On December 3rd 1976 a large inflatable pig made a run for it during a photoshoot at Battersea Power Station. Andy Royston investigates.
“I’ve a right to think,” said Alice sharply, for she was beginning to feel a little worried.
“Just about as much right,” said the Duchess, “as pigs have to fly.” Lewis Carroll
It all started as Roger Waters’ bright idea to promote the new Pink Floyd album Animals. He lived within sight of the iconic building close to the River Thames in London, and liked the idea of incorporating it into an album sleeve. Pigs on the Wing was a feature song on the album, so the vision fitted pretty well.
‘Roger Waters called up one day and said “I’m thinking of doing something with Battersea Power Station” – he lived close and could see it from his window. At that time it was still in full working order, with steam coming out of the chimneys. The band had just had an inflatable pig built for a tour. Roger and I both looked up at the Station, and said, “let’s fly the pig between the chimneys”. Just like that.’ Aubrey Powell, Hypgnosis
On the day of the shoot photographers and cameramen were all in place to film this surreal scene for a second day – on the previous evening the pig stubbornly refused to fly at all. That evening, though bitterly cold, was heralded by a beautiful Turner-esque sky, but the pig proved to be a problem once again, taking an age to inflate. Finally as the sky faded away the 40ft long pink pig took to the skies and the shutters flew.
Unfortunately the chains that bound the pig to one of the chimneys couldn’t hold the feisty porker who continued to rise high into the evening sky.
Those of you who know London will know that the main flights to London airport, Heathrow, usually approach from the east – pilots following the reflective River Thames as they descend. A giant pink helium-filled pig at 20,000 feet is the last thing that a busy flight path needs and pretty soon all flights into Heathrow were diverted or cancelled after a succession of alarmed pilots began to call air traffic control.
The constabulary took a dim view of the whole thing, arresting Hypgnosis producers Aubrey Powell and Lucy Sparrow. An RAF jet was scrambled to locate the absconded hog and shoot the blighter down. It being winter and all the night had swiftly fallen, and the pig was long gone.
The evening airwaves were having a ball with it, asked everyone south of the river to be on the lookout for the pig.
The runaway pig was eventually located and tracked by a police helicopter before coming to ground near Chatham. The pig had crashed into a barn at East Stour Farm, Godmersham in Kent, a good twenty miles away from Battersea. An irate farmer had called in. “He said, “Are you the guy looking for a pig? It’s scaring my cows to death in my field.”
Luckily the pig was in one piece. Some roadies were sent down to recover it and one last attempt to photograph the pig was made.
‘Battersea let us come back, but we had to take a sharpshooter in case it flew off again. The day when we finally shot it, the sky wasn’t as impressive as it had been, so I added the pig to the photo from the first day. It’s actually a completely faked photograph.’
Whether the pig escaped, or was released on purpose to increase publicity, is not known, but the story was all over the news for days. Animals was officially launched at an event at Battersea Power Station in January 1977, publicity assured.
‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said, ‘To talk of many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax Of cabbages and kings And why the sea is boiling hot And whether pigs have wings.’ Lewis Carroll
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December 3, 2015
What a great story! I can just imagine passengers doing double takes, looking out their airplane windows and seeing a flying pig. Too bad the photo had to be faked; my imagination saw it just fine.