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A MONUMENTAL LACK OF RESEARCH

This was just a little theory of mine. Having now done a bit more research, I think that my initial notion was completely incorrect. However, the journey through the evidence presented here is quite an interesting one, which is why I have chosen to display it anyway. I'd like to know what anyone thinks about this either way, so have a read - feedback is most welcome.

The above album cover - Pink Floyd's "A Momentary Lapse of Reason" (1987)
is a rather famous image now. There's probably not many of you who haven't been exposed to it at some point. The true beauty of this cover, like all of Storm Thorgerson's art (including his many other Pink Floyd works), is that it depicts a real event. Even today when the time-saving computer is available, Storm still likes to painstakingly construct the core of his idea using physical objects. And that's how it was with this photograph. It is real. What? All of those beds? Absolutely. 700 hospital beds no less (or 800 depending upon which conflicting account is used). Hundreds of real hospital beds arranged on a real beach just for a photo. Where on earth is anyone going to get 700 or 800 hospital beds? Well, that's where my little theory comes in.

When Storm was commissioned for this cover he decided on using beds from the lyric "a vision of an empty bed." This evolved into the notion of a massive "river of beds." He first thought of Los Angeles as a base for the shoot, in order to concentrate on the moody landscape of (comparatively) nearby Death Valley. This fell through, as he says, because they "did not have the right kind of beds. I wanted Victorian, wrought iron, hospital type beds for dreamers, or mad people, or even ill people." So, the location shifted back home to the infinitely more historical England. Location manger Lance Williams "somehow landed his hands on 700 beds and accompanying sheets, blankets and pillows, plus two articulated trucks and took the whole lot down to Staunton Sands in North Devon." It has never been publicly clarified where the beds came from. My theory, as if you hadn't guessed this already, is that they came from the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital. Here's a few thoughts in my defence:

The CRCMH closed its doors for the last time in late 1985. It had began its life in limbo, but had not had sufficient time to become as dilapidated by 1987 as it was when I knew it. Hospitals, by their very nature, contain beds. Lots and lots of beds. Until I began to ponder the issue of this album sleeve, the thought had honestly never struck my mind. Since I have known it, the hospital has been a big empty space. Why? Because there are no beds! They had been removed- and it hadn't ever occured to me. I didn't believe that I'd ever seen a single bed in the whole place until sifting through old video footage of an expedition. Parts of perhaps three or four beds were thrown together in what was once the library.


A mess of old bed parts in one of the CRCMH outbuildings

But were they truly representative of the standard bed throughout the hospital? However likely or not it might be, my scientific training insists that I cannot make such an assumption from such a small number of parts. But at any rate, there is no doubt that these beds are fairly ancient. Former patients corresponding with me over the years have also told me of the antiquated appearance of the CRCMH wards and their furniture. So, these could have been the original beds. But whether they were or not is beside the point - the CRCMH must have had a just few more than four beds (well, actually you never know with the NHS...). What happened after the closure? Where did all the beds go?

If you were a location manager looking for hundreds of Victorian-looking cast iron hospital beds, where might you expect to find them? In a recently closed hospital of course. Nowhere else are you going to find so many identical old beds. And not only that, but sheets and pillows too. A few calls to the government health authority, wave a bit of cash around - they're going to let you know all about stuff they no longer need. And the timeframe here is right. Less than two years separate the patients being turfed out and the album appearing in the shops. The distance between the CRCMH and the shoot in terms of transport is also far from insurmountable. How many other old hospitals in Southern England would have been in a position at that point in time to fulfil the task? Did any better candidates exist?

Were the beds immortalized on the cover of Pink Floyd's "A Momentary Lapse of Reason" are the very same beds that were housed for a great deal of the twentieth century in the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital, Taplow?

It occured to me that "The Last Days of Patton" - the film shot at the CRCMH in 1986 - surely had to feature beds, so I figured that I should check my copy of the video to see if they were similar. Doing so turned out to be somewhat of an anti-climax. There are two main ones shown (if you don't count the operating theatre table) - but they bear no resemblance to the very distinctive furniture of the album cover. However, the theory does not necessarily die here.


Film still showing Patton's bed in the CRCMH

The first bed featured (and heavily at that) in the film is the one occupied by General Patton himself. He is isolated in a private room, and the bed - white in colour - has a contraption fixed to the bedstead with securing wires attached to Patton's head (his neck was broken and it requires zero movement). Such a device could not be clamped onto a more ornamental bedstead, therefore it might be considered possible that Patton's bed was a special apparatus for spinal patients. The fact that it was not alongside others in a general ward increases the curiosity of this notion. So what of the other bed?

Well, that doesn't really help either. The second bed shown in the film is also not in a general ward. It is part of a comfortable (for the time), private visitors bedroom and is used by his wife whilst staying over in the hospital. Although made from wrought iron and again white in colour, it has a completely different design to Patton's. Actually, it's not very hospital-like at all (so there's not much point in showing you what it looks like here).

So, we have a special bed for spinal patients, and a normal bed for non-patients. Thus, the style of these two beds doesn't conclusively conflict with the theory. The only thing that perhaps might would be their colour. The two in the film are white. The Pink Floyd beds are red. However, the fact that most hospital furniture tends to be white poses a further question.

Red is the last colour that you would think of using in terms of hygiene, and it is hard to imagine any hospital having red beds (or indeed anywhere that might allow red beds - for instance an orphanage - having so many of them). That being the case - is it possible that the beds were sprayed red for the album cover? That would entail an awful lot of spraying, but it has to be said that money would have been no object, and that artistically - red beds work really well in the shot, whereas white would stand out too much. Technically it could have been done...

But just as it was once again looking plausible, I turned over some fresh evidence by the way of a very brief (and previously missed) shot of the general ward beds in "The Last Days Of Patton" (which in the CRCMH would have been for rheumatism and maternity cases). Well, here it is.


The very brief shot showing general ward beds

And to me, these beds look very much like the ones shown earlier which I uncovered on our videotape. I'd say they are identical in fact. But what if they were so identical that they were the actual same beds? After all, there are only three or four in the shot. What if the original CRCMH beds had already been taken away, leaving the film makers to bring in a handful of old beds from elsewhere - which they then discarded here after the shoot? Just a thought. The saga deepens, and I'm getting nowhere.

Except I am getting somewhere. Two former patients have now told me that the beds looked nothing whatsoever like the Floyd beds. In addition, a photography student who actually encountered some other beds at the site has echoed their thoughts. It now appears certain that the whole theory was way off track. Now all I need is Storm Thorgerson himself to tell me where they actually got the beds from...

Well, what do YOU think?

Damon Torsten,
January - March 2002

 

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