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Highly Strung

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Photographs: Edward Grant

That camelhair coat, those plus-fours, the wonderfully dandy socks, goggles perched atop a rather stylish cap. They don’t make team managers like that anymore.
And the world-weary expressions and sunken cheekbones of the riders – the thousand-yard stare of men who have been to Hell and back.

Jim Grant’s marionettes beautifully capture the golden age of bike racing, but with strings attached. “The one on the bike reminds me of Ferdi Kübler,” says the London-based man from Edinburgh. There is, indeed, something of the great Swiss Tour de France winner about him. Why the long faces?
“You know when you look at old racing photographs and they really look like they’ve been through a war? I was trying to get that expression on their faces, but also remembering that they are caricatures: it’s not supposed to be real.”
Grant is a retired film and TV production designer, so has an arts background, plus a bit of time on his hands, which is just as well. How long does one of these little beauties take to complete?
“I don’t know, to be honest – weeks,” he says. “I’m not obsessed, but I like to do a bit every day. Whenever it takes me.”
Is it, we wondered, the done thing to refer to them as puppets, or do marionette-makers balk at use of the “P” word? “Yes, I’m not that precious,” Grant replies. “I’m only interested in making them, not working them.

“I have so many around the place half done: 20 or so marionettes that I have made, plus I collect others, plus all the bikes that I have…”
Uh-oh, here we go. We settle on “about nine” bikes, although he admits that number may well be an underestimate, but we all do, don’t we? Old Raleigh’s and Woodrup’s compete for space in the garage with more recent machines from Scott and Giant.
Not that his marionettes take up a huge amount of space. Grant has kindly placed a rather valuable issue 1 of 1 in the photo to give an idea of the scale he is working at. “These are around 18 inches high. Normally, I will do them bigger, but these all stemmed from the bike – that was the scale,” he says.
Grant also makes the wonderfully detailed clothing, track mitts and all. What if a well-heeled 1 reader were to offer a handsome sum for this trio? Would he be prepared to part with them for some serious cash?
“I don’t know… To be honest, I make them, I love going through the process, and as soon as I have made them and strung them up, that’s it – onto the next project.”

Talking of the next project, there’s some familiar-looking sideburns on that head pictured above. And an unmistakable nose…
“I am trying to do one of Bradley Wiggins which is more lifelike. That’s just the maquette of the head. Normally I carve them in wood, but when you are trying to get a good likeness, it is quite difficult to do on a small scale, so I am making a clay model then I will cast that. But it takes such a long time to do.”
We look forward to showing you the results. It may be some time, but it will be worth the wait.

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