Dick did ask me to do BGs after I met him on his doorstep. I had been going down Haverstock Hill trying to get commissions for house portraits. In the Spring and Summer I found I could get a couple of watercolors a week. I showed him some photos of rich peoples' houses that I had painted. He mentioned he was a film director. It must have been out of generosity of spirit that he rang me the next week and I had a go at a BG. To be absolutely honest I did recognize him on the doorstep, as I had been called in at the very last minute to help render an advert, in the Soho Square days, but I'm very sure he didn't recognize me. Anyway that is how I started on "The Thief."
I really appreciated the chance to work on the film. When I did my 3rd or 4th BG Dick said "put it in the bath." I was kind of shocked, thinking he may as well have said "throw it in the bin," but apparently that's what Errol did with his. After the initial shock, (within a second or two) I realized it was good advice, and not meant to be disparaging at all. The watercolors spread into one another and you can re-stretch the paper and go over it again. It gives it a nice hazy grainy texture. Errol's BGs were so good, and they all have that worked in quality.
John Leatherbarrow made them look so much better by his amazing wizardry under the camera. Here is a photo of this first BG. It was already half done I think, and I just added more colors to it. I remember doing the big flagstones in the Nanny and banana sequence before this, but they were just big squares. If you compare the two images you can see how John was able to exaggerate the contrasts so that in the actual film it looked really dark and the furnace glowed.
I think in those days at 138 Royal College St. (that's Dick's studio in Camden) there might have been only Roy, Neil, Raymond and John working there. Dick must have freelanced BGs out to people. When the film came out I certainly had no wish to be considered as "head of BGs " on the credits. I certainly wasn't. It just ended up that way on the credits. With regards to Errol's work, as I remember, Roy used to use bits that had already been painted by Errol (probably pre-production stuff) and combine them with his new fantastic layouts which fitted the scene, the animation, the match lines etc. better. It wasn't so much "cut and paste" as it was making use of some great stuff that had already been painted by Errol. Common sense really. The other BG artists who worked on the Thief were Douglas Kirk, Inga Davelouse, Claire Wright , Sue Tong, Jo Billingham, Malcolm, (apologies not remembering his last name,) and someone who regularly worked at Soho Square as a BG artist, but I'm dreadfully sorry not to remember her name too. There were other BG artists in America also. Working on the Thief was such a good time, seeing things emerge in rushes every day, and being part of something great.