A fire at Pinewood Studios in west London earlier this year saw the destruction of a stage that had become famous as the set for a series of James Bond films. Bourne Steel's mission, reports Alasdair Reisner, was to get the 007 stage back into working order faster than a speeding Aston Martin.
METAL-jawed giants. Megalomaniacal master criminals. Killer sharks. High-powered lasers. Golden Guns. James Bond has faced many foes during his career as Britain's leading undercover agent but nothing - save perhaps the attentions of the fairer sex - has ever got in the way of him completing his mission.
Nothing, that is, unt il July 31 this year. With Bond probably relaxing on a fur rug with his latest conquest following the completion of his latest escapades in Casino Royale, an event was taking place that threatened his future fighting international crime and terror on the silver screen.
The fire that gutted the 007 stage at Pinewood studios in west London saw the destruction of the home to some of the most famous scenes in Bond's career. The stage was one of the most important and well-used assets of the massive Pinewood studios.
While its name is linked with the James Bond franchise, the stage was also in near-constant use by the hundreds of other film productions that have rolled through the studio over the years. The sooner the stage could be put back into use the better, particularly as plans are already being put together for James Bond's return in his so far unnamed 22nd film.
But erecting a building of this scale is not something that can be done overnight. The stage is about the size of a football pitch and requires a clear structural opening of 44 m and a height to eaves of 12.5 m.
Given this requirement and the fact that time was of the essence, there was never any real doubt about the materials for construction. Steel was the obvious answer.
But even with steel the timetable was a challenge. Bourne Steel contracts manager Nick Flexen-Cook explains how the firm came to end up working on the project with main contractor Bluestone.
He says: 'Bluestone has to get the works complete by the end of February for the start of filming for the new Bond film. We offered them an eight-week off-site manufacturing programme including design, detailing, fabrication, painting and delivery.
There is then an eight-week on-site installation and erection programme.'
He says that the key to Bourne winning the job was the fact that it was able to offer a great deal of f lexibility to Bluestone and understood the fast-track requirements of Pinewood. This was helped by the fact that the firm had shown an interest in the job right from the word go.
'I think we almost followed the fire engines through the gates.
We phoned up almost immediately after the fire to find out what the opportunities were, ' he says.
In order to secure the job Bourne staff took the concept drawings given to them by the project architects and structural engineers and came up with a tender price and design.
It was once the team had been given the official nod by the client that work began in earnest.
'It was a case of reviewing the suitability of the tender design, then expanding and developing it. We had just a week to turn our price around. That is no mean feat when you are talking about quick , volume product ion of heavy steel fabr icat ion, ' says Mr Flexen-Cook.
He adm its that th is required a lot of late nights in the off ice as the company's specialist design team, Bourne Engineering, led by A lan Pillinger, used computer programme XSteel to create a model of the whole building to produce general arrangement drawings for approval.
'Initially during the tender stage you would just size up the members to the loadings given and make allowances for the complexity of the work and the types of connections. Once we were appointed we had to go through and methodically check and confirm all of our assumptions and come up with things like connection designs and weld sizes, ' says Mr Flexen-Cook.
With all the designs signed off, the same XSteel programme can then prepare the fabrication details. Each component required for the job is allotted its own number which is shown on the fabrication drawing, allowing the whole job to be sequenced from day one.
The first steel arrived on site on October 16, just 11 weeks after the original fire, an impressive achievement even for a specialist steel firm like Bourne.
'With a standard design and build, which is usually nowhere near as complex, intricate and demanding as this, we would be looking at about 14 to 18 weeks. As you can appreciate, it has been hard to condense all of those operat ions into an eight-week per iod , ' says Mr Flexen-Cook.
In order to achieve this the team had to identify the most difficult or challenging areas of the job, such as the Vierendeel trusses, and look at the best way to deliver them, co-ordinating Bourne's own production department drawings with external specialist fabrication subcontractors. Steel for the job was brought in from as far afield as south Wales and Scunthorpe.
It is a testament to how well the Bluestone/Bourne team has got the production and site works running that the job is actually slightly ahead of schedule, despite the extremely tight timetable.
'I think the key to the success of the project has been the resourcing, co-ordination and planning work that was done up front, ' says Mr Flexen-Cook.
But the challenges of the job are not solely in the fabrication.
Once the steel arrives on site it still has to be placed. With trusses weighing in at 26.5 tonnes, that is no mean feat.
The first stage of steel erect ion requires columns to be placed down the side of the stage, restrained on temporary bracing.
The trusses themselves arrive on site in three sections and are put together alongside the main structure using specially designed temporary support frames known as 'toast racks'.
Once a complete truss is formed it is lifted into place. For the first truss a 140-tonne crane was used in tandem with the main 500-tonner to ensure the structure remained stable while smaller cranes came in and placed additional members. The same procedure without the 140-tonne crane is now continuing to place trusses along the full length of the building.
The lifting operations on site are complicated by the centre of the plot being taken up by a 3 m-deep pool, used for filming water scenes.
'Normally you would operate your cranes and your MEWPs from within the building footprint. Unfortunately the tank already leaks. We are keen to preserve its fragile structure so we cannot put anything down inside it. Instead we have a 9 m concrete apron around the perimeter to work from, ' says Mr Flexen-Cook.
So have there been any issues about working alongside a busy studio? Do you have to keep noise down or make sure you cranes don't appear in the background of f ilming?
'I think the main issue wasn't that but making sure we were all working, rather than looking out for film stars, ' says Mr Flexen-Cook.
During construction work filming was taking place on a set next door for the Bou rne U lt imatum, star r ing Mat t Damon. Yet on the 007 stage the team were still happy showing the Bourne (Steel) Supremacy.
You only live thrice
IF YOU think James Bond has been through some scrapes they are nothing compared to the troubled life of the stage that takes his code name. The 007 stage at Pinewood has burnt to the ground not once but twice.
The stage was first built in 1976 for the filming of The Spy Who Loved Me, where the vast structure was used for filming of the scenes inside the submarine-swallowing supertanker the Liparus. It then featured in Moon raker and For Your Eyes Only before a fire in 1984 saw it razed to the ground.
Just like in 2006, the fire came just as the stage was expected to be used for filming of a new Bond, this time Licence to Kill. The project was completed on time in 1985 and the stage was then in heavy use until last year's fire, providing the setting for scenes from films including Alien3, Mission Impossible, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and, most recently, Casino Royale.