A TALENTED sci-fi fan has turned his puppet-making hobby into a booming business.
Formerly unemployed Whiteley resident Duncan Willis has become an internet start-up owner with a growing international order book.
Duncan says since childhood, he has been fascinated by the work of television animator Gerry Anderson, creator of Thunderbirds, Joe 90 and other 1960s children’s programmes.
Eight years ago, he started making replica puppets from the shows in his spare time. He exhibited them at sci-fi conventions and got to know the Anderson family.
One of the Thunderbirds characters he has recreated was the chauffeur Parker.
Duncan, who lives in Mollison Rise, said: ‘You have to be passionate about what you do and work hard. The sci-fi shows I grew up with have meant so much to me during my life.’
In 2013, Gerry’s son Jamie Anderson was asked to support the FAB 1 Million fundraising appeal for Breast Cancer Care, fronted by the broadcaster Chris Evans.
It involved a drive from Land’s End to John O’Groats in a pink Thunderbirds-style Rolls-Royce Ghost.
Jamie spoke about the campaign with Duncan who offered to sculpt a puppet head to mimic Chris, dress it in Parker’s chauffeur uniform and position it on a puppet-size seat.
The process involved Duncan sculpting a caricature head in clay and then taking a silicone mould to produce the final hollow head in fast-cast resin. It took 15 days.
The little model, complete with a miniature pair of black, Chris Evans-type glasses that Duncan made, played a key supporting role in the appeal, even appearing in a Harrods shop window display.
Duncan, a former sales representative, was immediately deluged with requests asking if he could make more puppets and his business idea was born.
Fareham not-for-profit firm WSX Enterprise has given Duncan the support he needed to turn his hobby into a viable business.
Gareth Morgan, Duncan’s advisor, said: ‘Duncan knew he had a creative and different product for the market.
‘Now he can go ahead and focus on what he loves doing which is making amazing puppets.’
Since launching in September 2014, Duncan has attracted online orders worldwide, including repeat business from a customer in Japan.