No Ordinary Model…

Once upon a long time ago, long before the reign of the Xbox, iPad and all manner of Smart phones, people had hobbies and other pastimes that kept them entertained on cold winter evenings.  Many of these have long been abandoned, some no more than distant memories, affectionately remembered when reminiscing our youth.

However, despite the many distractions of 21st century earth, modelling (not the glam’d-up bikini-clad pursuit of young women) is one such hobby that is bucking the trend and currently enjoying somewhat of a renaissance.  Due in part to some high profile celebrities, such as Top Gear’s James May, sharing their love of model railways, Airfix models and even Lego, modelling is very much back in fashion.

Pte Derek Griffiths of the Military Provost Guard Service (MPGS) is one modeller for whom the passion of building helicopters, planes and tanks has never been extinguished.  Such is his enthusiasm, Derek not only builds models from shop-bought kits, he often adds to them by carrying out a great deal of research, then making and attaching all the bits the model manufacturer left off.

Not only does Derek add unbelievable realism to his models, he literally brings them to life by setting them in realistic surroundings, known as dioramas in modelling circles.  Using everyday waste items that you and I would dispose of without a second glance, Derek has become exceedingly resourceful in turning a disposable item into an exact scale replica of something required for his latest work of art.  Indeed, so skilled has Derek become, he has achieved much success on a national and international level, his latest diorama of RAF Brampton’s Gate Guardian winning a number of awards from the International Plastic Modellers Society (UK).

Looking back over his early years, Derek recalls his earliest modelling experiences as a nine year-old, frantically saving up his pocket money earned from domestic chores.  Once the magic figure of ‘not many pence’ had been achieved, he‘d be down to his local newsagents to peruse the small selection of Airfix kits displayed in the window.  Derek says: “Some of my friends and I would often be stuck to the outside of the shop window like limpets looking longingly at the latest Airfix models that we couldn’t afford.  These kits, intended for the ‘bigger boys’, came in cardboard boxes and were far beyond our means and abilities.”

Throughout his early teenage years, Derek continued to be hooked by the plastic modelling bug and, as his skills progressed, he constantly challenged himself by making an array of weird and wonderful models.  Of the often complex models kindly bought for him by parents, uncles and aunties for birthdays and Christmas, Derek says: “I think they quickly realised that by doing so, I would be kept occupied, out of mischief and thankfully for them – quiet!  I didn’t mind as each model tested me a little more and fired my imagination.”

Joining the RAF in 1986 as an Intelligence Imagery Analyst (known then as Photographic Interpreter), Derek’s first posting was to the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre (JARIC) at RAF Brampton.  During his career in the RAF Derek continued to build award winning models in his spare time.  However, it was his return as a Sgt to JARIC for his final RAF posting in 2004 and his subsequent MPGS posting at Brampton in 2009 which gave him the idea for his RAF Brampton Gate Guardian diorama.

Derek says of Brampton’s old Phantom aircraft Gate Guardian: “As a modeller and Photographic Interpreter, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Phantom, a very impressive beast when in RAF Service.  Although I have built a couple of models of it over the years, sadly I never got to serve on a Phantom unit as they were replaced in the Tactical Reconnaissance role early in my career.”

Curious as to why the Phantom had been particularly chosen to fulfil the duty as RAF Brampton’s Gate Guardian, Derek undertook some research to find out its significance.  Needless to say, the history of XT914 ‘Z’, Brampton’s McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom FGR-2 is well documented.  Having started and finished his RAF career at Brampton, and with the camp due to close, the modeller in Derek got the better of him and in 2010 he began to plan the Gate Guardian diorama.

Derek took several reference photos of the aircraft and made numerous measurements of the plinth and its surroundings in order to scale down the ground features, trees and vegetation as accurately as possible to 1/72 scale, the same scale as the commercially available Phantom model kit he intended to use.  Derek carried out extensive modifications to the kit with a variety of modelling materials, including copper wire, old plastic rods and numerous other scrap materials to make the aircraft an exact replica.

18 inches square, Derek’s ‘scratch built’ diorama took approximately 176 hours to build, winning him Silver in the Diorama class of the 2012 Scale Model World competition run by the International Plastic Modellers Society (UK).  His diorama depicts the formal handover of the Phantom XT914 Brampton Gate Guardian to the Wattisham Heritage Collection on 12th January 2012.


Private Derek Griffiths is currently part of the MPGS at Brampton Camp.  He is a member of Brampton IPMS, the club now based at Sawtry.  For further information on the club Derek can be contacted via the Main Guard Room at Brampton Camp.  A full version of his modelling career, including detailed photographs of his RAF 33 Sqn Puma helicopter and Super Snoopy Camera – 1/32 scale diorama, his UN Observation post in Cyprus – 1/72 scale diorama and his RAF Brampton Gate Guardian – 1/72 scale diorama will shortly be available through the RAF Wyton Station Internet site.  The article also lists all Derek’s awards, commendations and magazine accreditations.