offer a turnkey service to clients.
He has learnt to choose those clients carefully.
'There are contractors we work for and those we don't - simply because they don't pay. The Latham report means nothing to them. They get you onto the job and squeeze the living daylights out of you,' he says.
Most of his work is done directly for local authorities, developers, the power generation industry and for international clients. Work seems to be flooding in and he says the company's turnover could easily double to £20 million.
Even for a cool-headed character like Mr Moran, blowing up buildings can be a nerve-wracking business.
He recalls the countdown to blowing up two tower blocks in Edinburgh: 'The explosives went off but the buildings didn't move. All we could hear was tinkling glass.'
The collapse had been prevented by non-load bearing walls at ground level, which structural engineers had thought could not withstand the load.
The walls were punched out and, within 20 minutes of the initial embarrassment, the tower blocks were a pile of rubble.
But what Mr Moran would most like to demolish is his industry's reputation as the rag-and-bone man of construction.
As the industry's answer to James Bond, he might be just the man to do it.