Bentley Miller began his association with Shining Time Station, first as a Gaffer in Seasons 2-3, then as a Lighting Designer for the Family Specials and Mr. Conductor's Thomas Tales. Today, Bentley is one of Canada's leading lighting director/designers for television, stage and live concert productions. Bentley still has fond memories of working on Shining Time Station which he's shared with us below...
Recollections from Shining Time Station
When I look back at my years working on Shining Time Station my thoughts turn to three elements. Firstly the people, second the craft of what we were doing, and the emotional context of the writing.
My first thoughts are of Rick Siggelkow, Executive Producer and writer. His ethics as a writer and a person shine through all of the episodes. The storyline was always about the best in people even when they were not at their best.
Britt, that is the only name needed to define her. Always a quiet and steady influence behind the scenes maintaining the integrity of the original concepts and storylines of Thomas the Tank Engine.
Barney Stewart. He was my mentor and I eventually took over the show as Lighting Designer when he moved on to other projects.
Barbara Hamilton and Tom Jackson because each were talented in their own way. Barbara, unbelievably funny when in or out of character. Tom, a quiet steady force who was the source of simple wisdom that could stand the test of time.
Bobo Lewis, as Midge Smoot; I remember her quiet smile and how well she elevated even the most simple of scenes.
Mart Hulswit, the right blend of being officious and slightly overbearing, yet at the same time vulnerable.
Jerome Dempsey as Mayor Flopdinger, to be sure the perfect caricature of the seemingly bumbling fool. A fool who was as wise a fox.
Didi Conn as Stacy Jones, the love interest. Always sought after but always unattainable. She was sweet and simple and exemplified the best of the homespun era.
Brian O’Connor as Schemer and of course his nephew Schemee; Always looking for an angle to strike it rich…always foiled by his own scheming.
And of course George Carlin, as Mr. Conductor. George, the legendary comedian whose humour was definitely not child friendly was always a thoughtful and gentle presence on set. The depth of his skill meant that tender moments or wise saws were delivered with the utmost sincerity and believability.
The Flexitoons puppeteers. Talented practitioners of a craft from my youth, marionettes. The characters were quaint but they too exuded wisdom beyond their humble wooden shells. Craig Marin, the head puppeteer was a superlative craftsperson as were the rest of the cast of puppeteers. Olga Felgemacher Marin, Alan Semok, Vaneece Thomas and Jonathan Freeman. Experts at operating the puppets, set design, costumes, prop construction, repairs and special effects gags as needed for the show.
The set was as much a character of the show as were the performers that graced its surfaces. The hand stamped floor, the real wood, the period piece arcade machines. These elements made Shining Time Station a real place inhabited by real people - not actors playing people. There was a tremendous amount of detail in the murals that comprised the station walls. These details lent a sense of authenticity to the set and in the process gave the studied observer a glimpse into our historical past that was so influenced by the inexorable march of the “iron horse”.
The camerawork, the lighting, costumes and props were combined seamlessly to support the text and the storyline. These crafts were deftly integrated so that they were not noticed. You just felt that you were part of the story. I think that this is a testament to all those involved. It was never about these crafts, it was about the story.
The Special Effects Sequences...
There is a fond remembrance of many of the special sequences that were composed for Mr. Conductor. But, one in particular comes to mind. We had to make Mr. Conductor his usual size (about 1/6th his real size), that was par for the course. On this particular instance Mr. Conductor had to dance with a ballerina on a music box situated on a table. The scene appeared to be lit by a single candle on the said desk. As the song concluded and the dance ended Mr. Conductor blew out the candle and the scene became dim, lit only by the light coming through a window at night. Technically, a very challenging sequence to execute in those days. This made that final result all the more satisfying. We had through teamwork made fantasy into reality. And that is the essence of good storytelling. That was the essence of Shining Time Station. Taking the fantastic making it simple, believable and real.
I can’t say that I remember any particular episode. I think that my recollections are an amalgam of the time that I spent working on the show. What I do remember was the ethos of the writing. The writing was about people and theirs stories. People with their foibles, strengths, weaknesses, but above all their humanity.
The story…that’s the thing.
We'd like to thank Bentley for his heartfelt recollections and wish him all our best with his projects. Bentley has also kindly shared a few of his photos and technical insight which can be seen in our Behind-The-Scenes section.