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Bumping off the Corrie killer; How professional stunt engineer Paul Bickers sent evil Richard Hillman to hell in a spectacular car crash.

Byline: Vicki Grimshaw

He left his business partner Duggie for dead, murdered his ex-wife by whacking her over the head with a spade, put Emily in a coma and bludgeoned Maxine to death with a crowbar. It's no wonder that Corrie's serial killer Richard Hillman has earned his place among soap's most notorious villains. But there is one man who, when it comes to bumping people off, makes Tricky Dicky look like an amateur...

Stunt engineer Paul Bickers has, among others, blown EastEnders' badboy Steve Owen to smithereens by turning his car into a fireball, sent the Mitchell brothers' motor careering into the Thames, and even caused James Bond a few scary moments.

So it's no wonder that the man known in the trade as the Grim Reaper was the first person Street bosses turned to when they decided that Richard had been getting away with murder for too long.

Late at night, by a deserted canal basin next to a museum in Ashton-under- Lyne, Paul hatched his plan. He would plunge Richard's silver Ford Galaxy people carrier into the Manchester Ship Canal - with the killer, his wife Gail, her children Sarah and David, and baby Bethany trapped inside.

"They have gone to town to give Richard the grisly send-off he truly deserves," says Brian Capron who plays him. "I'm sad to leave the show, but I always wanted him to die. I'd like people to feel something about his death - a flicker of sorrow - although they probably won't."

It is a shocking climax to a storyline that has had the nation gripped. Around 20million viewers tuned in recently to see Richard confessing his crimes to Gail then fleeing. But this week he returns to take his stunned family hostage. Bound and gagged in the passenger seats, they are powerless to stop him as, following a tense car chase, he finds himself in a dead end and drives the vehicle into the water.

He perishes, but four cliff-hanger endings have been filmed to keep us guessing as to who else survives.

Spectacular crashes are Paul's speciality, so the 35-year-old father of three, who runs stunt co-ordinators Bickers Action, had no problems devising a particularly thrilling way to despatch Richard.

The stunt took place in the dead of night on February 13. With a tight schedule and a budget of around pounds 20,000, Paul and his team had just one go to get it right. They had already prepared the Hillmans' people carrier at their workshop in Ipswich, Suffolk. It had been stripped of any pollutants, the engine had been removed and the car cleaned of all oils and petrol.

Once it was ready and in position - and with dummies inside, in place of the actors - Paul used his "straight fire cannon" system to make the car accelerate into the canal without a driver. A barrel hidden inside was filled with compressed, non-flammable gas which propelled the Ford Galaxy forward at top speed. It had been parked 30ft from the edge, but within just 11ft it was doing 50 miles an hour.

"You wouldn't want to be in the car with that sort of acceleration," grins Paul. "We used this system because driving a car into water is very dangerous. There is always a risk involved with speeding cars, and working with high pressure gas can be potentially hazardous, so it is important to do it in a controlled way.

"As long as the cameras and crew stayed in one position, it would be safe... if there is such a thing as a safe set up. You must be 150 per cent sure that nothing will go wrong - a piece of film is not worth anyone dying for.

"We would have preferred a dock with a higher wall to get more flight with the vehicle, but we built ramps at the canal side to get it up in the air as it raced forward. When we released the gas it went pretty well, about 20ft up in the air."

Everything went to plan, but then Paul has had plenty of experience of such stunts. His company, set up 26 years ago by his dad Dave, a former European motorbike champion, has also built vehicles from which cameras filmed car chases in the Bond movies Die Another Day and The World Is Not Enough. Yet Paul seems to save most of his truly amazing work for TV.

Three weeks ago he was in Fleetwood, Lancs, where the four Killer Corrie endings were being filmed in a huge water tank. The team have used five Ford Galaxys - one for shots with the actors inside, one for the crash, one for a scene showing the upturned car sinking in the canal, and two for the "rescue" scenes.

For the latter, Paul was responsible for making sure that the vehicle was at the right height in the water for the actors inside to be safe.

"It was horrid being in the car when Ade crashed, so I wasn't looking forward to doing these scenes," admits Tina O'Brien, who plays Sarah. "The first time we went under the water I thought I was going to freak out. They were the most dramatic, action-packed scenes I've ever done. And if it wasn't for the safety people I don't know if I could have gone through with them."

Despite having their lives in his hands, Paul didn't actually meet the soap stars.

"I just do my job," he shrugs. "I don't befriend the actors when I am working."

Maybe it's the actors who don't want to mix with him. After all, when the Grim Reaper appears it can only mean one thing - you're probably being written out.

l See Soap Box, page 11.


TRAPPED: Passengers Sarah and David are powerless. Below: Paul is the brains behind the top soap stunt; OVER THE EDGE: Deranged killer Richard drives his Ford Galaxy into the canal, with Gail, Sarah, David and baby Bethany trapped inside; SPLASHDOWN: The speeding car hits the surface, sending a spray of water high into the air before submerging into the murky depths
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 8, 2003
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