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Cannock clockmaker makes special birthday gift for Theo Paphitis

By Heather Large | Cannock | Features | Published:

A clockmaker who upcycles vintage technology has completed a celebrity commission for Dragon’s Den star Theo Paphitis.

Paul and Karen Parry with Theo Paphitis, who received a special 60th birthday present

Paul Parry, of Penkridge-based Bad Dog Designs, was asked to make a surprise 60th birthday present for the entrepreneur.

He specialises in making clocks featuring 1950s-style Nixie tubes, giving everything from old radios, clocks and jewellery boxes to vintage valve testers and aviation parts a new lease of life, and his unique creations are exported all over the world.

Electronics engineer Paul, who lives in Cannock, was commissioned by the Theo Paphitis Retail Group (TPRG) to produce the unusual gift.

And having already met the businessman through his weekly Small Business Sunday initiative on Twitter, he already had an idea of the kind of clock he would like.

“I knew he liked the Steampunk look of some of the clocks I have made.

“It was a relatively short time to pull it all off, but I accepted the task and readily got to work building the clock,” says Paul, who recently displayed his clocks at Grand Designs Live.

Childhood love

His business was a childhood love of taking his toys apart to find out how they worked before putting them back together again.

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Then, one day, as a hobby, he began to make a Nixie tube clock inspired by a calculator he remembered from his school days that used the 1950s technology for its display.

The clock made for Theo Paphitis

Nixie tubes were used in many electronic products such as petrol pumps, military equipment and early electronic desktop calculators.

These glass tubes contain tiny metal numerals that are all stacked together and will emit an orange glow when given an electrical charge.The were replaced by LEDs and VFDs (vacuum fluorescent displays) in the 1970s but continued to be made in their millions in the former Soviet Union into the late 80s.

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He realised there was a demand for his work and he began letting his creativity flow by making clocks out of wooden boxes with brass decorations.

His business continued to grow and now he has a dedicated unit at Pillaton Hall Farm in Penkridge which is home to an Aladdin’s Cave full of old and unwanted electrical equipment he has collected to turn into his special timepieces.

They range from out-of-date volt meters to typewriters, antique clocks and decorative wooden boxes to more unusual items including a Merlin helicopter rotor blade and a full set of piano keys.

All of the clocks are handmade and no two are ever exactly same but what they do have in common is that they include Nixie tubes powered by modern microprocessor technology.

He has made many clocks in a Steampunk style which have proven popular with fans of this genre.

Incorporating his brands

When it came to designing Theo’s clocked, he delved into his Aladdin’s Cave for inspiration.

“The clock was made from a Second World War RAF volt/amp meter and housed in a mahogany box – an excellent item to turn into something Steampunk.

“I was also tasked with adding in something that related to all of Theo’s brands, and also some steam and mechanical movement.

“I went with the idea of having all of the brands made as brass jigsaw pieces, and a central piece as a dedication from all the people at TPRG.

“I fitted a small smoke generator into a side chimney, and then found an old miniature steam engine in the workshop that then became the centrepiece of the design.

“The clock had two displays, one for London where Theo is based and the other for Limassol where Theo was born,” says Paul who runs his business with his wife Karen.

Items added to the clock to represent the different brands included vintage pen nibs and a pair of compasses for Ryman while a miniature kettle and frying pan represented Robert Dyas.

The clock was handed over to Theo during an unannounced presentation at the TPRG annual meeting which took place at the Hilton hotel at Birmingham NEC earlier this month.

Paul and Karen were on hand on the day to ensure it was all in working order and had the chance to meet a surprised Theo.

“Theo had no idea and he was clearly delighted with his clock. I was able to explain how his clock worked and where all the parts had come from.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to be asked to make this, a day I shall certainly not forget,” says Paul.

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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