Odd this day

Coates
2 min readDec 26, 2023

Today is the 30th anniversary of the BBC premiere of The Wrong Trousers, which means it’s time to recount The Most Important Story Ever Told, about how I found out how the greatest sound effect in the history of the motion picture was made.

Plasticine dog Gromit lies slumped against a (plasticine) kitchen cabinet, holding a milk bottle. Trapped up to his neck in the bottle is Feathers McGraw, notorious criminal penguin

I was intrigued by this for years, so when Twitter came along, I took advantage of the easy access to famous people, and asked:

Repeatedly:

No, really:

Eventually, I thought: those poor bastards at Aardman have got better things to do, and there might not be anyone there who remembers, so you might need to (a) be a bit more resourceful, or (b) realise that this is silly and give up. I did not choose (b). I already knew it was silly.

I looked up the full credits of The Wrong Trousers and found the name I needed: foley artist Jack Stew.

So I googled him. He may not have the most extraordinary name in movies (I’m looking at you, end titles of The Usual Suspects)…

Screenshot of end titles of The Usual Suspects, with an arrow pointing to the name of a member of the Modus EFX crew: Yolanda Squatpump

…but ‘foley artist jack stew’ wasn’t going to bring up too many results.

It turned out he’d given a talk at Brighton Film School in March 2020, so I emailed them. They could quite reasonably have ignored me or emailed back to say we’re too busy to deal with this you silly little man, but they didn’t. They forwarded it on! (Thank you, Aoife.) And barely a week later, I got an email from the man himself, which said:

Quite simple really, and always a funny effect. I had an empty beer bottle that I sucked all the air out with my mouth, then on the cue of Feathers landing in the bottle I pulled the bottle off my mouth creating a bottle sounding pop. Simple but effective, try it yourself at some point, and you may well recognize the sound.

Now, you may think I’m an idiot, and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, but let this be a lesson to us all: follow your dreams, kids, and you, too might one day discover the answer to an entirely unimportant random question which will make you happy.

(He signed off “Thanks for getting in touch, always happy to help”, by the way, which I thought was very generous. I haven’t take it literally, though.)

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Coates

Purveyor of niche drivel; marker of odd anniversaries